SciTech

Personalized learning encourages creativity

Associate professor at New York University Winslow Burleson gave a Human-Computer Interaction seminar lecture on motivational environments. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/) Associate professor at New York University Winslow Burleson gave a Human-Computer Interaction seminar lecture on motivational environments. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/) In Burleson’s Human-Computer Interaction seminar lecture, he explained how inventors’ workshops could improve lifelong learning. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/) In Burleson’s Human-Computer Interaction seminar lecture, he explained how inventors’ workshops could improve lifelong learning. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/)

With so many new technologies available today, from robots to responsive spaces, we have a great opportunity to make better systems for personalized learning, intelligent creativity support, and open health innovation.

“Some knowledge is sticky and hard to acquire and often you can understand that knowledge in one of two ways: A self-discovery, and a toolkit that brings about that discovery,” said Winslow Burleson, an associate professor at New York University’s College of Nursing, during a Human-Computer Interaction seminar lecture last Wednesday titled “Motivational Environments: Strategies for Personalized Learning, Intelligent Creativity Support, and Open Health Innovation.”

“If we take education broadly as being a training of individuals’ expertise for them to contribute to society and we take a perspective of time, over time we’ve had the ability to train individuals to sufficient expertise to deal with the problems of the day,” Burleson said.

As a result, people have been able to solve many of today’s problems, but as we solve these problems, even harder problems begin to appear. The difficulty curve increases rapidly, resulting in the need for a system that is able to sufficiently increase learners’ expertise to match the increasing curve. To fulfill this need, learners would have to acquire a broad range of knowledge and a deep understanding of the material. According to Burleson, this is the goal of personalized learning and teaching strategies.

Burleson said people need to be “engaged in passion-based learning” throughout their lives so that they can explore their interests and help humanity. These types of individuals are vital to solving the world’s newest problems. According to information provided by Stanford University and the University of Washington, formal learning takes up about 18.5 percent of a person’s life in grades one to 12, which is extremely rigid. Burleson argues that we can blur these lines to get a better lifelong learning opportunity.

This is the goal of Burleson’s inventors’ workshops, which are “open online and physical, peer supported and expert mentored, communities,” according to the abstract for his lecture. Focusing on the idea of Froebel Gifts, or providing gifts at the right time, such as when people need them, the workshops are designed to try to understand these gifts and toolkits. For example, one can find millions of hours of educational videos online, ranging from TED talks to online lectures from various colleges. But the problem with the workshops is that they are passive.

As Burleson critiqued, “There is no mechanism to get involved. What I want coupled with each video is a toolkit or set of toolkits.” This toolkit would provide anything from a list to the actual ability for people to manipulate some material for an immersive experience with the material. The goal of such a system for facilitating learning would be to make sure people understand nuances at many levels of expertise and views. There are many different ways to do this, such as through human-robot interaction by providing playful robotics that interact with kids.

According to the componential model of creativity, there are four main components to generating creativity. These components are intrinsic motivation, domain-relevant knowledge, creative thinking style, and external factors. As a result, we can use technology to foster each of these components. Burleson believes we can use technology such as affective computing (the development of systems that can simulate human affects), intelligent tutoring systems, creativity support tools, and context-aware systems to tackle these respective components.

At his media lab, Burleson uses a virtual learning companion to help people that believe they cannot increase their intelligence. These so-called self-theories of intelligence can be improved by allowing the companion to provide help just before the human decides to quit learning something. This help provides a metacognitive experience, which also gives the opportunity for an active experience. By linking the two, people were actually able to enjoy what they were doing. Studies show that this is the point at which people are the most creative and generate the best ideas and persevere through difficulties. Using sensors and cameras, Burleson’s lab is able to understand the experiences of various people and react to them properly.

Through studies such as the ones Burleson is conducting, we can become more aware of how people function and properly use technology to react to them. In doing so, we can further education and other fields by providing humans with better experiences. Burleson’s motivational education companion, for example, provides such opportunities and may give way to better education in the future that will hopefully allow humans to reach new creative heights.