Integrated Learning Systems Research Paper Starter

Integrated Learning Systems

(Research Starters)

Integrated Learning Systems (ILSs) are packages of interactive software created to teach a concept. While often used in large corporations for employee training, ILSs have emerged as a comprehensive way to instruct, remediate, and accommodate students of varying ages in public schools across the globe. Educational programs such as SuccessMaker(r) , Plato(r), and Kerzweil 3000(r) are only some of the software packages available to school districts, and each package tends to promote ideal resources. ILS creators have produced documentation that their products are effective when used in classrooms and that their software increases the skill levels of the students who use them. Some educational researchers, however, argue that the increase in skill level is either inconsistent from study to study or is short lived, in that students whose achievement scores do increase tend to find that increase leveling off over time.

Keywords Accommodation; Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI); Computer Assisted Learning (CAL); Dysgraphia; Dyslexia; Holistic Instruction; Integrated Learning Systems (ILS); Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA); Individualized Education Plan (IEP); Kurzweil 3000(r); No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Phonemic Awareness; Phonics; Plato(r); Reading First; SuccessMaker(r)

Teaching Methods: Integrated Learning Systems


Now that computers are competing with television for the attention of school-aged children, there has been increased consideration to incorporate technology-based products into the classroom. Even in the poorest of U.S. school districts computers can be found. While some schools have entire labs dedicated to computers, many classrooms have sections of their rooms devoted to computerized learning. In many schools, some form of computer assisted instruction (CAI) is part of the curriculum as more and more students become comfortable with the technology. For many, maneuvering from screen to screen is as easy as figuring out which of several remote controls will adjust the volume of their televisions. In response to the greater awareness among school-age children of a computer's capabilities, computer program companies have developed entire software packages to offer tutorial assistance to students while keeping track of their achievement. These packages, called Integrated Learning Systems (ILSs), contain content (e.g., specific subjects or topics of focus), record-keeping databases, and a management system on which the program runs. ILS products, such as SuccessMaker(r), Plato(r), and Kurzweil(r), are considered standard components in classroom instruction in many school districts across the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other developed countries.

How Integrated Learning Systems Work

The lure of ILS programs is that they supplement learning on an individualized level in basic skills areas, such as reading and math; other programs focus on specific fields of study, such as thermodynamics, or specific populations of learners, such as students with a learning disability or those who know English as a second language. Unlike some course curricula, the software programs are designed to enhance learning based on the skill level of each student who works with them. For example, if a third grader is testing at a first-grade reading level, the instruction provided by SuccessMaker(r) will begin at the first grade level and move in increments as the student demonstrates improvement in reading ability. Thus, if a student lacks understanding of a concept, the program does not move forward as would a class lesson; as a result, students don't fall behind, feel inferior, and/or give up. As noted in their work from 2001, Jervis & Gkolia (2005) indicate that instructors who have used an ILS in the classroom have seen an increase in motivation and confidence in their academically weaker students.

The Influence of No Child Left Behind

Before concepts from the No Child Left Behind Act were incorporated into public school retention strategies in 2001, ILSs were already available to educators, allowing them to create innovative ways to assist students in becoming successful learners (Jervis & Gkolia 2005). However, even though computer- assisted learning was available prior to the No Child Left Behind legislation, the legislation as well as the improvement in technological capabilities in the past fifteen years has made ILSs a logical addition to classroom learning. Once used as a supplement in the 1970s and 1980s, ILSs are now considered an intrinsic part of a daily learning schedule for many students in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Academically weak students, students with disabilities, students considered "at risk," and non-native English speakers now have the opportunity to spend time on individualized lessons that track their progress, test and retest material, and supply them with attention-grabbing graphics and narration.

Reading First legislation, a section within the No Child Left Behind Act, created five specific skill areas for which education systems would be accountable with regard to standardized testing through the third grade. Course content was modified according to these five areas:

• Vocabulary,

• Reading fluency (both silent and aloud),

• Reading comprehension,

• Phonics, and

• Phonemic awareness.

Districts became accountable for basic literacy skill instruction. As early childhood educators know, learning is foundational: as students develop an adequate level of literacy in their early years, so too will they be successful in literacy achievement later in school (and on later tests). ILS producers created their literacy software programs with a focus on these five components to assist classroom instruction.


Implications for Classroom Use

By providing specific information regarding each student, the teacher can set up an ILS to focus a child's learning directly where it is needed, be it three levels above the rest of the class or two levels behind. Specific curricula (content and learning level) can be entered and saved for each student, allowing for students to not only continue their learning where they left off the last time they used the system, but also allowing for review of the last material studied. If different concepts are presented in one lesson time (the time a student spends utilizing an ILS during a school day), a review and testing mechanism provides the student with the capability to learn material, review it, and move on to another concept. The learned material is embedded in later instruction; thus review and assessment are continuous, and an instructor can easily identify areas of strength and weakness in each student's learning.

Using the System

For initial application (or placement), an instructor has to input each student's skill level based on the material provided by the software. The course lessons then begin in the middle of a student's achievement level, so that material is neither too difficult nor too easy. As skill levels increase, so can the level at which a student is expected to succeed. This adjustment is made by the instructor based both on a student's performance with the material already provided and on the course/lesson goals and objectives. More specifically, for each goal or objective, the software creates exercises of equal difficulty that come randomly from a set of variables already incorporated into the computer program. Once material is mastered, the program presents information for an incrementally greater skill level.

The program can also forecast the student’s progress based on that student's strongest and weakest skills. This forecast can be beneficial to both the teacher and the student because classroom instruction can focus on identified areas of weakness, and within the program itself, students are not left wondering what will come next. They can anticipate possible coursework based on what they have been accomplishing. As with any content and regardless of the bells and whistles attached with any learning application, students will achieve at differing paces and according to differing material. Administrators and teachers who are accountable to state achievement standards can utilize the forecasting capabilities of SuccessMaker(r) to alter goals, objectives, course material and presentation as well as assessment methods before students find themselves in academic difficulty and behind the standard. SuccessMaker(r) has created its software to correlate with each state's standards, which makes the implementation of specific teaching strategies a condition of practice rather than catch up for school districts (Thrall & Tingey 2003).

ILS for Students with Disabilities

In 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), required all public school systems to grant equal access to education to all of its students. As a result, each student attending a public education institution who has either a learning or a physical disability must be granted an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) - a plan to create a learning environment in which student number one has the same access to being a successful learner as students number two, three, four, and five.

The Kurzweil 3000(r) is a computerized learning system used in many schools to assist students who have a disability with regard to learning academic concepts. These disabilities can be learning, as with students with dyslexia or dysgraphia, or physical, as in students with a visual or brain functioning difficulty. The system capabilities are vast when considering the length of time it can take a student with a learning disability to read, assess, and comprehend material from a text. One of the ways a student can gain assistance with this product is through the combination of the computer software and a scanner. A text can be scanned into a computer and read aloud to the student with the text appearing either in large print, in different colors (from one word to another) and/or with each word being highlighted as it is being presented vocally. For students with visual disorders, attention issues, and decoding problems, this is greatly improves the access they have to the same material as their peers. And, as accommodations are required of school systems (including those in higher education), Kurzweil 3000(r) is at the top of its field with regard to options, capabilities, and availability. In addition, when a technical issue arises (computer, scanner, speakers, content, etc.,) a technical representative is available to offer assistance - talking a user through a problem - during most of the day (Ludlow & Foshay, 2006, p. 80).

Advantages of Kurzweil 3000(r)

Ludlow & Foshay (2006) note that the Kurzweil 3000(r) program offers "access to written material for students with diverse special needs that include learning disabilities, visual impairments, Asperger syndrome, and problems with attention and concentration" (p. 81). Using a scanner equipped with a digital converter, students have the ability to manipulate text in a variety of ways. According to the authors,

The program permits the user to customize text with enlargement up to 500% of its original size and to increase or decrease the voice output speed to match the listener's comprehension abilities. It also enables students to take notes, both vocal and written, on the computer directly in the digital/scanned-in text. Students can highlight key points and bookmark areas they feel are important; further, notes and highlights are easily copied and pasted to text files for later review. Either instructors or students may create audio CDs to facilitate listening to books "on the go." The program may also be used by students for writing assignments. For example, students can type their ideas into the program, use the spell-check function, and have the program read back the text so that they can self-edit their work … Spell-checking is available...

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