Along the Innovation Curve

Along the Innovation Curve

-The Most Innovative Learning Applications

By Sam S. Adkins, Metaari Chief Researcher

The global learning technology industry is in a period of profound innovation. Gamebased Learning companies are getting FDA approval for their therapeutic games, AI-based exam proctoring has altered the landscape of the certification business, artificial employees are now part of the workforce, digital “people” are learning from employees and customers, and socially-aware tutors are teaching language skills. Let us look at some of these applications along the innovation curve.

Digital workers should not be confused with the digital workforce that are humans working with technology. Digital workers or digital employees are AI-based entities. They are artificial employees.

One of the most sophisticated AI-based helpdesk support avatars is IPsoft’s Amelia that the company markets under the rubric of their “digital workforce”.

IPSoft’s Amelia Digital Worker

According to IpSoft, “she observes, learns, and remembers anything you ask. She can read emotions and context during conversations with colleagues and customers, on any communications channel. She can do the repetitive work of thousands while helping to improve the creativity and productivity of her human colleagues. If Amelia is unable to resolve an issue, she will escalate the task to a human colleague. Amelia will then observe how the colleague resolves the issue, learn from it, and apply that knowledge to any similar tasks.”

With her cognitive capabilities, Amelia continuously learns from human interactions to create the most engaging user experiences and generate business value. Amelia, the Most Human AI, is the result of decades of research in discrete mathematics, cognitive neuroscience, autonomic systems, and embedded language models.

IPsoft has two primary uses cases for Amelia: IT operations (AIOps) and customer service. Amelia was first launched in 2014 and is now in her fourth iteration and the 3D avatar is essentially an artificial human.

In February 2020, IPsoft launched their new marketplace for clients to license digital employees. “The Digital Employee marketplace industrializes and democratizes AI use within enterprises by providing a new, intuitive way to quickly hire digital workers.” The first digital employee in the store is an IT Service Desk Engineer. “Through the marketplace,, an enterprise can onboard Digital Employees pre-trained as IT Service Desk Engineers who can handle a wide range of support issues both independently and in collaboration with human co-workers, delivering rapid deployment and immediate business value.”

New Zealand’s Soul Machines calls their digital workers “Digital People”. New Zealand’s Soul Machines generate most of their revenues from building highly realistic virtual humans for clients. For example, Soul Machines developed the virtual tutor called Will for the energy company Vector. The conversational avatar is designed to teach PreK-12 students about renewable energy. “Compared to the cost of paying a human teacher, these systems are also far cheaper, they can scale to millions of students per avatar, and they can adjust to each student’s individual learning style, known as ‘adaptive learning,’ to help them reach their full potential,” reports Soul Machine.

In May 2020, Soul Machines made their Digital DNA Studio (DDNA Studio) available “for companies to easily and rapidly create their own Digital People for an engaging and powerful brand experience. In today’s increasingly digital world, brands can connect with every customer in a personalized way at scale with Soul Machines’ Digital People. DDNA Studio creative suite takes the power of Soul Machines’ Human OS Platform to create astonishing lifelike, dynamically interactive Digital People. The Digital People have authored personalities which you can evolve over time based on user interactions as they help brands connect with their digital audiences and automate repetitive business functions in helpful and productive ways.”

In February 2020, Akili Interactive Labs announced the results from the STARSADHD trial of EndeavorRx, a digital therapeutic game designed to improve attention in children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The results were published in the prestigious Lancet Digital Health journal. According to Akili, “the publication represents the first presentation of complete results from the STARS-ADHD trial, a first-ofits-kind large, randomized, multi-center, controlled study of the company’s flagship technology and the first seminal trial in a series of recent and ongoing studies of the attentional treatment. Results show EndeavorRx improved both objective measures and parent observations of attention and functional impairments.”

EndeavorRX’s game-based learning product for the treatment of ADHD children.

In the study of 348 children diagnosed with ADHD, EndeavorRx showed improvements across a wide range of attention measures, from objective measures of attention to how attention impacted daily life and functioning. The STARS-ADHD study represents the company’s largest clinical trial of EndeavorRx that “has to-date been studied across five clinical trials including more than 600 children diagnosed with the disorder.”

Akili has obtained $140.9 million in funding since they launched in Boston in 2011. They rebranded to Endeavor in early 2020 and obtained FDA approval for a version called EndeavorRx for a prescription-based treatment of ADHD in June 2020.

While there are several Cognitive Learning apps that have obtained FDA approval, this is the first Game-based Learning product to gain that recognition.

Almost all high stakes testing is done in physical locations in the presence of proctors. Their sole purpose it to prevent cheating. Virtual online proctors with live humans have been used for decades but they have proven relatively easy to cheat. That has all changed with the advent of AI-based virtual exam proctors. These new software products integrate facial recognition, voice recognition, keystroke profiling, and a range of so called behavioral biometrics. So far, they have proven to be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to cheat. AI-based virtual remote exam proctoring startups are coming on the market at a rapid rate and they are attracting significant amounts of venture capital.

Proctorio’s Vector AI for remote proctoring.

Startups include Romania’s TypingDNA, Meazure Learning (the result of a January 2020 merger between ProctorU and Yardstick Assessment Strategies), Proctorio, Examity, SmarterServices, Spain’s Smowltech, UK’s Combrobo, and Ireland’s

The demand is booming. According to Proctorio, “From April 2019 to April 2020, Proctorio experienced a 900% increase in the number of exams proctored monthly, skyrocketing from 250,000 to 2.5 million while maintaining an uptime of 99.991% and an average support chat response time of 7.9 seconds. Proctorio is currently serving 850 partner institutions, supporting 1,200,000 active weekly users, and has collectively proctored 18 million exams in all but four countries around the world.”

The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) is the leading global vendor-neutral IT certification provider. In August 2019, they acquired a company called Metacog that develops AI-based assessment proctoring technology. The Metacog technology is now integrated with CompTIA’s exam platform and is marketed as a remote exam proctoring solution. This marks CompTIA’s major foray into online exams. “Deep learning analytics platform will provide robust security, analytics and psychometrics for remotely proctored, Internet delivered exams. By making remote testing widely available we’ll provide equal access to a tech career on-ramp for those individuals who may not have easy access to a brick-and-mortar testing center.”

Intelligent tutors used to be prohibitively expensive to develop and only large federal military agencies could afford to build them. They had to be built with proprietary technology. That is no longer true with a large array of inexpensive commercial off the shelf (COTs) components in the market.

Alelo is primarily government-facing and sells packaged content and custom services to both government and corporate clients. Their tagline is “Play. Learn. Communicate.” In December 2019, they launched their new AI-based Learning product called Enskills. “Alelo’s new Enskill platform helps learners develop communication skills in conversations with artificially intelligent interactive characters. Enskill supports unscripted conversation instead of reading or selecting screen prompts. The system automatically evaluates learner performance and feedback, relieving teachers of the burden of rating student speech.”

Alelo’s cultural awareness simulation.

“Alelo provides cloud-based learning through AI simulations. Learners engage in interactive conversations with socially intelligent virtual humans in a realistic setting. Learners receive immediate feedback and personal instruction in areas where they need to improve. Organizations can lower training and education costs, scale rapidly, and improve learner effectiveness.”

Alelo also develops what they call cultural-awareness products using AI. In
August 2020, they announced that the US Defense Language and National Security Education Office (DLNSEO) had mandated that personnel deployed to 86 countries must complete Alelo’s simulation for that country. The training is now mandatory. According to Alelo, “we create avatar-based immersive scenarios, in which trainees must apply their skills in simulations of real-world encounters with people from other countries. They can practice as much as they need, without fear of making mistakes. When they encounter similar situations in real life, they feel familiar, and so trainees have the self-confidence to navigate them successfully.”

These are just a few of the amazing innovations that have come on the market in the last few years. Perhaps the most significant innovation is the mergence of intelligent learning products. The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into digital learning experiences essentially accomplishes the “holy grail” of providing true personalized learning that adapts in real time to an individual user’s cognitive abilities.

Sam Adkins is chief research and founder of Metaari, an ethics-based market research firm that identifies revenue opportunities for learning technology suppliers. The research taxonomy is the backbone of
the quantitative data repository. Metaari tracks the learning technology markets in 122 countries. and offers the most complete view of the international learning technology market in the industry. Metaari focusses solely on advanced learning technology research on products that utilize psychometrics, cognitive computing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality.

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