The Alemira School learning support systems Calcularis (maths) and Orthograph (spelling) tackle different subjects but are based on the same underlying principles. The first principle is using computers to adapt to the needs of individual learners and presenting learning content in a variety of ways with the aim of facilitating processing and automation within the brain. The second is to enable students to train on a regular, independent basis by means of short training sessions, the results of which can then be overseen and monitored by the supervising adult (teacher/therapist/parent or guardian) using the Coach analysis tool.
The shared underlying principles of the two programs are explained here:
Our computer-based learning programs have been developed based on several years of intensive research by computer scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) and the Department of Neuropsychology at the University of Zurich. Designed for students of all ages and stages in their education, the learning systems work on the basic premise that some pathways within the brain can be inadequately automated due to the insufficient maturity of particular brain regions (especially evident in learning differences such as dyslexia & dyscalculia). Based on this, we combined cutting-edge scientific findings to come up with a solution. Our multisensory learning systems support the maturing process by enabling the brain to strengthen these pathways via different sensory channels. Colors, shapes and sounds are incorporated into the training to activate underdeveloped regions of the brain and compensate where it is needed. This activation of multiple senses – also referred to as ‘multisensory learning’ – promotes the efficient storage and retention of new information in the brain.
In Orthograph, words are not only represented in black and white but in a clearly identifiable sequence of colors, shapes, and sounds. What’s more, the syllabication of each word is represented in a three-dimensional way, which trains spatial perception and helps to improve spelling. This multisensory approach to learning enables the brain to combine information from different channels and link it together to facilitate broader learning success. In other words: Orthograph uses multisensory learning to link spoken and written language in the brain. The attractive computer graphics and visual effects help to disguise the mathematical elements and scientific components, which are drawn from the fields of neuropsychology, information theory, artificial intelligence, and psychophysics. The game technology appeals directly to the learners and motivates them to work on the tasks.
Automatic progress analysis
Exercises are completed on the computer. As soon as a user is registered, they can begin to train anywhere and anytime – at home, at school, or during an educational session. The learning path is stored as the user progresses and can be viewed at any time, while the computer conducts ongoing analysis of learning behavior and errors, compiling an individually tailored learning schedule. In addition to the predefined learning modules, it is also possible to create custom training courses, for example with words from vocabulary tests or foreign languages. The training can be expanded and supplemented as desired.
Developing the brain
When we learn how to do maths, we engage various regions of the brain, each of which is developed in different ways. The problems that can occur during this process are wide-ranging and can differ hugely from child to child. Since the daily battle with learning how to add, subtract or multiply is never the same for any two children, it calls for a highly innovative solution. Moreover, the linkage and interaction of these different regions of the brain are just as important as their gradual development and should be automated and triggered differently depending on the task at hand. Problems in one area can hinder development in another area and therefore also the interaction of these different areas. Calcularis trains individual areas of the brain using specific types of games and simultaneously activates as many areas of the brain as possible by representing numbers as quantities, number words, Arabic numerals, or on a number line. It supports the learning and consolidation process by systematically appealing to different sensory qualities, such as color and shape.
Training skills and related sub-skills
Calcularis contains internal, branched networks of clearly defined, hierarchically linked sub-skills. It contains a range of training tasks for each of these skills and covers a range of degrees of difficulty. Once a particular skill has been mastered, the program delivers games to train-related sub-skills. Within this process, an important element of the training is the repetition of tasks in different contexts, since this not only consolidates the knowledge learned but also enhances the user’s mental flexibility. The enjoyment they gain from mastering new skills helps motivate them to continue tackling their learning needs.
In order for support to be targeted and effective, it must take into account the current cognitive developmental level of each student and proceed from there in a step-by-step fashion. Our learning software continually analyses the student’s current skill level and level of progress, creating a basis for the tailored delivery of learning content. Both the Calcularis and Orthograph programs adapt to the skills and speed of the individual learner and support them in exactly the areas in which they struggle most. Customized training sessions help them overcome their difficulties in a game-based fashion. The learning software doesn’t merely fight the systems but tackles the problem at the root.
The tailored delivery of training content is based on the learner’s individual skills. All learners begin their training with tasks on the number range 0-10. Those who have already mastered the skills required for this range will progress through this section of the training quickly. If a user continues to experience difficulties in this area, Calcularis will deliver a tailored selection of games to train the sub-skills in which the user displays a need for improvement. This consolidates a user’s ability to work within a particular number range and ensures that their knowledge is sufficiently automated. As it delivers the training, Calcularis constantly analyses the user’s current level of knowledge and progress, selects upcoming exercises, and dynamically delivers the training content that will have the greatest effectiveness and long-term impact for that particular user. After mastering the range 0-10, learners are guided successively through the numbers ranges 0-20, 0-100, and 0-1000. In this way, they acquire the skills they need at their own speed and in accordance with their individual level of development.
Individually tailored learning
Children work independently at the computer. The software is powered by a complex mathematical model that continually analyses the user’s learning behavior and calculates which word should be introduced or repeated next in order to facilitate maximum learning progress. Errors are transposed into new training words, helping users make improvements where they need them most. Orthograph is built on the principle of immediate feedback. If an incorrect letter is entered, an error sound will play and the mistake will be highlighted on the screen, enabling the learner to make corrections in real-time and avoid assimilating an incorrect image of how the word is spelled. Student’s overcome their difficulties in a playful yet effective way.
Our learning programs consolidate and supplement students’ grasp of basic literacy and numeracy skills and are easy to integrate into the day-to-day workings of a school. All learners are supplied with their own username and password. Online training enables learners to complete training sessions at school or home. As a member of staff, you have access to the Coach analysis tool, with which you can monitor, evaluate and analyze the training and, where necessary, adapt it for individual students. By enabling learners to be efficiently supported within a normal classroom, our learning programs remove much of the burden from educational staff, special education workers, and parents, and the option to easily combine home and school use of the programs aids specialist staff in overseeing the learning process. All students train independently, yet in a guided and monitored fashion. Students perceive the training as a motivational game and can seamlessly continue their work at home. The entire learning path is stored and can be monitored by the assigned teacher or support worker at any time, while the learning content can be adapted and personalized. Numerous functions are available to educational staff in the school versions of Orthograph and Calcularis to enable them to carry out detailed analyses, preparation work, and user-specific software extensions: class overviews, study time monitoring, learning reports, certificates, creation of new modules, drawing up of learning plans, detailed error analyses, sending of learning reports via email, and more.
Our learning programs are ideally suited for parents seeking high-quality support for their children on the spelling or maths learning journey. The time commitment required from parents is minimal since the learning software is self-explanatory and guides the child through the process in a goal-driven fashion. Mistakes are analyzed on an ongoing basis and content adapted accordingly, while tailored learning sessions train exactly the areas in which the child has a need for improvement. User-friendly monitoring and analysis functions provide insights into material learned. Our learning software is not intended as a replacement for expert guidance in the classroom; rather, it’s designed to supplement and support it by enabling the stress-free acquisition of basic mathematical, spelling, and foreign language skills. Dyslexia and dyscalculia are “unlearned” and the affected child is able to rediscover their enjoyment in day-to-day school life.
Learning Controls For Parents And Specialists
Teachers, parents, and specialists can log in to the monitoring program Coach, which allows them to see how intensively a student has trained (particularly important for parents) and to produce detailed analyses of errors and of the learning path (particularly important for teachers and educational specialists). They can compare learners with their peers, print out automatically generated learning reports, design their own learning content, and make learner-specific adjustments to the program settings.
Automatic learning analysis
At the beginning of their training, all users start with the simplest game available, which works with the number range 0 – 10. With each answer, Calcularis recalculates the user’s knowledge level and chooses the next game accordingly, thereby facilitating the greatest possible level of progress. In doing this, it adapts automatically to the skills and needs of each user. When all of a particular number range has been mastered, Calcularis switches to the next-largest number range. Thanks to this adaptive function, users have a chance to acquire knowledge at their own speed and according to their personal learning style. At the same time, Calcularis ensures that all necessary skills are systematically developed and trained.
Twenty different game varieties train the child’s understanding of numbers and their ability to switch between the spoken, numeric and spatial representation of numbers. The task of distinguishing between numbers is supported by colors, shapes, and structures, while numbers in the decimal system are represented using the colors green (1 decimal point), blue (2 decimal points), and red (3 decimal points). These sensory aspects are reinforced by computer animations and make it easier for children to translate between different ways of representing numbers. Incorrectly solved tasks are solved for the purposes of example and the path to the solution represented visually.
Automatic learning analysis
Three different games guide learners through the training, while motivation is maintained by means of a reward system. The training begins with frequently used, low-difficulty words and moves on to less common, more difficult words as the user works their way through the modules. The complex mathematical model underpinning the software analyses the student’s learning behavior continually to determine the optimal word to be delivered at any given time. Errors are transposed into new training words, helping users make improvements in their personal areas of difficulty. If, for example, a learner frequently mixes up the letter pairs “b/d” or “p/q”, the computer will deliver extra words containing these difficult letters. Learned words are automatically repeated to ensure the consolidation of knowledge. If a student continues to make frequent errors, the word is reincorporated into the training routine. On the other hand, if a student continues to spell the word correctly after several repetitions, it is considered to have been assimilated and is no longer shown as part of the training. This thorough, in-depth training protocol guarantees maximum learning success for individual users.
With each click or keystroke, Alemira Orthograph gives immediate visual and auditory feedback about whether or not the word was spelled correctly. If, for example, a user mixes up “p” and “q”, Orthograph will immediately display a flashing asterisk to indicate that the blue “p” is not the same as the yellow “q”. If a user types the prefix “dis-” incorrectly, the yellow cylinder will appear. This immediate feedback not only allows users to improve without correction from a supervising adult but also promotes the formation of strong mental associations (e.g. of colors with letters). We know from neuropsychological research that feedback is most helpful for the brain when it is delivered within 100 milliseconds (0.1 seconds) of an error. After this, the attention of the brain is already focused on the next task – in this case, on writing the next letter.
After each session, students have the opportunity to place a colorful sticker in their sticker booklet. Once they have completed a module, they receive a corresponding medal. This visual representation of progress provides motivation and increases the children’s self-confidence. They see how much training they have completed and what they have achieved.
Thanks to the software’s ability to adapt to individual users, every pupil relearns the learning process from the ground up, receiving learning content tailored to their skills, learning behavior, and difficulties.
However, the software is most effective when its use is supervised by specialists. Ideally, learners will undertake 2-4 independent training sessions at home or school each week, while teachers or parents can review, evaluate or adjust the learning path every few days or weeks as needed. These reviews can take place at short, regular intervals or in the form of a 5-minute round-up one per month, depending on how intensively you wish to support and monitor the student’s progress.
The more enthusiastic and motivated we are, the easier it is to succeed at learning. Yet it’s precisely when we’re not very good at something that we quickly become demotivated through overload, frustration, and/or stress. Of course, in such cases, we can be encouraged by receiving external praise, rewards, or motivational words; however, these boosts work only for a short time and often leave something to be desired in terms of their credibility. Only when we can activate our inner system of motivation, learn on our own initiative and feel a sense of drive for our goal can we remain focused on a task and learn successfully.
For this reason, there are several carefully selected motivational aspects built into our Alemira School learning games:
Short Training Sessions
Training sessions are limited to 20 minutes at a time. The feeling that the training session is manageable provides motivation to learners, who have the goal in sight and can see the end of their work time.
Tailored Delivery Of Content
Our learning programs adapt the content to individual learners to ensure that they do not feel overwhelmed or understimulated. This helps learners to engage with tasks successfully and improve their perception of their own abilities. Learning content is compiled in such a way that new and progressively more difficult problems begin to appear as new skills are mastered.
Confidence In Future Success
Thanks to a number of scientific studies, we can assure learners of an improvement of more than 35% after just three short months of training, guaranteeing better grades at school. Learners are motivated by the certain knowledge that their effort will be rewarded. As soon as they notice the first improvements in their school performance, the training becomes easier still.
Clear, Comprehensive Learning Reports
Learned content is visualized in the form of a mountain scene, giving learners a chance to reflect on and take pride in what they’ve learned. Detailed analyses of the learning path and current skill level are available to the supervising member of staff at any time, aiding objective assessment. Each keystroke, problem solved and letter entered is recorded here, creating precise documentation of all activity.
Learners can select a computer-animated guide who will support their training by appearing on the screen from time to time to share tips, offer motivation or provide assistance. This social component makes it easier for children to train on their own.
Variety In Learning
Fun and enjoyment play a central role in learning. A diverse range of attractively presented games provides variety and counter boredom.
Learning weaknesses make children unsure of themselves and reduce their independence, which is why our programs are designed to allow them to train without help. The computer provides “invisible” guidance, increasing children’s independence, self-sufficiency, and feeling of self-worth – all of which encourages them to carry on learning.
If a task is solved correctly, the computer responds with music or motivational remarks. These are not played every time but recur on an occasional basis. The computer is never impatient or annoyed, but motivates the child and reinforces positive, successful learning behavior.
Solved tasks result in points, stars, or coins, which can be traded for animals, backdrops, food, etc. as part of a reward system. Learning reports and certificates can be printed out at any time to celebrate children’s work. Stickers and pre-printed sticker booklets are also available and can be used to help children visualize work accomplished, modules completed, and/or skills mastered.