Many of the technologies we use every day are constantly learning from us. We train Netflix in what genres of TV and movies we like. Amazon learns what we’re interested in buying and when we may need to restock items. Why shouldn’t the same technology address something more pressing than convenience or entertainment?
DreamBox Learning CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson raised that issue Wednesday during a fireside chat at the GeekWire Summit. She leads a company building software that can learn from students and create personalized math lessons like other technologies that have become prolific in many parts of the world.
“Many of the folks in this room probably already use technologies that get to know them better the more we use them,” she said. “Netflix, Amazon, they get to know us the more we use them. Imagine if we could bring that into learning. That’s what we’ve done at DreamBox. We’ve created a technology that literally learns the learner as the learner learns.”
DreamBox is an education platform that uses machine learning to personalize math lessons for elementary and middle school students. The Bellevue, Wash., company raised $130 million in July from The Rise Fund, a venture capital firm focused on social impact. That was on top of a $10 million series B round in 2015.
Woolley-Wilson is bullish about the power of machine learning to transform education but she did offer some words of caution during the Summit about the “heady place” we’re in with these new technologies.
“We oftentimes spend most of our time talking about what we could do,” she said. “I think that spurs innovation. What might we do? What could we do? In learning, I think it’s really important to try to shift that dialogue to what we should do, from what we could do to why we should do it.”
She added, “there are some technologies that I wonder about when I think about a little kid in kindergarten.”
Woolley-Wilson hasn’t always been in education technology. Earlier in her career, she worked in banking in New York. She volunteered to tutor children in Harlem and discovered, “the only thing that was different between me and them is was that I had amazing parenting and access to a great education.” So Woolley-Wilson left finance and joined DreamBox in 2010.
DreamBox paired engineers with teachers to develop software that could help students based on their individual needs. The technology is called Intelligent Adaptive Learning and it combines a math curriculum with a game-like environment.
“From my perspective, if we can focus AI and newer technologies on what we can do to support great teaching and learning I think that’s a win for kids, that’s a win for learning guardians, that’s a win for society,” Woolley-Wilson said.