As a pioneer of e-learning, Edmentum is paving a path in virtual data-driven education solutions as the global COVID-19 pandemic drives massive changes across the education sector.
Formerly PLATO Learning (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations), the organization began in the 1960s as a research project at the University of Illinois. The company soon became the first computer-assisted learning system, driven by improving access to high-quality education.
In 2011, PLATO Learning acquired Educational Options Academy, which created some of the first fully online courses. In 2012, PLATO added Study Island, which built the first online formative assessment tool, serving 40,000 students across the U.S., Canada, and the UK. Finally, through a series of additional acquisitions, PLATO formed Edmentum by merging each organization’s unique history of innovative education solutions.
Edmentum has expanded even further during the last three years, acquiring Calvert Learning and Apex Learning to become the premier provider of blended education programs. The mission has remained the same through these evolutions: to empower educators and help millions of students worldwide maximize their learning potential. From shipping CDs to software-as-a-service, delivering top-notch online learning solutions to K-12 students has always been the top priority.
Software as a service products have the same benefits for school districts as they do for many businesses. Schools had to manage the operational, administrative, and overhead aspects of running their servers during the CD era. Today, Edmentum takes on the structure, function, and maintenance of educational products to help educators and school districts spend their time where it matters most: teaching students.
TECHNOLOGY BUILT FOR TEACHERS
Edmentum’s software design allows students to perform independent learning and facilitates more meaningful engagement between teachers and students. The platform identifies who needs additional help and provides the resources to facilitate that help. As a result, Edmentum can provide increasingly customized education tailored to individual students’ specific needs without compromising teacher-led education. Paul Johansen, Chief Technology Officer at Edmentum, shared, “We still firmly believe that, even though we’re a technology provider for education solutions, the best thing that can happen is the connection between an educator and a student.”
Edmentum’s software tracks and assesses student progress across courses to provide their teachers with insightful information. When students struggle with a lesson or fall behind in a skill, the software alerts their teacher and offers additional resources to help the teacher address that gap. If several students struggle with the same lesson, Edmentum can help teachers facilitate extra group lessons for those who need it most. This insight allows educators to direct their time and attention where it’s most impactful.
Underpinning Edmentum’s successes are rigorous research and validation processes. Their software must provide educational material that is research-based and effective. At the same time, their assessment tools need to have strong efficacy to provide teachers with meaningful information to direct their time and resources. In other words, they need to continuously validate that their courses and assessment tools are teaching and testing the skills they claim and that the insights derived from those performance assessments are an accurate representation of each student’s learning to be a trusted resource for educators.
Edmentum’s Research and Learning Engineering Team led by Dr. Michelle Barrett guides research policies, agenda, and the design and instrumentation of technologies that improve learning outcomes. The robust team of psychometricians test product efficacy. They examine the curriculum, learning measurements from assessments, and how those assessments are delivered to ensure that the outcomes reflect unbiased learning.
CATALYST FOR CHANGE
The education sector is notoriously slow to change, but the pandemic caused significant disruptions to the status quo. School boards worldwide reimagined how to educate students during the COVID-19 pandemic to help slow the spread of the virus and keep people safe. As schools went virtual, Edmentum leaned into their propensity for innovation to tackle the challenges of keeping up with exploding demand for their products while ensuring that those products are effective and accessible for the teachers and students who depend on them. “Our team had to design solutions to manage a seventy-five times year-over-year jump in growth virtually overnight,” emphasized Johansen.
"Our team had to design solutions to manage a seventy-five times year-over-year jump in growth virtually overnight."
One of the solutions they designed is an AI-powered chatbot for onboarding teachers, which reduced onboarding time from half an hour to just four minutes. Both the insights produced by AI tools and the ongoing testing of product efficacy require rich data sets, which leads to challenges related to student data privacy. Striking a balance between functional, research-backed products and privacy is a challenge that Edmentum welcomes. A lot of work goes into the backend of their software to anonymize and de-identify data so the research team can utilize a rich data set while aligning with ethical obligations and privacy regulations.
Edmentum customizes its products to align with state curriculums, so teachers avoid the extra hurdle of adjusting lesson plans to fit state standards. For example, a teacher with a class of thirty fourth-grade students could have reading levels ranging from a second-grade level up to a fifth-grade level. Edmentum’s software will assess each student’s skill level and adapt to where they are, so those behind can catch up and those ahead can continue to accelerate within the curriculum standards of the state and school district. These data-driven insights help educators optimize teaching according to the group of students they’re working with at a given time.
Overcoming technical challenges, like scaling products while remaining customizable, is the kind of work that motivates the team at Edmentum and leads them to become a trusted partner of school districts and educators. Johansen elaborated, “We have a deep connection to our core mission of helping students, partnering with educators, and being resources for teachers. I absolutely love being part of a very mission-driven organization with extremely talented and passionate people. We get to create systems and technology solutions that can scale to millions of students and hundreds of thousands of teachers. We are serving over eight thousand districts in the United States – it’s an incredible combination.”
INNOVATING INTO THE FUTURE
While the pandemic drove the explosion in demand for digital learning tools, Johansen predicts their traction will continue even as schools go back to in-person learning.
The pandemic challenges showed teachers and school boards how valuable it is to integrate digital learning tools into the foundation of education to serve every student rather than as a supplemental tool for a handful of students with exceptional circumstances.
At scale, the impact of using proven educational software to help students learn in optimal customized ways is profound. “It really opens up the opportunity for an equal playing field in terms of the opportunities students have. Edmentum gives them access to a wide variety of courses, teachers, and learning experiences that aren’t available when they’re constrained to a physical space,” explained Johansen.
From a technological perspective, the future of education involves more and more intelligent information for teachers. The software aggregates data from each student’s courses and identifies patterns to help direct resources in the most valuable way. This level of holistic visibility into each student’s learning is only available through digital tools.
Edmentum is building on its history as a leader and innovator in the e-learning space by becoming the trusted partner for teachers and school districts around the globe. Their research-backed approach delivers quality education in line with state-by-state curriculum expectations and privacy regulations while simultaneously providing solutions customized to students’ needs. The ability to deliver on that promise at an ever-growing scale is a testament to their technical chops.
As education software as a service products become increasingly integrated into the core model for teaching and learning, Edmentum is pushing education forward with innovative solutions.