Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Concept Driven Mastery: beyond the textbook, ebook, iBook 2… Essay

By Nai Wang - Founder and President

Textbooks have been around for centuries. They are pieces of knowledge put on paper and bound. Authors start at page one and continue until the epilogue. From A to B to C... boring, but necessary. When computers came around, information was seen differently. We were freed from the shackles of the linear, given license to roam to our hearts content, skipping links through a complex web of interrelated topics. We were allowed to think non linearly, to teach dynamically, and to innovate in previously unfathomable ways... so why don’t we?

KP is hard at work taking advantage of technology to free learning from the old linear instructional design. How could a sculptor work with only a pen and paper? How could an architect help but feel limited by concepts only drawn on long expanses of chalkboards? As publishers and framework designers, it is our duty to create materials that break the traditional models that are holding us back.

Our response to this challenge has been to create the next generation textbook by utilizing concept-driven mastery. Simply put, information in a given subject is broken down into individual concepts. Educators piece these concepts together and create a learning module. Students are tested against the knowledge through KP’s Automatic Remediation and Mastery System (ARMS) in KP Compass and given a knowledge rating (Novice, Apprentice, Scholar or Guru).

By doing this we are no longer bound by the rules of a linear textbook model (pun clearly intended). Apple’s recent announcement of revolutionizing the textbook is another step in the right direction, but it is by no means redefining the genre. E-Books are simply lazy translations of an old system into a digital format. They are great for saving trees and shoulder pain but there is nothing revolutionary about them. Making it easy for authors and publishers to put media rich content in an interactive tablet makes the content more interesting but it’s still in a linear design.

The next evolution will take a holistic approach. Look at the content as a whole and then break it down into its simplest forms which are knowledge concepts. This is a philosophy that will always elude the chapter by chapter design of textbooks. And without making things modular, they become fixed, difficult to move, and eventually skipped! We want to put customization back in the hands of the educator to determine what the student needs to learn. In a world where our 21st century learners are multidimensional thinkers, linear models don’t go with the flow of information that students are comfortable with in their lives outside the classroom.

Publishers need to get off their thrones and make that leap for the sake of education.

The new KP Compass learning platform is designed with the philosophy of doing a few things, very well. First, our aim is to put the information in the hands of the students anywhere, anytime, on any device. Using HTML5 to drive our front end, we are able to accomplish and scale the platform from something as small as an iPod touch to as large as a 1080p computer driven display. This is access without limits. Second, we aim is to put the content back in the hands of the teachers in the field. We accomplish this by allowing the teacher to take individual concepts, add their own content, and assessment questions, and put it all together into a relevant learning module. Then, POOF, the system does the rest. Teachers won’t have to worry about things like terms, vocabulary and tests because the platform takes control of the details. That’s interoperability. This much magic would even make the teachers at Hogwarts proud!

This design challenges our current thinking of testing for grades, and transforms learning into a true system of growth and mastery. The current instructional model relies on fixed tests, which can be intimidating and stressful for the students. They study for this test, cramming all the knowledge they gained hoping that they will get a few question that they can spit back correctly. Or worse, they just study the answers to pass the test without mastering the subject. Moreover, if students get a C on the test, what can you say to them, “that’s ok, try again?” There is no ‘again’, unless they fail the class and to take it over again. Because of the linear system, all they can do is move along the track, at the mercy of the engineers that designed it, and the conductors that are paid to keep things chugging along.

The Automatic Remediation and Mastery System in KP Compass is designed to give the students a chance to practice in a less stressful environment but it is no simple, single practice test. It is a system that promotes mastery through the use of abundant assessments. Simply put, we create more questions than any one student will ever use, so that their assessment is unpredictable, challenging, and measured with a larger statistical sample. KP Compass, contains concept pages, each with a large number of questions related to the content. When students feel ready they test themselves on the learning module.


The testing system randomly selects three to five questions from each page and builds a quiz for the student. If the students answer the questions selected for a given page, then the page is remediated out of their learning module. Any pages that are not passed remain for them to review the content and test again. We never tell the student what questions they got incorrect because we don’t want them to just study for the answers. The goal is to go back to the lesson, and master the content. The can repeatedly test their knowledge against the content, getting different questions each time.

The students are also given a knowledge rating for their performance. Game theory principles are embedded into the system, with student’s leveling up their knowledge after starting at Novice. Each time they take the test, they gain knowledge points. Points are accumulated in the learning module, allowing them to level up through Apprentice, Scholar and Guru. They also gain points which are applied to their personal profile and their K-Bot (Knowledge Bot) which has its own leveling system. The gaming is not in the forefront of the system, but it creates an environment that adds a bit of fun without the recognizable ‘cheese’ that we commonly see in education games.

In the end, the teacher knows the knowledge level of each student and can address the needs of struggling students on an individual basis. The main goal of KP Compass is to allow teachers to do what they do best, mentor the students and help facilitate the learning process. Information is readily available and stale lectures serve little more than to bore the students in a controlled environment. Face time is valuable and should be spent in creative discussions, group projects and performance of skills that teach through doing. Knowledge is power, but true wisdom can only come from experience. KP lets technology handle the knowledge, so teachers can get down to business.

KP Compass is the net result of over 10 years of research and experience publishing our own content in a digital format. Unlike other platform providers who build the system and tell others to put information into it without the experience of content, KP has always had content and developed technology to suit our vision and goals. We create new ways to interface with content with a fundamental philosophy of keeping the information organic.



KP stands for knowledge and practice. We have invented the knowledge portion of our overall design. Next up, we tackle the practice side of our namesake. I’m thinking we should call our newest feature LEGS which stands for Logarithmic Evaluation and Grading System. Sounds impressive and reflects the non linear approach to 21st century learning! KP’s vision is to eventually create a learning system that incorporates true Project Based Learning (PBL). But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We will soon have ARMS and LEGS, but we still need a head and a body to realize that dream. :)

Before I sign off I would like to leave you with a final thought. I was speaking to a retired educator today about her thoughts on the state of education. She expressed being simply overwhelmed by all the information today compared to the slow, structured, and easier to comprehend lessons of her day. She felt helpless to teach kids that constantly needed to be entertained. An analogy popped into my mind that express the nature of today’s MTV/YouTube generation of learners. The mind of the student today mirrors the information that they absorb. Really, it is that simple. Back in the 1950’s, children learned in a sterile and highly linear fashion. Their hands were held, as they explored a giant castle one room at a time, never looking around the corner until they had gotten their fill. Today, students are virtually let loose once they breach the first door, running rampant down the informational hallways, sometimes exploring 2, 3 or 5 rooms simultaneously! Video games, TV, multimedia and the Internet have changed the way students think and indeed retain information. The very concept of a linear path has been outmoded, because a student’s brain is wired to accept information in ways that are at once inspiring, challenging, and possibly downright scary to educators. The system must adapt. If this means that teachers will be running wildly around the halls of the castle, bouncing from room to room and helping students to learn however it comes naturally to them... I say so be it! We will be there to help instructors deal with this new type of student.

For more information about KP Compass and authoring/publishing in a concept driven mastery platform, please contact Nai.

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