AI Personalizes Online Courses to Improve Completion Rates

Many online courses have low completion rates, and the new ed-tech platform Courus proposes to address this by tailoring lessons to each student’s particular goals, interests and skill sets.

Despite the growing popularity of online learning among postsecondary students, several reports last year, including one from the online education company LearnDash, found that the average completion rate for these courses generally sits at around 15 percent. To help keep online students engaged until completion, a new AI-powered ed-tech platform called Courus hopes to enable educators to personalize lesson plans and courses based on what motivates students.

According to Courus CEO Scott Duffy, the tool lets instructors write courses based on each student’s goals, interests and skill sets. Rather than typing in a subject or topic for a generative AI program to “write a course for you,” he said, Courus starts by prompting educators to plug in a profile of a target learner, which the software then uses to create lesson plans that cater to each student’s goals. With 2022 estimates from the market research firm Global Market Insights putting the worldwide e-learning market above $1 trillion by 2028, Duffy said the demand for online learning is here to stay and that addressing student motivation could be a decisive factor in improving course completion rates.

“Our primary focus is one thing, and it’s solving what we consider to be the biggest problem or the ‘dirty little secret’ in e-learning, which is the low completion rate. Everybody knows about it, but nobody wants to talk about it,” he said. “In education, there’s something that we see referred to as the ‘motivation line,’ and so the idea is, ‘What is it that is going to motivate your learner?’

“There’s really nothing unique about if you just plug in the course [subject] and have the AI generate the content. What’s still lacking is all of the factors that are going to motivate somebody to actually go through that content that you’ve created,” he added. “The reason [Courus] works is the content becomes so aligned with the motivations — what students are thinking, what they’re feeling, what they’re experiencing, what challenges that they’re having in their life, what they’re trying to overcome as a result of getting an education.”

Duffy said Courus, announced in April, includes an audience insight engine intended to help educators to get to know their students, including strengths, weaknesses and things they want to learn about. From there, he said, the platform’s course builder creates a course structure designed to boost engagement and participation. The tool also has a real-time performance analyzer, which Duffy said is based on behavioral science to pinpoint where students need support or where course content may need to be updated. A generative AI tool can then rewrite scripts, edit content and suggest content changes as the student progresses through a given course. He said the end result is courses written for specific students, rather than with a one-size-fits-all approach.

“After you output that program, we connect to your learning management system, and we get real-time feedback with regard to where people are dropping off and where the friction points are,” he said.

Courus Chief Learning Officer and Co-Founder Joe DeMaria said in a public statement that the tool was years in the making amid advances in the field of artificial intelligence.

“When learners don’t complete a program, they don’t experience a transformation. We have spent years testing and optimizing the e-learning experience with the singular goal of completion in mind,” DeMaria’s statement read. “Lowering the barrier to completion for e-learning programs will allow learners to achieve life-changing transformations that might have otherwise gone unrealized.”

According to Duffy, the tool began beta-testing trials about three weeks ago to identify and improve the program’s capabilities over time, and the growing waitlist includes higher-ed institutions and other online learning providers.

“We’ve had over 200 companies and colleges sign up to be a part of our beta group, so we’re already working behind the scenes with these groups to help give them great insight, and also to help improve and to ‘teach’ the AI,” he said.

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