Amazon has just acquired TenMarks, an edtech computer program that teaches math to grades K-12. It’s part of a big wave in edtech these days: robot teachers. That is, digital software that gives students’ their homework assignments, analyzes their progress, and offers follow up lessons to explain concepts the students are struggling with.
In recent months, such tailored analytics programs are taking over the ed tech space. In an August 2013 study, American Institutes for Research argues that personalized learning environments are the next wave of K–12 education reform. “Adaptive learning” is another term for the same trend.
Software like TenMarks is riding the same big data trends we’re seeing impact other fields, from recruitment and hiring to health and fitness. Students do their assignments in the program, which tracks their performance. The resulting data can be used to tailor lessons to individuals, instead of trying to fit all students in the same box. Furthermore, since the programs monitor the students’ progress, grade their assignments, and provide new lessons when students are confused, they take a lot of the work out of the teacher’s lap. Teachers can use extra time developing their in-class lessons, or checking in one-on-one to support students who are struggling.
Face-to-face, online, and digital instruction will each play a part in new learning models, thereby “addressing diverse learning styles and allowing room for students to dig deeper into areas of particular interest,” as the American Institutes for Research report says.
In other words, by introducing teaching software like TenMarks into schools, students will start getting more tailored instruction that suits their interests, strengths, and weaknesses.
TenMarks isn’t the only program out there tackling digital instruction. Learning management system Desire2Learn recently acquired a similar program called LeaP, an artificial intelligence sits on top of Desire2Learn’s LMS to analyze student performance and adjust the lesson accordingly. And ed-tech company Knewton is the dominator in this field, having sold an adaptive learning platform since 2008. TenMarks, Desire2Learn, and Knewton are just a handful of offerings and I’m sure we’ll see more on the way.
For the companies that provide the programs, it’s a lucrative market. Schools are strapped for cash, can’t afford as many teachers as they used to, and have overcrowded classrooms. Anything that cuts down on a teacher’s workload and gives students tailored instruction while finishing homework is helpful. It’s less expensive for a school to buy such software than to hire more teachers, with accompanying healthcare, pensions, and salaries.
Amazon’s purchase of TenMarks is a tacit endorsement of this trend: the Internet behemoth sees the market opportunity. As well it should, given that a TenMarks app that runs on the Kindle Fire gives schools a reason to buy Kindle fires for their students. The move also begs the question about what other edtech fields the company may be exploring. I won’t be surprised if it snatches up more edtech content creation and application companies in the future.
This is Amazon’s second edtech acquisition. Hopefully TenMarks will see a better fate than the last purchase: TeachStreet, acquired by Amazon in February 2012, has since been shut down.
[Image via Sean MacEntee]