YANSS 053 – Defeating learned helplessness in the classroom using computer-assisted adaptive learning

Can a new computer-assisted teaching program rid us of the cognitive errors that lead to students believing they suck at math or just aren’t cut out to study science? According to Ulrik Christensen, senior fellow of digital learning at McGraw-Hill Education, yes it can.

Most students often don’t actually suck at math or science, he said, but they come to believe they do because of a one-size-fits-all teaching environment that then administers poorly constructed tests that emphasize a binary, pass or fail method of delivering feedback. According to Ulrik, McGraw-Hill’s new LearnSmart program solves these problems by adjusting the presentation and feedback of the course material differently for each individual learner.

Ulrik“It granularly molds the curriculum around the student,” said Ulrik, describing what the company is calling computer-assisted adaptive learning, a sort of A.I. virtual teacher and coach that meticulously analyzes how each student learns and then breaks apart and alters the course material to match the kind of brain that person has, delivering it in bits and pieces that slowly build up to a holistic understanding of the material.

Christensen is touring the country giving lectures and making media appearances to help promote his company’s new adaptive learning tools, and in this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast he stops by to explain how programs first created to assist would-be doctors make it through medical school with a deep understanding and mastery of the material are now being used to prevent learned helplessness and many other cognitive errors that sabotage the learning process from kindergarten to graduation.

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After the interview, I discuss a news story about how people suffering from schizophrenia in different cultures hear different kinds of voices.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 1.25.21 PMIn every episode, after I read a bit of self delusion news, I taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, “You Are Now Less Dumb,” and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Benjamin Dow who submitted a recipe for Pecan Puffs. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Links and Sources


Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

Ulrik Christensen


When Children Fail in School Part Two: Teaching Strategies for Learned Helpless Students 

Learned Helplessness: Balancing Teacher Expectations and Student Self-esteem

Photo: Wikimedia Commons