ALEKS Corporation offers over 20 different mathematics products, from elementary school mathematics through pre-calculus and AP Statistics. They also offer a few products aimed at teaching other material, such as Business or Chemistry and sell products designed explicitly for higher-ed through McGraw-Hill. According to their website, "ALEKS course products are currently being used by hundreds of thousands of students at over 1,000 institutions throughout the world."
All ALEKS products are based on research called "Knowledge Space Theory" (KST) which attempts to model a student's understanding of a given topic and present material in the most advantageous order. According to research documents on their website KST helps answer two key questions:
This theory is particularly useful for subjects like mathematics that are highly sequential and where it is often important to master certain subtopics before attempting others. For example, before mastering many algebra problems it is necessary to have an understanding of basic arithmetic. ALEKS exploits this sequential structure by assessing what the student already knows, and then presenting questions and activities about topics that the student is ready to learn. The purpose of using Knowledge Space Theory is to speed the student's mastery of the mathematics and presumably to limit the student's interaction with unhelpful material.
Afer taking a diagnostic assessment, ALEKS fills in a pie chart with the skills the student still needs to master. Then, the student can dive-in to any of the different main sections to learn what remains.
The learning modules in ALEKS products consist of questions which resemble a standardized test of mathematics, but allow free-response answers, and there are few or no multiple-choice answers. For example, if asked, what is "10 + 7" the student must actually type a number. Or, if asked to "Draw a plot of the line y = 3x + 2", the student is expected to use the cartesian coordinate plane provided and line-drawing tools to make his response.
When a student doesn't understand something, hints are available for almost every question (excluding the assessment sections), and there is also an extensive built-in "Dictionary" that defines various terms such as "Rounding" or "Fractions" with examples, and often step-by-step instructions. This dictionary constitutes the entirety of the "instructional" resources available to the student and was quite limited in comparison to other products from other companies.
Every ALEKS product is a java-based on-line web product which is available to schools and to individuals on a monthly, per-student rate. The cost for an individual subscription is $180 for one student for one year, and that includes access to any of their twenty products.
Another innovative aspect of ALEKS is that it collects performance statistics from all its users and uses the data to refine its models and scope & sequence via KST.
In a second study, they report that approximately 98 students who used the ALEKS Algebra I product had significant gains of 2.7 points on the Measures of Academic Progress test (MAP) compared with only 1.6 points nationally and 1.0 points for students in the district for the same period. One interesting finding of the study was that students who used the product for 31-60 minutes showed the same gains as students who used the product for 61-90 minutes. This implies that there may be a law of diminishing returns that puts an upper-limit on the usefulness of the product.
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