What Is a Cognitive Tutor?

Using what is considered an intelligent teaching and learning system, a cognitive tutor will interact with a student during a learning session and use the information learned to build a cognitive model of the student. Primarily used in math classes, the system will use that model to deliver customized instruction and mathematical problems to the student, helping to strengthen weak areas in the student’s learning. The learning system is a compilation of technological advancement, cognitive science and artificial intelligence. Advantages over other educational systems include individual attention to the student as well as the capability to assist a student in spending more time focused on learning and using fundamental problem-solving skills. This is achieved through constant monitoring of the student and continual assessment that keeps the student on task.

In mathematics classes, educational providers and researchers have documented increases in student’s performance with the use of a cognitive tutor. These positive results have been documented from middle school through the college level. Often, the biggest challenge, however, is developing the technology in the classroom setting. Although technological advancements are making the process easier, doing so sometimes requires a lot of time and programming expertise to customize the system. Still, the effort pays off with students showing more interest in the courses and raising their performance.

Research has shown that students spend a considerable amount of time with a cognitive tutor, in some cases reporting for class early and even staying after class to work with the system. Students often exhibit a positive attitude toward using the system and toward the classroom in general, whenever cognitive tutors are present. Resulting classroom environments in many cases demonstrate more efficient management and significantly less discipline problems. Both contribute to a more conducive learning environment and help the student stay on task while working with a cognitive tutor.

Researchers report that when teachers are provided adequate software training they are usually well-adapted and prefer the use of a cognitive tutor in the classroom. Advantages from a teaching perspective is that the cognitive tutor typically handles many low-level teaching functions, freeing up a teacher’s times so that he or she may focus on working with students who need help beyond what the system can provide. Additionally, this helps position the teacher as the subject matter expert in a classroom environment — a position that many teachers report gives them a higher sense of self-esteem.