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Maths: Smart learning software helps children during lockdowns - and beyond

Nummer 029/2024 vom 27. Februar 2024
Intelligent tutoring systems for math problems helped pupils remain or even increase their performance during the Corona pandemic. This is the conclusion of a new study led by the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) and Loughborough University in the UK. As part of their work, the researchers analysed data from five million exercises done by around 2,700 pupils in Germany over a period of five years. The study found that particularly lower-performing children benefit if they use the software regularly. The paper was published in the journal "Computers and Education Open".

Intelligent tutoring systems are digital learning platforms that children can use to complete maths problems. "The advantage of those rapid learning aids is that pupils receive immediate feedback after they submit their solution. If a solution is incorrect, the system will provide further information about the pupil’s mistake. If certain errors are repeated, the system recognises a deficit and provides further problem sets that address the issue," explains Assistant Professor Dr Markus Spitzer, a psychologist at MLU. Teachers could also use the software to discover possible knowledge gaps in their classes and adapt their lessons accordingly. 

For the new study, Spitzer and his colleague Professor Korbinian Moeller from Loughborough University used data from "Bettermarks", a large commercial provider of such tutoring systems in Germany. The team analysed the performance of pupils before, during and after the first two coronavirus lockdowns. Their analysis included data from around 2,700 children who solved more than five million problems. The data was collected between January 2017 and the end of May 2021. "This longer timeframe allowed us to observe the pupils’ performance trajectories over several years and analyse them in a wider context," says Spitzer. 

The students’ performance was shown to remain constant throughout the period. "The fact that their performance didn’t drop during the lockdowns is a win in and of itself. But our analysis also shows that lower-performing children even managed to narrow the gap between themselves and higher achieving pupils," Spitzer concludes. 

According to the psychologist, intelligent tutoring systems are a useful addition to conventional maths lessons. "The use of tutoring systems varies greatly from state to state. However, our study suggests that their use should be expanded across the board," explains Spitzer. The systems could also help during future school closures, for example in the event of extreme weather conditions, transport strikes or similar events. 


Study: Spitzer M. W. H. & Moeller K. Performance increases in mathematics within an intelligent tutoring system during COVID-19 related school closures: a large-scale longitudinal evaluation. Computer and Education Open (2024). doi: 10.1016/j.caeo.2024.100162


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