Drillster for embedding knowledge long term at educational facilities

The adaptive, question-based learning application Drillster is widely used for embedding business knowledge, but it works very well in the education sector too. Teachers can design their own drills for their particular subject, enabling them to teach students remotely, monitor progress, and discover gaps in their student’s knowledge, and immediately address them. However, there are certain negative preconceptions concerning adaptive, question-based learning. What do teachers and others in the education sector need to know about Drillster? Below, we briefly explain the adaptive learning methodology and the use (and inefficacy) of testing.

In short: what is Drillster?

Drillster is a question-based adaptive learning methodology where students are presented with ‘drills’, i.e. sets of questions presented in short learning intervals of about 15 minutes each. After every answer, right or wrong, there is always positive feedback; this way students always learn from their answers. For each individual learner, Drillster calculates when it is time to refresh that student’s knowledge so that it does not fade. As a result, they not only learn new information, but knowledge truly becomes embedded.

Personalized education for everyone

In an ideal world, schools and teachers would provide every student with personalized education. It would be a world in which every child would be given the opportunity to learn in his or her own way, at his or her own level and speed. It sounds wonderful; however, personalized education generally means a higher workload for teachers. After all, they would have to put together an individual curriculum for each and every student. It’s the ideal situation perhaps, but not feasible for most schools and teachers: it would simply take too much time.
Online adaptive learning is a solution. Adaptive learning uses computer algorithms to orchestrate the interaction with the learner and, based on the learner’s results, to determine the best way to proceed along the ‘learning path’. It determines which subjects the learner still has difficulty with and which subjects he or she has already mastered. With these insights, the follow-up steps, precisely tailored to the needs of the individual, can be mapped out. This can be seen as automated personalized education, and online adaptive learning makes such education scalable.

Online adaptive learning makes personalized education scalable.

Drillster and adaptive learning

How does Drillster enable adaptive learning? In Drillster, adaptive learning means that the app adapts to the pace and level of the student. The app detects what the learner is still struggling with and makes sure he or she practices that particular material more, while the material from the drill that the learner already knows well enough will be repeated less often. It is rote learning, but then fully tailored to the individual learner. This approach is effective, efficient, and saves a lot of time. In other words, it is smart learning. Teachers can track the progress of each student and see which topics or areas he or she is finding difficult. If it emerges that many students are having difficulty with the same material, as a teacher you can choose to cover that material again in class, thus removing any gaps in knowledge right away.
It doesn’t end there, however. The unique Drillster algorithm also calculates when a student is at risk of losing the knowledge already acquired. The student receives a notification when it is time to refresh the knowledge and is then responsible for going through the drills again. Then ‘spaced repetition’ kicks in and the intervals between the drill repetitions become longer. This ensures that more and more information is moved from the short-term to the long-term memory and the knowledge becomes embedded.

The inefficacy of summative and formative assessments

The difference between short and long-term memory brings us to exams. We know that exams are inextricably linked to education; however, we are adamant in our view that there is another way. That way is learning through drills. Drills are more effective than exams. This is because exams generally only result in a temporary spike in knowledge: shortly before a summative exam, students memorize the required material, get it down on paper the next day, and then forget all about it. All that knowledge has simply evaporated like snow in the sun. This is of little use to students when the time comes for the final exams.
Formative assessments rarely have the intended effect either. If a student does poorly on a formative assessment, the student knows that he or she has not obtained the required knowledge—not at all, or only in certain areas. The student may have more difficulty with fractions than with long division for example. However, the next practice test (and the next and the next) is set up exactly the same way, generally presenting the same number of problems involving fractions, as well as the same number of long division problems, even though the student has shown that he or she has already mastered the latter. It’s really a waste of time. It would be much more effective if the student would only study what he or she still needs to learn, getting an additional explanation where necessary.

Shortly before a summative exam, students memorize the required material, get it down on paper the next day, and then forget all about it. All that knowledge has simply evaporated.

Don’t test, drill!

This is where adaptive learning comes into its own. As mentioned previously, Drillster uses the power of spaced (i.e. smart) repetition. To get the student’s general level of knowledge up to par, instead of repeating all the practice material to the same degree, the student concentrates mainly on the areas he or she finds difficult. Step by step, the student masters all the material. The summative exam is then only a formality, and it can even be built right into the Drillster material. However—and this is not a popular standpoint in the world of education—the summative exam is then not really needed at all. After all, when students use adaptive learning and take responsibility for refreshing their knowledge at regular intervals, you can be pretty sure that everything is in order. This approach also helps reduce stress: after all, who does not get stressed out when faced with a practice test or an exam? We of course understand that written central exams are required by law; however, perhaps now seeing the inefficacy of tests will give food for thought when it comes to tests and exams that are not strictly necessary.

Long-term retention rather than a temporary spike in knowledge

As can be seen, ‘drilling’ is an effective way to provide insight into what the student knows, to embed knowledge, and to allow the student to improve efficiently in the areas where this is needed. It is tailored education without this demanding way too much of your time as a teacher. This way you avoid the temporary spike in knowledge that happens with summative exams while supporting long-term knowledge retention.

Are you ready and willing to say goodbye to exams?