Cognitive + Education: Changing the future of back to school

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Viewing education through a cognitive computing lens­­­

As we enter the Cognitive Era, it’s natural to ask “How can cognitive technology improve our daily lives?” The IBM Center for Applied Insights focused a cognitive computing lens on education in particular, and produced a white paper called The future of personalised education. The paper recognizes that a powerful aspect of cognitive technology is its ability to adapt for individual users. That consequently has massive implications for education.

Speaking with educators around the world, researchers found that the future of education includes bite-sized, personalized experiences crafted from technology. Ultimately, educational experiences will amass a personal data profile that accompanies each student. As a result of this data, teachers will be able to refine each student’s lifelong learning journey.


The idea of personalized learning has been around as long as personal tutors. But personal tutors are not practical or cost-effective for everyone. So, what would it look like if cognitive computing could help teachers understand each student, evaluate gaps and guide the student along an effective personal learning path?

Introducing Big Bird to Big Blue

In 1969, a new television program set out to pair the appeal of television with content based upon child development research. Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, now has 46 years of experience improving the literacy, numeracy, social behaviors and emotional well-being of children worldwide.

When Sesame Street began, televisions were not as common as computers, tablets and smartphones are today. Today’s devices are therefore an amazing opportunity to develop and expand upon personalized, interactive learning experiences.

To harness this opportunity, Sesame Workshop and IBM have begun a three-year collaboration developing cognitive educational resources that adapt to individual children.

Helping all young children get hold of personalized learning tools

The National Research Council has shown that significant brain development occurs in the early years of a child’s life, making this window critical for learning and development. By developing cognitive interactive apps, Sesame Workshop and IBM will help put the most effective personalized educational tools within the reach of almost every child.

Learning what we have to learn

Our collaborative goal is to develop a new category of adaptive learning that complements the roles of parents and teachers.

But, just like children, we have a lot to learn. So the collaboration has begun with an open field of possibility.

“To create Sesame Street, Joan Ganz Cooney and her co-founders convened diverse experts — the brightest lights of the day — to help conceive and develop the show. That’s what we’re going to do, again, now…

We can’t predict every turn this partnership will take; we don’t know yet what the platform will look like, or what apps and programs will be developed. That’s the exciting part. We’re pooling our interests, our experience, our passion, our commitment and our fervent belief that we can make learning better.”

—Jeff Dunn, Sesame Workshop President and CEO


Learn more about the IBM and Sesame Workshop collaboration by visiting the IBM collaboration page or IBM press room.

You can also read more from Jeff Dunn’s blog post Harnessing Technology to level the educational playing field. And from Richard Cave’s blog post How cognitive systems will make personalized learning a reality.

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IBM Vice President of Education Innovation

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