For those interested in looking beneath the surface, these questions
concern the principles on which ALEKS is designed and constructed.
What is the theory behind ALEKS?
ALEKS is based on a field of Cognitive Science (Mathematical
Psychology) called "Knowledge Spaces" (or "Learning Spaces"). The
purpose of research in Knowledge Spaces is to model human knowledge in any
subject, using mathematical tools such as Set Theory, Combinatorics, and
Markovian Processes, so as to make possible fast and accurate assessment
through interactive computer applications. There are numerous scientific
publications in the field of Knowledge Spaces dating back to the early
1980's. A recent, authoritative treatment (with Bibliography) is Doignon
and Falmagne, Learning Spaces (Berlin, Heidelberg:
What is an "item"?
In Knowledge Space theory, an "item" is a concept or skill to be
learned, the mastery of which is captured by a "problem type" serving
as the basis for specific assessment and practice problems. Thus the item
"Addition of two-digit numbers without carry" might produce the problem
(instance) "What is 25 plus 11?"
What is a "domain"?
In Knowledge Space theory, a "domain" is the set of all items making up
a particular subject matter, such as Behavioral Science Statistics. A learner is considered
to have mastered the domain when that learner can solve problems
corresponding to all the items in the domain.
What is a "knowledge state"?
In Knowledge Space theory, a "knowledge state" is the set of items
belonging to a domain that a learner has mastered at some point in time.
We speak of knowledge states in relation to a particular learner and a
particular domain. Obviously, a learner's knowledge changes in time,
and the goal of learning is that the knowledge state should eventually
include (correspond to) the entire domain.
What is the "outer fringe" of a knowledge state?
In Knowledge Space theory, a learner's "outer fringe" is the set
of items, any one of which can be added to the current knowledge state
without others to make a new, feasible knowledge state. These are the
items that the student is considered most "ready to learn." Progress is
made from one state to another through one of the items in the first
state's "outer fringe."
What is the "inner fringe" of a knowledge state?
In Knowledge Space theory, a learner's "inner fringe" is the set of
items, any one of which can be taken away without any others from the
current knowledge state to make a new, feasible knowledge state. These are
the items that the student may have learned recently, and thus whose
knowledge might need reinforcement.
What is a "knowledge structure"? What is a "knowledge space"?
In Knowledge Space theory, "knowledge structure" or "knowledge space"
(the two concepts differ in a technical way) refers to the collection of
feasible knowledge states for a particular domain. It is a key
point that not all sets of items from the domain (subsets of the domain)
are feasible knowledge states. For instance, in mathematics there can
be no knowledge state containing the item "finding the square root of
an integer" that does not contain the item "addition of two-digit
numbers without carry," since no one will master the first without
having mastered the second.
How was the structure created?
The knowledge structures (or, briefly, "structures") used by ALEKS
are created by analysis of the subject matter and refined on the basis
of data obtained from students' learning experiences. When ALEKS
assesses a student, it is actually searching the structure for knowledge
states that match the student's present competence.
What is the educational philosophy behind ALEKS?
The educational use of ALEKS is not tied to any particular theory of
education or knowledge acquisition. A key insight underlying ALEKS
is the existence of a vast multiplicity of diverse "learning paths"
or sequences of topics by which a field can be mastered. Based on an
inventory of knowledge states that numbers in the tens of thousands
(for the subjects currently covered by ALEKS), the specialized
tools of Knowledge Space theory make it possible for the system to
accommodate literally billions of possible individual learning paths
implied by the relations among states.
ALEKS does not embody a particular philosophy of teaching
mathematics or statistics; it is compatible with any pedagogical approach.