Fast ForWord & Reading Assistant are Intelligent Tutoring Systems

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Peter Barnes
Learning Capacity


Intelligent tutoring systems are getting a lot more attention as computer technology and internet speeds improve, and resources for public education are being squeezed by government budgets around the world.

So much so that an international conference on intelligent tutoring systems is now held every two years.  The most recent was in Hawaii in 2014.

The key features of an intelligent tutoring system are:

  1. The system simulates a human tutor’s behaviour and guidance
  2. It provides immediate feedback tailored to each student individually
  3. Students are able to access the tutor any time anywhere
  4. It is able to help students learn by adapting the difficulty of tasks to the student’s understand at that time

At a recent neuroscience conference in Tuscan, USA, Dr Martha Burns spoke about how the learning technology programs from Scientific Learning Corporation - Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant - are good examples of intelligent tutoring systems.

Dr Martha Burns is a neuroscientist, author of over 100 journal articles and multiple books, and a leading expert on how children learn. 

She said:

"In today’s economic conditions, classroom sizes in the USA are increasing, not decreasing. I don’t know if this is happening in other countries, but I would venture to say that even if they are not getting larger in Australia, UK, New Zealand, Thailand or anywhere else in the world, your classes will certainly not be getting smaller.

And for those parents wishing to supplement their child’s classroom learning by tutoring, the cost of one-on-one tutoring is formidable. 

There is a wonderful study by a man called Baker that is all about what's called intelligent tutoring systems.


It is recognised that individual learning can be much more effective than classroom learning. We all know many teachers would love to have one student. They would love to work one on one because they know they can be more effective.

There's quite a bit of research going back to 1984 showing that students who receive one on one tutoring from an expert tutor, score two standard deviations higher on standardised tests than students who just get traditional group based instruction.

What makes a tutor good? What makes a tutor in your learning centre? What makes a tutor effective? And guess what is built in to the Scientific Learning Corporation's programs? All the principles that make a tutor effective.

If teachers would love to work one-on-one, well, that's what Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant do. They are individualised tutors. You are getting for a very low cost every single student out there, one on one instruction that adapts to them.

None of the other programs out there adapt except there's one other neuroscience program that does – it is Cogmed Working Memory -  but none of the others do. They don't adapt. But Cogmed and the Scientific Learning programs adapt to each student individually. That's part of what an intelligent tutoring system involves".

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