Hello. I am originally a medical doctor, but I have done research in education, and learning technologies for two decades. Originally we were developing learning technologies to try to address human errors in medicine, and then in the last decade through the work first at Area9 and now at McGraw-Hill Education, we have broadened the scope to all of education. We have experience from millions of students' high-intensive use of adaptive learning technologies over the past 15 years that have helped contribute to students becoming more efficient, and successful. I am visiting the reddit New York office for this opportunity so AMA.


UPDATE: I have tried to answer all questions that come of after the session. Thanks for participating in this.

Comments: 164 • Responses: 68  • Date: 

MrBlund23 karma

Nothing personal but the anger I feel towards higher education publishers is very real. Textbook pricing is outrageous and "new" editions come out every other year with only very minor changes. Now almost every textbook comes with an online access code for labs/assignmenst that only makes reselling even more difficult. If someone completing a four year degree were to purchase every required textbook at retail prices they could easily break $10k.

How do you justify the price of these textbooks that are usually only used for 3 months?

It looks to me like these publishers are taking advantage of the fact that many of these textbooks are required readings and are charging the maximum amount the market can bear and not what they are actually worth. From a business perspective that's fine but at the end of they day these companies see students as cash cows and I find it insulting that it's done under the pretense that you're doing us a favour.

DrUlrikChristensen-2 karma

I respect your frustration. I will repeat my answer to another post:

I think that you will see this change quite soon. We build the adaptive learning environments in a way that is constantly updated and revised - and revised and appended substantially. It is my commitment that if we speak in a few years time, you will agree that it was worthwhile to spend not only the money, but also the time in the adaptive products we make.

I would like to add though that having been brought into this industry from a very different place, I feel that it has been a great journey to meet so many educators and product development people who share my passion: Making a positive impact on students learning. Big way. Again: Talk is cheap - let us prove that the value is there. Adaptive learning truly has the potential to address some of the hardest nuts to crack in education.

tomrhod4 karma

That all sounds good, do you have some specifics of these plans to share? Or when you can? Otherwise these feel like pleasant but hollow words that have been said before, no offense intended.

DrUlrikChristensen-2 karma

Fair enough - here is an overview: 1) We relentlessly cut cost for developing high quality content (in several areas we have cut cost for development of a learning object to less than 10% of what it traditionally has cost to make) 2) We empower subject matter experts to express themselves directly in custom made development, authoring and curation environments. This allows us to reduce the number of editing cycles and handovers - both reducing cost and the time it takes to reach the students. 3) We use the most advanced technology for handling and managing the thousands of authors working in these systems, so we minimize the overhead of content development.

2) and 3) are huge components of the current content development process in publishing. Again, we have custom made these very advanced tools over the past several years, and we are still investing significantly in this.

4) We support open standards and are working hard to build tools and platforms that will secure that this will be an environment with many players and constant stimulus to keep improving: http://www.mheducation.com/about/news-room/mcgraw-hill-education-expands-efforts-ensure-fully-interoperable-future-education

HighestEd17 karma

What do you think of the low public opinion (at least among students) of higher education publishers and content providers? Do you think it's a repairable relationship? Is it a generational problem happening as we bridge the gap from pre-Internet modes of education and the post-Internet future we're building, or is it something more persistent at its root?

DrUlrikChristensen0 karma

It is our challenge to change that. David Levin (new CEO of MHE) and all of his team - which I am now a proud member of - are dedicated to becoming the trusted source for the highest quality adaptive and personalized learning - and delivering the top quality for money! I think that the public opinion will change as the impact is realized. More than anything we hope that results will speak for themselves. Talk is cheap!

Anaklu10 karma

Guys, he is not a textbook pricer. He's an education researcher. I'm sure he's aware that textbooks are expensive. I'm also sure he has no say in their pricing.

You arent going to abolish the textbook empire by yelling at him on reddit.

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

Thanks for the support. As part of the executive team, I am of course responsible for this too (although you are right - I have very little to say in the textbook pricing discussions). I hope that it is clear that it is top of mind to address making a sustainable product offering that students can actually afford through aggressive research in cost efficient ways to product technology and content at prices that students can afford. THAT I have done something about - and will continue to in the future.

As a final comment - a word of caution: Many tech focused people are encouraging both us and our colleagues in the industry to make massive investments in fancy stuff. I think that we have keep each other honest about what is cool for the sake of cool - and what bring educational value at a reasonable cost. We work diligently on assessing edu-economic effects (similar to pharmaco-economics to assess the value of pharma interventions) of everything we do. It is up to us to honest to what brings enough value, because ultimately the cost for unnecessary "cool" will end up at the end users. I - and we - are committed to doing our best to make adaptive technology available to as many as anyhow possible.

willrodg7 karma

Why is it you guys have an almost monopoly over most school text books and continue the trend of slightly updating the book and charging astronomical fees?

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

I think that you will see this change quite soon. We build the adaptive learning environments in a way that is constantly updated and revised - and revised and appended substantially. It is my commitment that if we speak in a few years time, you will agree that it was worthwhile to spend not only the money, but also the time in the adaptive products we make.

Cube_1 karma

This response dodges the question I feel. Instead of "this will change soon" answer this:

"Why is that MHE charges very high prices for textbooks in the past and currently?"

I don't want to hear what you might do in the near or maybe far future to change this.

I want to know why MHE does this now and in the past and how they justify it.

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

Please respect that I am an expert in digital learning technologies and can speak to how we are addressing building cutting edge technologies that students can afford moving forward. I don't make books and I never have made books, so I can only speak to the generation of technologies that is the core of the future for learning. I profoundly believe that the investments we have made over the past several years will make HIGH QUALITY DIGITAL content and technologies better and cheaper over the next decade. That does not change the dynamics of publishing ultra short term, I understand that, but it is the best answer I can give from my point of view and area of expertise (I hope you respect that I keep my comments to areas that I know something about). We are in the midst of an industry that is totally transforming, and I think that you will see an change much faster than you fear.

gogopowerrangerninja0 karma

I am a student and have used your "adaptive learning technology" in chemistry courses. Why do you think that the site is so slow? Is it the newness of it, so that you have not worked out bugs? McGraw Hill has had a stronghold on this industry for quite some time, is it that there is no competition to motivate you? I would have to begin my assignment days before I typically would have because I knew that after a certain number of questions, the assignment would freeze up and spend sometimes 30 minutes before you could force quit. At high traffic times, you could not complete one question. This was on any computer with any kind of internet connection. Currently I will not agree that it was worthwhile to spend not only the money, but also the time in the adaptive products you make.

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

I would need some more detail to investigate this further. Which product did you use and when did this happen? I am assume it was LearnSmart given that LearnSmart is by far the largest in various chemistry courses. We are relentlessly monitoring and optimizing performance and have invested both in having the state-of-the-art experts on the team to monitor server performance, but a wide array of tools to monitor the domain specific performance (does this work for students and do you progress as expected). Both types of systems would have warned us about what you describe. It is for sure not at matter of either complacency or newness. These are the most mature platforms in the industry with largest use volume, and we have extremely short response times because of the architecture of LearnSmart where most of the intelligence and calculations happen on your computer - that is also why it is so tolerant for intermittent loss of internet. Therefore, it is very, very strange that you have experienced consistent slow performance and peak times problems. Feel free to write a private note, if you do not wish to share details about exactly what you used, where and when here. We have not had anything that should trigger that kind of experience. Last question: You write that it took 30 minutes before you could 'Force Quit' - that sounds like you are on a Mac? It is quite suspicious as it is really hard even if an app has a serious to influence the main Mac OS to not responding. Was it only when you were using LearnSmart and Connect it happened?

mindshadow7 karma

I don't really have a question, and I appreciate what your research does to help learning. However, I can't help but be extremely resentful at MHE every time I have to pay around $100 for the ability to do my homework in college classes when I've already paid tuition and bought books. And then, it's just a pre-made test bank. so really I have no idea what the professor is there for if they have to follow the MHE curriculum for the test banks to line up.

Oh well, that's the end of my bitter rant.

DrUlrikChristensen0 karma

I am wondering whether your professor has actually enable/assigned the adaptive portion of it. It should really not feel like a premade test bank. LearnSmart does ask questions too, but does it in an intelligent way - like a facilitator who is just focused on your needs would.

MayaCohen6 karma

Your adaptive technology measures both confidence and competence in a student as he studies. Why is measuring a student's confidence at all important?

DrUlrikChristensen0 karma

We use this for many things. We both inform more than a dozen of models that benefit from this (prediction of knowledge decay, motivation to continue etc etc), but we also actively try to increase the students' metacognitive skills. We can see that over the first 3-4 months of using LearnSmart, students become significantly faster in realizing what they don't know. I guess the impact on learning is obvious: Faster and more focus learning!

abr23875 karma

How is your technology going to change the textbook publishing industry?

DrUlrikChristensen5 karma

I think the most important impact is the vehicle for delivery of what publishers are really good at: Bringing students with a need for learning in contact with excellent teachers - and mass producing that. What adaptive learning brings is a way to move from one size fits all to super-individualized learning experiences. But they are still heavily dependent upon the "old" craftsmanship of vetting subject matter experts, curating content (and YES it MUST be curated special to be delivered adaptively) and designing and testing learning tools that students are willing to use.

kurtisgodelstein5 karma

are adaptive learning and analytics the same? do you do both?

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

No - and yes. Analytics is broader, but we do a lot of analytics on the data we generate from the adaptive learnings. We have close to 30 billion data points from students behavior and learning in LearnSmart.

EduData3 karma

So what do you do with these 30 billion data points?

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

We do a number of things: 1) We inform the work of the thousands authors who are working on this. We are quite humble about how analytics can qualify this compared to pretending that we can anticipate what students will struggle with. This both cut cost (dramatically) and improve quality fast.
2) We improve the adaptive models although we reached a platform some years ago where we are only able to find incremental improvements now. The big bangs happened some years ago and were more theory driven initially and then validated with data rather than the magic improvements that many adaptive companies hope to get out of mining their data sets. 3) We do research - both more basic research, but also very product related research.

sfried_doe5 karma

Is there any way to bring textbook costs down, or is the only way for fiscally challenged students digital?

DrUlrikChristensen0 karma

The cost for the individual student will go down compared to textbooks. For students who currently try to get through completely without a textbook, of course this will be more (but that is also playing poker with your education to do so IMHO). For the students who are buying the books, I wager that 5 years from now the average cost is significantly lower. (Famous last words? :-) )

doubleUsquared3 karma

Hi there! I really love the idea of adaptive learning and tailoring an education to a students specific needs. My question, is how do you see this type of teaching fitting in with the "teach to the test" curriculum we often see in this country?

DrUlrikChristensen0 karma

Over the past many years here traveling to meet teachers and students, I have met so many passionate teachers who will for sure use this opportunity to increase the level of education - and not JUST teaching to the test. The teachers know what really should happen, but run out of time often to teach at the level they really want to teach at.

strykr3163 karma

What is your opinion, if any, of the Common Core curriculum being implemented in some K-12 schools in the US? Is it necessary? Better for unified learning? How do you think, if it continues, parents can be educated to help their children outside of school?

DrUlrikChristensen3 karma

The beauty of adaptive systems is that they are - at least the well made ones - not dogmatic in their approach. Therefore adaptive systems can actually help bridge the philosophical discourse that might lie behind your question. The adaptive systems can work in both standards based curricula and more flexible ones. Regarding the parents, I think that adaptive systems can bring two positive things: a) better insight into their kids needs for help and support, b) we might even be able to adaptively help the parents to prepare to help their kids.

QueensStudent3 karma

When will there be online tools to teach organic chemistry that are even half functional?

DrUlrikChristensen3 karma

What level o-chem are you interested in?

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

Prep: http://learnsmartadvantage.com/course-books/learnsmart-prep-for-organic-chemistry/

O-Chem (several different variants are available if you browse it): http://learnsmartadvantage.com/course-books/organic-chemistry-fourth-ed-smith/

And we have some pretty cool stuff coming...

zoomboomer3 karma

There has been a lot of speculation that the internet has shortened our attention span. Do you see any evidence of this in the way we we learn?

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

Interesting question! What we can see is that the adaptive techs we are making keep students focused. We even have early evidence that students with attention disorders may benefit particularly much from this. Stay tuned - more to come in the next years!

calamormine4 karma

Stay tuned - more to come in the next years!

You'll never get him to pay attention that long...

DrUlrikChristensen3 karma

Research takes time - in the meantime, I would take the chance and use the something like learnsmart if it appears to keep their focus. I then promised to work as fast as we can profiling and tuning exactly how to do it. We may even change the techs quite a bit for some of these groups of learners.

apoetsdream3 karma

What do you see for the future of MOOCs? Do you think they're effective in their current form? What kinds of technology or methodologies do you think will emerge as dominant in online and hybrid teaching?

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

I think that there will be a need for mass produced education at many different levels. What we do with adaptive learning requires curation of the content at a level that is not likely to ever be crowd sourced for the majority of it. I think that hybrid models based on open standards are much more likely and I think that MOOCs and other learning opportunities can be tied nicely into the more advanced environments.

Mantisbog3 karma

After making love to a beautiful woman, do you ever remark, "That was about an 8.0 on the Ulrikter scale!"?

DrUlrikChristensen3 karma

Ask my beautiful wife! :-)

marienewyork3 karma

Is the U.S. ahead in adaptive or are other countries gaining ground? What is the international appetite for this technology?

DrUlrikChristensen5 karma

US is miles and miles ahead. 90%+ of all time spent in adaptive systems is in the US. The international appetite is growing, but we need to crack the cost issue. We will end up as misunderstood geniuses if the students cannot afford what we make.

Tattsyrup1 karma

Do you think adaptive stands a decent chance of helping the US gain ground in any of the education areas in which it currently struggles? Or are problems like poverty always going to be the bigger drivers of academic success?

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

We pioneered this new wave of technology to raise the entire bottom up as well as the average. I strongly hope that schools and teachers will grab this chance to actually improve education. In many ways - and if use correctly - this has the chance of changing education the same way at the steam engine and tooling changed factories during the industrial revolution. We may be able to free up the resources needed to make the changes that we might need. Time will show. I believe that educators will naturally strive toward better learning, and not just stagnation at lower cost.

yazter2 karma

What is the deal with physician suicide? Is substance abuse more common among doctors than other groups?

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

Harrison's internal medicine is 60k+ learning objectives? Why do you think some of my colleagues drink? Seriously, one of my close friends and early mentors in the world of human errors research took his own life. It is a tragedy every time it happens... Best thing we can do about it from a learning perspective is to make sure that we equip our colleagues with the tools to handle the pressure. That applies to all professionals with massive responsibility.

thebestko2 karma

Why so much cost

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

Simply because the amount of content is huge. I wish that there was a tech solution that would cut through it - and some will promise that. All tech only solutions I have seen are comparable to alchemy. Sounds great and easy, but do not work nearly to the level one would hope for.

wilburmina2 karma

I appreciate that we keep textbooks updated and revised year after year as our knowledge of the world progresses, although as a recent graduate, I sympathize with the dread that comes with having to buy the most recent 'required' editions.

Do you feel like e-books have the potential to make a good education less financially cumbersome while still keeping the subject material up-to-date?

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

The short answer is yes due to the reasons outlined in a number of the other posts. We can bring the cost per accomplished learning objective down with these new technologies. That then can either either be converted into cost savings (i.e. keep the number of accomplished learning objectives stable) or improve education at the same cost.

DJ_Derp2 karma


DrUlrikChristensen0 karma

I have to pass on this one - I have no knowledge about the specific incident. If you write a private message, I can pass you on to somebody qualified to comment on this.

DongLordSupreme2 karma


DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

Ha ha - ask somebody in the cheating business! I think you know what to do.

Ohdmj1 karma


DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

I think the two "buckets" you are comparing are too broad. It depends somewhat on which book and very much on what you use the internet to deliver. The internet itself does not help, but we have substantial evidence that adaptive learning has an impact.

doughboy6661 karma

why does your company feel it is acceptable to charge the people who you hope to someday write your books an arm and a leg for information most of which has not even changed in format let alone content in the last decade. And yet every 2-3 years you release a new version which at most will have a new diagram or 2.

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

See below.

SuperNinjaBot1 karma

Many successful people and visionaries consider classroom education an outdated relic of the past. Something holding our society back in the large scale.

With technology soon to be able to provide a more comprehensive, less human error (the disgusting lack of relevant education in teaching scenarios) and a more one on one education experience how do you see the next 100 years going for class room style education?

I currently see no benefit to it besides the free child care for parents and social experiences for children. Many people I talk to seem to agree.

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

I think that there are many ways to constructively use time between teachers and groups of students, but I would probably change the balance quite a bit.

Flipped classrooms is one way of changing the balance and make class room session more individual, but I can many future variants where you use the additional insight we can provide you as a teacher with as well as the fact that you can rely on some of the basics being taken care of by the adaptive systems.

pamplemouse1 karma

I'm involved in an online learning venture. We find that regardless of what we do, the lack of student motivation is the #1 problem. Any ideas on how to help with that?

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

You have to design the entire product around this problem. In a post below I oversimplified the value equation:

Value = quality of the adaptive technologies * quality/granularity/suitability for adaptive delivery of the content * compliance from the students

We don't move a foot without designing around this. We often sacrifice short term efficiency for motivation which is a double edged sword, because it is ultimately a waste of time, but often you cannot do what is objectively (i.e. disregarding motivation) the best next step.

The reward is huge though when you find the right mix. We have around 90% students who are happy about the learning environment. The corresponding e-book numbers, I don't even dare to mention. But you constantly have to measure the compliance (or what in the math research is often referred to as productive persistence).

Anaklu1 karma

out of curiosity, what level are your students?

pamplemouse2 karma

Professional programmers at big companies. They are mostly cross-training to a new technology.

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

Hmm - that is interesting, because that sounds like a group of learners who will have a very short term benefit from learning that. Where in the process do you loose them?

Bethanney1 karma

I am a college instructor and I wanted to tell you how much I love your 'anatomy and physiology revealed' product. It is by far the very best virtual cadaver program I have seen. The features on the program are excellent. I tailor my entire anatomy lab class around your program. Students love it, use it like crazy, and I see a dramatic improvement in grades. Also, I think it reasonably priced considering the work that would go into the program. Thanks so much for such a great program!!

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

Thanks - I agree that team did a great job for sure!

dontbanmeho1 karma

Doctor, can you please tell your boss to make text books cheaper? Its not going to work i understand, he needs his yacht also.

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

Again, I respect what lies behind your post. However, I hope that you can see that we are being very, very mindful of securing that students can actually afford the technology we are building now. I will risk a fierce debate over this and claim that we are the world leading company in this respect. I am crystal clear that it takes time to penetrate to your credit card statements, but over the next 3-10 years the decisions and investments we are making every day is increasing value and reducing cost. It know it does not address this short term, but our long term strategy is extremely focused on this. Again, I tell my team all the time that it is of no good to build amazing products that nobody can afford. That's misunderstood geniuses in the making! Hang in there. We are working hard to address this.

dontbanmeho1 karma

Thank you for your answer, much appreciated.

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

You are welcome!

kurtisgodelstein1 karma

how do you compare your technology to knewton, which continues to get all the buzz...

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

Well - let me focus on what we do that is special: We believe that the value of adaptive learning lies in the cross domain between world class adaptive technology and world class content curated specifically for adaptive delivery. For most people who attempt to do that the cost of curating the content explodes and students or schools cannot afford it long term. We are - after having made close to a thousand adaptive products - convinced we have a scaleable method that not only produces the highest performance for adaptive systems out there, but also at a cost that can bring this sustainably in the future. For students and schools!

armorsmith421 karma

I'm a software engineer who wants to get into ed tech. What should I do?

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

If you are world class - join us :-)

MHE incl. the teams from Area9 and ALEKS have a very broad span of computer scientists and software developers. There are so many aspects of this that we are constantly on a quest to get the best of the best out there. Send an application if you feel like you are ready for it. And keep sharpening your saw!

Moot_ExH1 karma

As a recent graduate (within 5 years) of MSEE, my question for future students is how much do you interact with industry or R&D Laboratories to make sure that there are relevant examples in your books of what we work with on a daily basis? Much of the important fundamentals really rang true with me when I was faced with a real (and difficult) problem to solve in the lab.

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

When we made the first 'Labs' products (that are adaptive, simulated problem solving products), it became clear that we could not ever get to more than 'cook book' problem solving if we did not invest in technologies that could bring a student up to a minimum level of baseline understand BEFORE asking them to solve problems. It is critical to notice the word 'minimum' because it turned out that there is an optimal balance between no leveling at all and trying to do too much ahead of the problem solving/simulation/critical thinking. We have learned from 20 years of making simulators that people learn in very different ways and we have to be careful to be prescriptive about which order or structure people should learn based upon. However, there is little doubt that you are absolutely correct that this is critically important and while I am sure that my colleagues who are making books, are trying their best to include relevant examples wherever they can, we have a chance to completely change the use of problems if we support them with adaptive technologies for leveling.

MiningsMyGame1 karma

As a student, I have one request: can you make your online textbooks better? The format means that though we are required to use this online book in our school, everyone hates it. I personally dislike it because it is difficult to just browse, and the pages never fit in the window (meaning scrolling) . The way you have to change pages also is painful, especially when going back a page. Just some recommendations. Thanks!

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

Which online textbook are you using? Have you seen or tried SmartBook?

MiningsMyGame1 karma

Sorry! It looks like we actually use Pearson. I'm sorry to bother you.

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

No worries - you are always welcome and I know this is confusing. I have studied how students use e-books exhaustively the last years leading up to making SmartBook - and I knew we have a gap to bridge. Have a look and let me know what you think: http://learnsmartadvantage.com/products/smartbook/ This is not the end - this is the beginning of something I hope is better?

per-aspera1 karma

Do you think that certain fields are less adaptable to this sort of technology? I took an online, adaptive statistics course, and I learned quite a bit, but when I took an online foreign language course I found it completely useless.

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

Absolutely! And as important, it has to be used mindfully in each subject area. Adaptive learning is not a magic wand that just fixes everything. It is a methodology and technology that if combined with content selected and curated the right way can be powerful. Unfortunately, this makes this complicated to talk about because because like paper and ink do not make a good book - it is what is on the pages that does - adaptive learning can be somewhat adaptive and completely useless, but it can also be a real break through in learning. Hopefully, it was not one of our LearnSmart foreign language courses that was useless?

thebud321 karma

Do you see a role for wearable technology in education?

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

Yes! We are actually researching an important aspect of that intensely right now. I do think that we need a couple of breakthroughs. Not necessarily tech wise, but rather in the organization of what is learned and what is looked up.

pastorerickson1 karma

Examples? Google glass? Internet of things? Or do you mean more along the lines of biometrics?

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

We need to figure out what we are trying to do before we think of specific technologies. So the honest answer is, I don't know what it will look like yet, but we are beginning to know what we are trying to do.

dystopianpark1 karma

What do you think is the single most important thing that needs to be improved in our education system?

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

Find ways where we can handle that all students are different - and even change during the time we spend with them.

Vaudtje1 karma

Are you evaluating and planning for action on privacy issues that may come from the data gathering associated with adaptive learning on a massive scale?

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

We are obsessed with this - the same way as the industry I come from where patients' privacy and confidentiality is key to long term trust and ability to impact their lives positively. We have the highest standards for protecting the data. We know that this is of the uttermost importance. An associated aspect is openness. We believe that it is critical that we all agree to share this information highway to raise the general watermark for education. We are still in the early infancy of this, but this is extremely high on the agenda for us.

overbyj1 karma

There is a somewhat palpable fear that adaptive technology will replace instructors. Given the individualized power of adaptive learning technology, how does the role of an instructor adapt?

DrUlrikChristensen3 karma

I often compare this to my old domain in medicine: Do we have a lesser or a greater need for doctors now than before all the advanced technology? I guess the answer is pretty obvious: We just gotten much more ambitious with what we can do and need even more qualified people. I think that the level of education will rise and we will be able to qualify teachers role and interventions substantially. (And I am just happy that we don't have to taste the patients' urine to diagnose diabetes)...

vpeppar2 karma

This is a great answer, and a great analogy. But is that all adaptive tech is good for? Diagnostics?

DrUlrikChristensen0 karma

No - adaptive tech supports both diagnosis and "treatment". But I see teachers bridging many important gaps that I don't see computers bridge soon.

FakePornName1 karma

Yes, but I really worry school districts who are always looking to slash costs will continue to pack and stack classrooms because laptops are cheaper than teachers.

DrUlrikChristensen0 karma

It is always a risk, but I think that we will see the bottom rise drastically. Let's apply peer pressure on those politicians to use the valuable tool the right way. OK?

pastorerickson1 karma

Can you go into this a little bit more? How exactly does adaptive support teaching, beyond diagnostics?

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

The newer generations (e.g. LearnSmart Achieve, Prep and Master) tailors also the learning events to the students' individual needs. And we actually do it at very granulated level. So students get vastly different learning experiences. Also, SmartBook adapts the reading experience dynamically, which is also way beyond just diagnosis.

NYsurfer1 karma

I love the idea behind adaptive technology being utilized in education.

I am curious on all the data that is being collect by McGraw-Hill from products such as LearnSmart and SmartBook. In academic research there seems to be not enough longitudinal research being conducted on the products that drive the industry. As a company that is a leader in this technology are there future plans to open up the data being collected to researchers or consortium that will work with McGraw-Hill in research?

If so what would you want to see researched that is different from the Bill and Melinda Gates Adaptive Learning Market Acceleration Program, which is still being conducted?

DrUlrikChristensen0 karma

Yes - we are working on a ground breaking approach to this. We are committed open standards and opening up for researchers to benefit as much as possible from this. We already work with several large institutions to pilot this and have a group of top researchers helping us to get this right. Regarding the Gates initiative: It is more focus on maturing the market currently, but as all players in this space, we are in active dialogue about where to go next.

themisterbus1 karma

Out of all the adaptive products you and your team have developed over the years, which one are you proudest of and why?

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

The one you have not seen yet :-) We have a product in the works that has cracked two of the hardest problems in education ever addressed by a computer. Almost ready...

GISP1 karma

You created games like the Danish "serious games interactive" (I believe thats correct) indie does learning stuff.
Or what medias do you utilize?

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

This is a quite different platform. We also make simulators, but the most of the adaptive products are based on a portfolio of platforms we have developed over the past several years targeted at this specifically. See http://learnsmartadvantage.com/products/learnsmart/ to get a feel for what the products are like.

GISP1 karma

What steps are you taking to keep the students interested?
What draws in the users and makes em continue to want to use it?

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

1) Doing our best to make students feel that this is valuable time spent (that requires that what we ask them to do is relevant - so that it where the rubber really meets the road for an adaptive system: it needs to work). 2) Adjust the pressure on them and make it clear what is expected. This is not always easy as we are changing the learning paradigm: Now you have to keep 'recharging' what you have learned in the past which is a new concept to many learners. 3) Strike learning contracts with them. Let them be in charge and help them understand the consequences of their learning behavior. We ask students (if their profs allow) to tell us what their commitment is. 4) We monitor their motivation and adjust both based on individual responses, but often also entire products based on community feedback. 5) We communicate actively with students who are frustrated - we do this in several different ways that you can see if you try one of the LearnSmart products and see something you don't like or think is unfair.

GISP1 karma

Follow up question.
Are you using alternative methods of teaching, perhaps "the reverse" as ill like to call it, ala the Khan Acadamy way. Where Homework is done in school, and the "teaching" is the homework?

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

You could say that that is what LearnSmart Achieve, Prep and Master level products do, yes.

cford7251 karma

It seems like you guys were a start up with an idea. What's it like going from that to a big, established company?

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

We have working on this for a long time and we already worked with MHE in a very integrated fashion. These technologies are very much developed in a symbiosis between Area9 and MHE the past 7 years, so we knew each other very well.

Also, this is not our first rodeo. We were prepared for the ride. We were a substantial part of the team behind Sophus Medical that was sold to Laerdal Medical (the leading emergency medicine, CPR and nursing simulation company in the world) where we continued to work for years before we founded Area9 in 2006.

shadowbannedguy11 karma

What do you think about language learning websites like duolingo? Do you believe they are effective?

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

I think that in general one needs to look at how adaptive a product is technologically (all the various aspects incl. ability to motivate) and the quality of the content pieces that are being delivered in the system. The effect is the product of the two factors.

BearOfAesir1 karma

Guess it's offtopic, but since it's AMAnything.. I'm assuming you are Danish, so where are you from? And what's your story growing up until starting university studies. Just kinda curious. Tak for AMA!

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

I grew up first in Roskilde (the city where all Danish kings and queens are burried). Not surprisingly maybe, I am the son of two teachers, so when they got a job at high school in Haslev in 1979 we moved there. I spent most of my youth playing and coaching table tennis at top level. All the way through the first years of med school in Copenhagen. Shortly after our youngest daughter was born, we moved back to Haslev to be close to my parents - who are still teaching today! We are now on the move again - this time to Boston after having split time between Denmark, New York, Chicago and Dubuque for the past several years.

ihatenouns1 karma

Thanks for doing an AMA. As we strive to make education more individualized, do you think students' ability to work together will diminish? How do adaptive technologies bridge the gap between different learning styles when it comes to group work and collaboration? How will it combat social isolation? I appreciate any insight!

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

This is a critical point to address and thanks for asking this! I think that this is key to understand that computers will not and should not take over everything - at least not if we can anyhow afford to address these higher level learning objectives. Teachers and schools are needed for many aspects of learning - incl. this.

I hope that we will see that freeing up cognitive resources from students through making their "classic" studying more efficient with adaptive technology can enhance the ability to engage in these higher level/perpendicular activities that are sometimes dwarfed by the vast amount of "classic" learning that needs to happen.

biciklanto1 karma

I'm both thrilled and wary about MHE acquiring ALEKS. I used it as a college student with a sub-par math background (read: liberal arts high school) to catch up on math, and it's still the best program of the type I've used, including solutions from McGraw-Hill itself, MathXL, Khan, and others.

Are there plans to extend ALEKS to further higher math? I would use it in a heartbeat for some of the mutlivariable calculus I'm now working on, and absolutely believe in the product.

Thanks for the AMA!

DrUlrikChristensen3 karma

MHE has a very ambitious strategy in math and we have several development projects in high math - and we will accelerate this. You may finish too early to be able to benefit fully from them, but at least we are working our behinds off to get it out there...

SilverbackBob1 karma

How much effort is put toward looking at the role localized cultures play in learning? Working on localizing content seems obvious, but are there ways to implement digital learning systems that also address cultural learning issues? I grew up in interior Alaska where village children struggled with standardized testing because they were asked questions involving an escalator, a common device never seen or experienced by these kids. (In 1995, I built one of University of Alaska Fairbanks' first distance delivery classes that used the internet instead of postal mail, placing syllabi and supplemental materials online; a very functional idea for a place where half your students are in fly-in only villages.)

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

We have in the past done substantial work to understand how to design debriefing technologies and content for different cultures. The adaptive technologies are still in it infancy internationally, but at least we respect that it is not easy and needs attention.

marienewyork1 karma

How did you transition from medicine to education?

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

We started looking at human errors with operating theater teams in full scale sims, but could quickly (within the first years) see that this was just the tip of the iceberg. So we first developed more broadly available computer simulators and then the last decade it has become more and more clear that the fundamental way we learn stuff all the way through school impacts eventual performance later. Just the amount of stuff to learn and retain is a challenge. Adaptive learning is a powerful response to that challenge as it not only helps using the learners' time better, it also qualifies the investment from the teachers.

SwordOfJustice1 karma

With the rise of internet enabled self education, do you think textbooks, both online and off, will remain a viable part of the education landscape?

It seems to be the case that textbooks are aggregated information from other, often better sources. With general access to the original sources on the rise, it would appear that textbooks are becoming an unnecessary middle man that distills or waters down the sources they pull from.

Even in formal academic environments, I would argue that textbooks cheapen the overall quality of the education by separating the student from the information. The best classes I have taken didn't require packaged textbooks, but instead required us to directly read the works of great thinkers and interact with their ideas directly, rather than simply read about them.

Too many of the textbooks I have been required to read in my own education have simply presented watered down versions of the ideas they represent.

I don't mean to suggest that textbooks aren't valuable, I just think they are relied on too heavily by educators at all levels.

DrUlrikChristensen1 karma

I think that the adaptive technologies will change that. We already have the next generation products in the pipeline, but we can also see a substantial need to develop at different speeds. That is the reason why we both invest heavily in SmartBook that is an adaptive reading experience with all the bells and whistles from LearnSmart, AND in LearnSmart Achieve, Prep and Master which is moving away from the book based curriculum. However, we have observed thousands of learners, and it is pretty clear that we need to do both for a while. In both cases however, we can see the impact of the adaptivity.

LopsidedLolly0 karma

So my friend has a sort of jock itch that goes away and comes back sometimes and he says this has been happening for the past three years, also it gets really sweaty and has a smell sometimes or so he says. What should I tell him?

DrUlrikChristensen6 karma

Go see a real doc. :-) My MD stands for MegaDangerous. I did not have LearnSmart going through med school, so I have forgotten a ton.

skilldotcom0 karma

Can you see why kids love the taste of Cinnamon Toast Crunch?

DrUlrikChristensen2 karma

My princesses love Special K Cinnamon better.

tej88-1 karma

Why is it so easy to cheat on McGraw-Hill online homework? All you have to do is look at the source code to find the answers.

DrUlrikChristensen0 karma

There was a small bug in a specific item type (only a fraction of the homework items and not in the adaptive systems) a couple of weeks ago. The hole is plugged - the code is encrypted now (and was plugged within two days of my colleagues on the homework team being made aware of it). I hope that makes you feel better about the system :-) Thanks to those people out there who keep us SHARP!

tej880 karma

Well, I don't know if this relates to the small bug or not, but for this past semester, you could find the answers to all the online homework for my statics class. I never felt bad about the system as I abused it to not actually do the homework.

DrUlrikChristensen0 karma

That's the one that was plugged. Let us know if there are more, but we are not aware of any open bugs of this kind.

karmanaut-6 karma

Do you think video games could be made more educational? There was a big attempt to do this when I was younger (with things like Math Blasters or Oregon Trail) but educators seem to have given up on that front. Are educational video games a possibility? Why, or Why not?

DrUlrikChristensen3 karma

Cost is the big issue. Yes - of course they could, but the number of learning objectives you can integrate easily is low, so you have to pick your battles. There are also some fundamental differences: Games try to keep people there for as long as possible - I only try to keep there tuned until they have learned :-)