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September 14, 2022 • 1 minute read
By: Mike Hale, Ph.D., Chief Learning and Content Officer

VitalSource has long been committed to increasing student success through easy access to affordable content. We also believe that if you can, you must improve learning for students and expand educational opportunities for all learners. Of course, we are not alone in this view and it is the reason many companies have built assessment-rich course materials. 

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Blog > Can AI create effective learning tools for students?

October 3, 2023 • 3 minute read

Can AI create effective learning tools for students?

Learning Science


Can AI create effective learning tools for students? Emerging research says yes. 

How can we use artificial intelligence (AI) to support student learning? It’s the question dominating higher education. While there are many proposed ideas and new AI technologies being developed, VitalSource has taken an approach based in learning science and backed by research. An innovative research partnership between a higher education institution and a leading education technology solutions provider highlights the importance of taking an evidence-based approach.  

Artificial intelligence, meet learning science 
Learning science and research informs nearly everything that happens at VitalSource, from product development to delivery.  

Our team of learning scientists at VitalSource has been studying the “doer effect,” the learning science principle that doing practice causes learning and proven that this learning-by-doing approach improves student outcomes. By leveraging AI, the team was able to use textbook content to generate large quantities of practice study questions nearly instantaneously, expanding the benefits of learning-by-doing to more students.  

Developing AI for question generation was only the first task for the learning science team; the next was evaluating their performance in natural learning contexts. VitalSource’s team of learning scientists studied the efficacy of questions generated through AI, proving that these questions are equivalent to human-authored ones in an award-winning 2021 paper. In particular, the research showed that students do not treat automatically generated questions differently than human-authored questions on key question performance metrics. scrollingimage_vs_2x_doereffect_3-1500x372

Introducing Bookshelf CoachMe™ 
VitalSource then expanded the reach of AI-generated practice with Bookshelf CoachMe, which is accessible at no additional cost within VitalSource’s Bookshelf platform, its best-in-class e-reader already in use by more than 18 million students at around the world annually. As students read within the Bookshelf platform, the questions appear next to the text, giving students an opportunity to immediately practice what they have just read – like a built-in study coach. 

VitalSource officially launched  Bookshelf CoachMe in January 2022. While VitalSource’s learning scientists continued to evaluate the performance of these questions in the largest research studies known to date, they also launched a research program to partner with institutions and faculty using this feature. scrollingimage_coachmebutton_vs_2x_2-1500x1500

“Our goal for this research project was to better understand the utility of AI-generated practice as a learning tool across a variety of natural learning contexts and study its benefits for both students and faculty alike,” said Rachel Van Campenhout, Ed.D., Research Scientist at VitalSource.  

The perfect partner  
VitalSource reached out to Iowa State University (ISU), a longtime partner, to explore a potential research collaboration.  

The project was a natural fit for ISU, as it sought to advance several pillars of the University’s new strategic plan, including a commitment to incorporating innovative technology into its curriculum to support meaningful student learning opportunities. 

Disseminating learning science-based tools like Bookshelf CoachMe in existing textbooks, at no additional cost, aligns with our institutional goal of maximizing course material affordability and accessibility to all students so learning can begin on day one of class,” said Heather Dean, Assistant Director of the Iowa State University Bookstore.  

During the 2022–23 academic year, ISU faculty volunteered to incorporate Bookshelf CoachMe into their teaching practice, assign the study questions as homework, and monitor student engagement via data reports. Faculty also distributed student surveys and participated in interviews to share observations and feedback. 

What students are saying 
The early data from the research study is compelling. Students generally completed 100% of available practice in all assigned chapters, and in one course, content use tripled over the prior semester. Students responded favorably as well. In a survey, 95.9% of students who used the practice reported finding that the questions were helpful for their learning and preparation for assessments, and 85.1% of students said they were likely to use the practice questions again, even if they were not assigned.  

Most encouraging of all: as the research has progressed from tracking student engagement with the questions to examining a potential link between engagement and learning outcomes, data from a spring 2023 course at ISU showed that students who used Bookshelf CoachMe had higher scores on their quizzes. 
“Our teams have always been dedicated to ensuring students get the content they need, where they need it, most affordably, equipped with tools that help students learn effectively,” said Michael Hale, Ph.D., Chief Learning Officer for VitalSource. “Iowa State has been an instrumental partner, and we look forward to continuing to share how Bookshelf CoachMe’s industry-leading technology is transforming the learning experience and ultimately impacting student outcomes.” 

scrollingimage_preppracticefocus_vs_v2_-2x_-1500x1500“Accelerating student success takes close collaboration between all stakeholders in this changing educational ecosystem, and our research partnership with VitalSource has allowed us to do just that. We look forward to continuing our work together as the early data on Bookshelf CoachMe’s impact is very encouraging,” added Dean.  

Since its launch over a year ago, Bookshelf CoachMe has generated more than 2 million unique study questions and been used by hundreds of thousands of students. It has also been recognized with multiple industry awards for its transformative impact on student learning. VitalSource and ISU were recently honored with the 2023 1EdTech Learning Impact Silver Award for their innovative research partnership, and VitalSource received a 2023 CODiE Award for “Best Use of Artificial Intelligence in Ed Tech” from the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) for Bookshelf CoachMe. 

To learn more about Bookshelf CoachMe, click here. 

Editor's Note: This article was previously posted here

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