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Thought Leaders in Artificial Intelligence: Raj Valli, CEO of Thinkster (Part 2)

Posted on Tuesday, Aug 4th 2020

Sramana Mitra: What are the pricing numbers?

Raj Valli: We vary from $80 a month for a Silver Plan to $200 a month for the Platinum Plan. We have monthly, quarterly, and some annual pricing plans. The $80 kit for Silver will be just $53 per month if someone commits to an annual plan. 

Sramana Mitra: Let’s double click down on Silver. Let’s say you are calling it personalized assignments to their level of learning and where their skill gaps are and so forth. Is this all AI-generated?

Raj Valli: No, we are not a full-blown AI company if we compare ourselves to companies like McGraw-Hill and ALEKS, which is a pure-play machine-driven company. We are an AI plus a human being, so all the instructors and personalization is passed through a human being who validates the recommendations from the machine.

Machines do a lot of the heavy lifting that human beings would be unable to do at scale, but they have to be approved for being personalized because the parent may have had a conversation with the tutor indicating that, “Hey, my kid is getting ready for a class test two weeks from now. Can you please make sure that he’s got assignments on fractions or multiplication or any of those things?”

There is always a human being involved in the personalization. I know this is a very frequently misused word and I take extraordinary exception to the fact that people are abusing this word. When we talk about personalization, we genuinely try to make sure that it’s got a very strong philosophical basis on a pedagogical construct.

There are two main pedagogical constructs or learning constructs that are informing the way we talk about hyper-personalization. You may be aware of a concept that’s very popular and well-known, which is called the zone of proximal development. If you’re on the zone earlier, it means that if I give a student an assignment they need to complete, they can independently complete that assignment without any handholding or a coach providing them instruction.

That means they can do independent work without any additional help. In the zone of proximal development, it means that they are capable of doing work when assignments are given in that particular concept or topic, but they need some assistance from a coach because they need some clarifications or they need to be introduced to incrementally advancing concepts that will allow them to prepare themselves to be successful in completing the concept. That is what we call zone of proximal development.

If in case, you give them an assignment that you potentially think they are capable of and you give it to them and you also provide a coach to give them help but despite the help, they are not able to complete that assignment, then they are outside the scope of proximal development. This is extremely critical.

A very extreme example is, if I give a calculus problem to a third-grader. No matter how much of a fantastic tutor I can put in front of the third-grader, there is a very high chance that he or she is going to be unable to complete that calculus assignment because they just don’t have the mental capacity to absorb the information and be successful in solving that problem.

This is very important because this will lead to a disruption in learning and a lack of confidence. After all, you’re giving them something that they are unable to pick up and learn from.

It’ll lead them to question their confidence, get frustrated, and start developing what I call a hate format or a dislike format. The more you do it, the more you’re going to create the distance that this kid will become an excellent learner. This is one concept we use.

There is this flow state mentioned in a very popular book called Drive by Daniel Pink. In the flow state, he talks about this particular zone that is at the cusp of being neither too hard nor too easy. A simple example could be if I ask you to count from 1 to 100, you would be asleep because it’s too easy for you. If I start giving you 10 problems like that, it’s going to bore you to death.

If I start giving you a very hard calculus problem that includes some Fourier transformations that are beyond your capacity, you’re going to get bored as well. This particular flow state is to find problems that you are capable of solving because it’s just infinitesimally harder but given the right instruction, you get a dopamine reflex because you say, “I was able to solve it. I feel great about myself. That enhances confidence.”

The idea here is to make sure that we find that ideal zone for every student and if you’re able to do that successfully on a daily basis, you start essentially building extremely confident kids.

The more you increase confidence, the more you increase outcomes and that essentially allows us to guarantee learning outcomes because we are saying that we’re going to build a specific pathway for every student who comes in. It’s a fail-proof method of making sure that we can take that student and have guaranteed success.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Thought Leaders in Artificial Intelligence: Raj Valli, CEO of Thinkster
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