“C” Is For Cognitive Learning:
IBM Watson, Sesame Street Team Up to Advance Childhood Education

The first five years of a child’s life are a critical window for learning and development, but we have yet to master how best to teach and engage children throughout that time. Hoping to advance preschool education, Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organization that produces Sesame Street, has partnered with IBM to develop new educational platforms and products using Sesame’s early childhood expertise and IBM Watson’s cognitive computing technology.

As part of a three-year agreement, Sesame Workshop and IBM Watson will design products to adapt to the learning preferences and aptitude levels of individual preschoolers. The companies have said they are gathering leading teachers, academics, researchers, technologists, gamers, performers, and media executives to brainstorm ways in which cognitive computing can best help preschoolers learn, as well as gather feedback from them as they test and refine prototypes.

“Because the foundation of children’s intellect, personality, and skills are formed in the first few years of their lives, ages zero to five are the most critical,” said Todd Rose, one of the project’s independent advisors and Director of Mind, Brain, and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “There are huge opportunities in early childhood education, but we need to recognize that preschoolers do not all learn in the same way. This partnership has the potential to meet the unique educational needs of every child, whether it’s through customized content or kid-friendly tools that empower each child to find his or her own path to learning. Simply put, personalized educational experiences will enhance learning for every child.”

“Watson is uniquely suited to tackling one of society’s most pressing and important challenges -- the ways in which our young children learn,” said Harriet Green, IBM’s General Manager for Watson IoT, Commerce and Education. “The potential for Watson to absorb, correlate, and learn from huge amounts of unstructured data and then deliver very personalized educational experiences is unprecedented. Working together with Sesame Workshop, we aim to transform the way in which children learn and teachers teach, and envision having an impact on the lives and education of millions of children.”

The organizations say they are exploring and iterating on a wide variety of interactive platforms and interfaces for use in homes and schools. Sesame Workshop is already using a variety of media to reach young children and help them understand everything from their ABC's to financial empowerment, healthy eating, and autism.

“We believe that bringing education together with technology is a key to improving early learning in this country and around the world,” said Jeffrey D. Dunn, the CEO of Sesame Workshop. “A generation ago, Sesame Street used the ubiquitous presence of television to reach vulnerable children who did not have access to the learning opportunities that affluent and middle-class kids did. It worked very well. Now, through this collaboration with IBM and Watson, we expect to develop the next generation of tailored learning tools. Ultimately, the goal is to provide children from all socio-economic backgrounds with the opportunity for meaningful, personalized education in their most formative years.”

Watson's cognitive computing technology can and is being applied to a variety of uses: Last summer, CVS Health and IBM announced they would use Watson and predictive analytics to transform care management services for patients with chronic disease. The partnership will enable health care practitioners to use Watson to advance care management beyond programs and services typically available today. The joint CVS Health/IBM Watson Health solution enables health care practitioners to quickly and easily gain insights from an unprecedented mix of health information sources such as medical health records, pharmacy and medical claims information, environmental factors, and fitness devices to help individuals stay on track with their care and meet health goals.

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