IBM Watson logo Photo courtesy of IBM Watson

IBM is partnering with Blackboard and Pearson to bring its Watson technology to K-12 and higher education. While products from the partnership will not be widely available until 2018, the technology is expected to focus on improving student learning and graduation rates. Many expect IBM to accelerate the digital transformation of higher education, similar to what their initiatives have accomplished in healthcare and financial sectors.

Watson is a question answering (QA) system designed to augment the natural language processing, information retrieval, and natural brain functions. In other words, Watson is exceptionally adept at mimicking how humans store information and even more proficient in parsing this data in response to context sensitive questions. This was demonstrated in 2011 when Watson—with no access to the internet—won first place Jeopardy! against previous champions. Outside of gameshows, Watson has widespread use in health care sectors where medical professionals use it as a clinical decision support system.

In collaboration with Pearson and Blackboard, IBM will be bringing this technology to the education sector.

Pearson will use Watson’s technology to support student learning, engagement, and graduation rates. Reports indicate Pearson is focusing on the following three initiatives:

  • Developing a virtual study assistant similar to Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa
  • Adaptive learning technology to assist students taking online quizzes by providing content suggestions and support
  • Integrating Watson into study guides

Blackboard is focusing on developing tools for advisers and faculty members, as opposed to the student-centric initiatives by Pearson. With pilots planned for fall 2017, Blackboard will be focusing on:

  • Developing classroom technology for teachers to create personalized learning plans
  • Providing academic advisors with resources to best support at-risk students

This partnership between IBM, Pearson, and Blackboard may usher in significant advancements in the digital transformation of higher education. It will be interesting to see the technology they develop and its success in academia.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also board member of the Canadian Public Relations Society and contributes as a communications researcher with McMaster University.