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The Economic Effects of Intelligent Tutoring Systems

Updated on November 21, 2016

Intelligent Tutoring Systems: ITS the Way of the Future

Technology is the catalyst that enables economies to grow. Without technological innovation, an economy would remain efficient but stagnant. Therefore, without technological advances, one’s standard of living could never improve without making someone else’s standard lower than it had previously been. Technology can make the whole pie bigger so the innovator can make a better life for themselves without infringing upon their neighbor’s lifestyle. This has happened many times in the past such as: when telephones came on the market and people were able to vocally communicate without being face to face, when the automobile was invented and people could travel long distances quickly without having to care for a horse, and when the printing press was invented and books became widely available because they didn’t need to be written out by hand anymore. Technological innovations are largely achieved by very well educated, intelligent people. It is not by some divine intervention that the human race is constantly able to innovate; they are learning from past masters and building on their foundation. This would not be possible without a solid system of education that every citizen of a given country goes through to gain the basic and advanced skills and knowledge required to innovate. But not every child needs to learn the same subjects or is adept to learning them in the same way. Technological innovation will revolutionize the way children are educated in a way that serves every child in a vastly improved manner and nearly doubles the rate of economic growth.

One of the foremost technologies in this field is referred to as an Intelligent Tutoring System, or ITS for short. Because different students have different learning styles, and experience different misunderstandings or questions, a one-on-one tutor is vastly more effective in educating a student than a normal classroom setting. The reason being, classroom teachers do not have the time or resources to cater to the learning styles of every student even though the field of education has researched effective teaching philosophies the aforementioned different learning styles. This is where ITSs can help. An ITS is a computer software that teaches students, using artificial intelligence, to cater lessons to the student it is currently teaching. The system analyzes the student, by what they understand and what they don’t, which methods of teaching are creating results. It can also analyze the answers the student got wrong to find the patterns showing what the student needs more help with in particular. These practices are lost to a classroom teacher with thirty or more students at a time. They simply do not have the time to analyze every single student and scrutinize over how they could teach that student more effectively.

According to Open Colleges, an ITS goes through four stages of development: “(1) needs assessment, (2) cognitive task analysis, (3) initial tutor implementation, and (4) evaluation.” In the first stage, needs assessment, three major dimensions are dealt with: “(1) the probability a student is able to solve problems; (2) the time it takes to reach this performance level, and (3) the probability the student will actively use this knowledge in the future.” This ensures no time is wasted teaching relatively useless information, or a concept where the student has not learned the required prerequisites. The second stage, cognitive task analysis, is dedicated to developing a model of the subject matter for the ITS. This involves interviewing experts in the field, conducting “think aloud” studies with experts and students, and observing the teaching and learning behavior of the subject. This process pinpoints the different approaches that will be built into the ITS for maximum effectiveness. Stage three, initial tutor implementation, sets up a “problem solving environment to enable and support an authentic learning process.” This is the stage where the teaching methods are tested to ensure they are effective. In the fourth and final stage, evaluation, there are pilot studies, formative evaluations of the system, parametric studies that examine the system’s effectiveness, and summative evaluations of the final effect. This fourth stage serves as a checkpoint for the entire system to ensure it is serving to purpose as efficiently and effectively as possible.

If the ITSs work efficiently and effectively, the next question is how well they work in relation to the other forms of education currently in use. The American Psychological Association conducted a study to test the effectiveness of ITSs. They first developed a numerical representation of the benefits students got from a variety of instructional methods based on test scores. They then compared the test scores achieved through teaching with the ITSs with the test scores achieved by the other methods of instruction. The ITSs were more effective than: teacher-led instruction by 44%; individual, non-intelligent computer-based instruction by 57%, individual study with a textbook or workbook by 36%, and small-group instruction by 5%. The only other method of education the subjects was one-on-one tutoring which was 11% more effective than the ITS’s score. Although one-on-one tutoring is currently the most effective method of education, the most common forms of education are underperforming the ITSs by over 35% and are used because of their comparatively low cost. Even though an ITS may not be the most effective method of education yet, it is far more cost effective than the only method with a stronger track record, one-on-one tutoring. Because it is relatively cost effective when implemented on a large scale, and the technology is constantly improving, ITSs are projected to take over as one of the main methods of education in the future.

Finally, effective educational systems affect the growth rate of the economy. According to a study conducted by, each additional average year of schooling in a country corresponded with an additional 0.37 percentage point increase in the GDP growth. Although this appears to be a relatively small change, when it is considered that GDP growth rates tend to be between 2% and 3%, this translates into a 10% boost in growth compared to what would have otherwise occurred. But when compared to the average growth rate of cognitive skills, as measured by test scores, the correlation becomes freakishly uncanny. According to the study, “If one country’s test-score performance was 0.5 standard deviations higher than another country during the 1960s… the first country’s growth rate was, on average, one full percentage point higher annually over the following 40-year period than the second country’s growth rate,” (1).This 1% increase in GDP growth translates to a near 30% boost in comparison to what would have otherwise occurred. The study goes on to report, “Once the impact of higher levels of cognitive skills are taken into account, the significance for economic growth of school attainment, i.e., additional years of schooling, dwindles to nothing.” This shows that the effectiveness of school systems has a far stronger correlation to economic benefit than years of schooling alone. Considering that ITSs are 44% more effective in teaching cognitive skills than teacher-led instruction (the prevailing method), and 44% conservatively translates to at least 1 standard deviation point according to a standard bell curve, the use of an ITS would predictably lead to a 2% change in the GDP growth rate. This translates to a near 60% boost in comparison to what would have otherwise occurred. The United States’ long run GDP growth rate trend has shifted from approximately 3% down to approximately 2% since the “Great Recession”, this 2% change would change the trend line up to approximately 4%. This would be the strongest long run GDP growth rate trend line the United States has achieved since the Federal Reserve started calculating GDP in the 1930’s.

Education clearly has a strong effect on a nation’s economy. And ITSs are also proven to be one of the most effective methods of education currently on the market. Considering the long term effects of an increase in GDP growth, a wide-spread implementation of ITSs would be greatly beneficial to the economy of any country. Furthermore, if ITSs were to become the staple of education in the United States, they would also receive more funding and attention to advance the technology and possible surpass one-on-one tutoring as the most effective method of education. This appears to be a favorable scenario, and as the research into the effectiveness of ITSs becomes more overwhelmingly apparent, they will take over the market (considering someone can get the Teacher’s Unions to care about students and the economy as opposed to just their selfish over-infatuation with their personal paychecks). Currently, the majority of teaching is done by a teacher in a classroom and technology is merely meant to be a complement to in-class instruction. In the future, these roles will be reversed so the majority of teaching will be done by an ITS, and classroom discussions and traditional teachers will exist to complement the ITS’s instruction. 300 years ago, only the richest families could afford one-on-one tutoring as the primary method of educating their families. ITSs will soon offer the same level of instruction to every child across America, and hopefully the world.

Works Cited

Briggs, Saga. "Intelligent Tutoring Systems - Can They Work For You? - InformED." InformED. Open Colleges, 29 Mar. 2014. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Hanushek, Eric A., Dean T. Jamison, Eliot A. Jamison, and Ludger Woessmann. "Education and Economic Growth - Education Next." Education Next. Education Next, 08 Apr. 2016. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.

Ma, Wenting, Olusola O. Adesope, John C. Nesbit, and Qing Liu. "How Effective Are Intelligent Tutoring Systems?" Pardon Our Interruption. American Psychological Association, 30 June 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.


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