kvanlehn.jpgKurt VanLehn made his name by bridging the gap between learning and computer theory. By hypothesizing the mind as a logical model, VanLehn was able to examine learning from a unique perspective. The key concept in his work is "bugs"; we know this term from the world of computation to mean a logic error, a mistake in the system. VanLehn applied this concept to learning in step-by-step processes. Using a study on elementary school arithmetic, he was able to capture reams of data regarding the mental processes that occur during, for instance, subtraction. By analyzing the results, VanLehn discovered that we could establish predictable models for how a student might make a mistake in a given process.

The implications for this research are astounding. If we can predict when and how a learner will err, we can better prepare the student and prevent the "bugs." Furthermore, VanLehn furthered his study to integrate what he calls "Repair Theory." This idea holds that, unlike a computer, humans can work around a bug; where a computer program will cease operating when a bug occurs, a human can attempt to "repair" the process through which they made the initial error. Naturally, repairing the procedure isn't a full-proof method for reaching a correct response. However, this is an important concept not only for grasping human cognition, but also for carrying out the effort of predictive analysis.

VanLehn's later work has branched into the field of artificial intelligence. He created Andes, a high school physics tutoring application that has become as widespread as it is effective. His other projects include using "natural language dialogues" in science-based computer tutorials, as well as developing cognitive models for how students approach the sciences.

Kurt VanLehn is currently a professor at Arizona State University where he specializes in computing, informatics, and decision systems engineering.

Relevant Learning Theories: Cognitivism