Learning Technologies Research


Comprehension and Pronunciation Instructional Tools for Adult Learners


In 2012, a large-scale international study known as the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) was developed to evaluate and compare the general skills of adults around the world, of which literacy was a major focus [1]. Literacy proficiency was measured using a 5-level scoring metric, where a Level 3 proficiency was determined to be the minimum skill level required for a person to adequately cope with the demands of day-to-day life.

A U.S. household study conducted by the PIAAC in 2014 found that 51% of Americans over 18 years old failed to reach this minimum benchmark [2]. What’s more, nearly 13 million of these adults were found to be “functionally illiterate” and unable to perform even the simplest of literacy tasks, a number which encompasses roughly 4% of the entire U.S. adult population.

Our Solution

To address this problem, we’ve developed a project known as CAPITAL: Comprehension and Pronunciation Instructional Tools for Adult Learners.

The goal of the CAPITAL project is to tackle the adult literacy problem through the automatic generation of literacy-focused exercises for adults in basic education programs. CAPITAL provides an integrated system of algorithmically-generated exercises and instructor-guided learning materials to augment literacy instruction at the beginner and intermediate levels.

The CAPITAL project encompasses the automatic generation system as well as an educational mobile/desktop application to deliver the generated learning materials to students.

Automatically-Generated Content

Exercises in CAPITAL cover a wide spectrum of beginner and intermediate literacy skills, including phonological awareness, decoding and encoding, spelling, image identification, contextual awareness, and fluency. Each exercise is designed to target one or more of these foundational literacy skills in a unique and fun game-like format.

Instructors are able to specify their desired curriculum of words and longer texts from which CAPITAL can generate all of these exercises. Instructor-lead content allows the learning materials generated by CAPITAL to be customized to the curriculum the students are learning in their specific classroom.

CAPITAL’s algorithms are capable of automatically generating 14 different question types:




Student Application

CAPITAL delivers these materials to students by way of an educational application, available on both mobile and desktop. The system emphasizes personalized learning for each individual user, leveraging optimal spaced repetition of materials over time to provide a customized rate of exposure to new materials and reinforcement of previously-learned content. CAPITAL learns each user’s unique strengths and weaknesses and selects materials for them at a rate designed to maximize their learning and long-term retention of the skills they acquire.

CAPITAL uses proven gamification techniques to motivate users to practice regularly. Users are rewarded with points based on their effort and performance over time, and are able to level up their skills in a visual way to encourage regular practice. More difficult content is unlocked over timeas students progress through their given materials and reach higher levels. A leaderboard system allow users to compare their progress to their friends and classmates, allowing friendly competition between users.

Users advance through the materials at a rate determined by their performance, unlocking harder questions as they prove sufficient mastery of earlier foundational skills. The system intelligently determines when students should advance to harder materials and when they need more practice, to ensure that each student is always being challenged retains while retaining they have already learned.