ALEKS: The Worst Online Learning Program

My Experience With a Math Program That Failed to Educate...

I was first introduced to ALEKS my freshman year of college. Like most first years, I had to take College Algebra as a general education credit and a prerequisite for many other courses. This year, my school decided to incorporate ALEKS into the math department. None of the students and only a few of the teaching assistants heard about the program before its introduction into the university, as it is still a relatively new system on the market. We were told about how ALEKS is able to adapt to your abilities and give you more individualized learning. Sounds great! Right? That's what we thought, too...

So what is this ALEKS?

ALEKS stands for Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces. It is an artificial intelligence that adapts to your learning strengths and weaknesses. It does this in a couple ways: repetition of problems and knowledge checks, which will be explored in more detail later. ALEKS is founded on the idea that practice makes perfect. The more you fail in one topic, the more problems you will get pertaining to that. Along with the online program, you will have a notebook with similar problems to also do for practice before you jump into the...practice...

This website demonstrates how it is set up...

So what is wrong with it?

Where to even begin...

ALEKS will become your life. My class required that we spend three hours a week in the MALL. And no not where you do all your shopping. The MALL is a designated computer lab and study area in our math department where there are tutors available to assist you on problems and proctor tests. Three hours of MALL time a week was required for my course. Originally this was not a problem. However, as the course gets harder, you won't be able to finish all your work in this amount of time. By the fifth week, I was already doing almost five hours of ALEKS outside of my time in the MALL. This isn't so bad if you are a part-time student, taking easy courses, or just had all kinds of time on your hands; but if you were like me, a double major already pushing 20 credits, and involved on campus, time gets crunched pretty fast. 

Knowledge checks also are done periodically. These test you on everything you have learned in the course so far and also things you have never learned. These do not contribute to your grade or are part of your actual homework. ALEKS will not let you continue without completing them though. But that's okay, you can just click through them fast and move on. Although, then of course, for every problem you get wrong, you have another topic added to your to-do list, regardless if you covered the topic already or not. 

Speaking of which...topics... 

Each week you are assigned a unit. Every unit is divided into around 20 to 30 topics. In order to pass a topic, you have to fill up your meter at the top of your screen. There are five bars in the meter. For every question you get right, one bar is filled, and for every two or more right answers in a row, you get a bonus bar filled. So great! You only need to get three right in a row to move on! Here's the catch: for every problem you get wrong, the bar goes back down one. So what happens if your bar is already down all the way? Three wrong answers in a row while you have nothing in your bar locks you out of the topic for two hours. There are few things I learned to dread more than the "Take a break" notification that popped up on ALEKS. If you have topics that you have to review, you can work on those. If you don't, you have to wait two hours until you can do the rest of your homework, as most of the topics are locked until you pass the one before it. 

My final point is not completely the fault of ALEKS, however, I feel that the nature of the program contributes to the problem. The instructors for the course did not teach. From other reviews I have read, it seems that this is a problem in most places that ALEKS is used. There are explanations on the website and in the notebook, but not very detailed or helpful ones. The TAs relied on these instructions and rarely elaborated in class. Class was simply for quizzes and tests. Even the tutors in the MALL would tell you to just read over the instructions on the program again. Being lost and dumbfounded, you will be trapped in an endless cycle of "try again" and "take a break." 

A Note to Educators...

If a teacher, professor, school board member, or anyone associated with education is reading this, please do not use ALEKS. It is a waste of time and does not benefit anyone. Take it from me, a student who was a victim of multiple meltdowns and periods of self-doubt caused by this program. Take it from my friend, who broke his phone in a fit of rage after being unable to complete a topic. Take it from the hundreds of students who have petitioned against it.

For More Reviews on ALEKS, See...

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