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Individualized?! That’s what they all say!

I was at conference recently discussing DreamBox with a pretty savvy industry insider when she asked “what makes your product so unique?” My response was “It’s incredibly effective, fun, and highly individualized to a child’s particular learning needs.”

That’s when she said it. “Individualized?! That’s what they all say!”

You can’t really blame her. Lots of companies (past and present) state that they offer individualized instruction through adaptations. But it’s not entirely clear that they are offering individualization in the most rigorous interpretation of the word. Put another way, the concept of individualization encompasses a lot of territory, from the slightest customization to a highly personalized experience. Add to this the fact that individualization is a hard thing to see and experience firsthand (especially with a single student playing), and you can understand her perspective.

Individualized Math Learning Paths

When most eLearning companies claim individualization, what they usually mean is that they have fixed lesson pathways, simple “right or wrong” scoring of answers, basic audio/visual hints, and preset questions. In the end, however, it’s all very linear and predetermined much like an interstate highway. When we talk about individualization, it means we dynamically adapt lessons, hints, difficulty, lesson pathways, pace, motivational elements, and more. That means our product is non-linear and flexible much like, say, space travel. Here’s another easy way to visualize all of this – it’s an example of how we handle lesson pathways (aka “sequencing”) for students:

Individualized Learning Lesson Pathways: DreamBox vs. Competition

Lesson Pathways: DreamBox vs. Competition

As you can see, most companies merely advance a student to the next lesson group whether they struggled or got there with ease. This generally means that all children advance the same way and usually in the same manner. DreamBox, on the other hand, provides many ways to traverse the lessons including offering the student a range of choices within a particular lesson group (i.e., you’ll note all the #3 choices).

Why are we able to do so much? The simple answer is that our team understands and is able to harness the full sophistication and complexity of the Web — such that we can analyze everything from clickstreams to session information. This means we have more tools at our disposal, which in turn allows us to take a more refined approach to adaptations. When you couple this with our intense desire to test what we’ve built again and again, it means that we can deliver a truly individualized experience, which is at the heart of effective learning.