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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Announces AI Personalized Learning Partnership with Amira Learning at SXSW EDU

By Henry Kronk
March 04, 2019

On Monday at SXSW EDU, education publishing giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced it had entered into a partnership with Amira Learning to deliver a fully automated personalized learning initiative for U.S. schools. The AI learning module will deliver literacy education to K-3 level learners.

AI Personalized Learning for Early Literacy

It’s an understatement to say that replacing a teacher with AI-powered software is ambitious. It has been a blue sky goal for numerous edtech companies in recent years, but many also view the effort with a good deal of skepticism and doubt. If successful, however, an application that could replace some of the more tedious efforts of teaching could free up an instructor’s time to focus on other tasks.

As stated in the release announcing the partnership:

Rooted in longstanding research licensed from Carnegie Mellon University, Amira employs AI to recognize children’s speech, conduct curriculum-based measurement, recommend resources and create an environment for productive practice that supports literacy growth. Rather than reading silently on their own, developmental readers can read aloud with Amira and experience real-time tutoring.

“At HMH, we’re focused on leveraging the most advanced technology available to empower teachers to focus on critical student needs. And there is no need more foundational than literacy,” said Matthew Mugo Fields, General Manager, Supplemental and Intervention Solutions, HMH, in a press release. “Technology can never replace the educator, but Amira gives teachers precious time back for reading instruction by providing deep insight into students’ literacy development and individual needs.”

Teaching early literacy—like any subject—is both a question of imparting the required knowledge and assessing where students are getting hung up and responding accordingly. To do this, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has tapped Amira Learning’s oral fluency and speech recognition AI software. 

Besides the oral fluency assessment, Amira Learning’s product includes a “voice activated virtual assistant that answers questions about student status and progress.” It also prepares on-demand reports for teachers and parents on learner progress. 

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Partnership with Amira Learning

“Our partnership with HMH means that Amira will be offered and supported by America’s leading learning company,” said Mark Angel, CEO of Amira, in a release. “We are proud to be able to work with HMH to bring the next generation of early literacy software into classrooms.” 

Amira Learning’s AI instruction has already been tested in dozens of environments. The technology has been deployed in schools across the world in communities like Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Chicago, Bangalore, and Accra. The software has been the subject of over 100 academic studies. 

The company has gained a significant amount of momentum in recent months. It picked up $3 million in seed funding last September. At SXSW EDU, the company has been selected as a finalist for the SXSW Launch competition. Winners will be announced on Tuesday. 

The Houghton Mifflin Harcourt press release did not discuss what role the publisher will play in the deployment of Amira technology. It is also unclear where, when, and at what scale the AI literacy tutor will be deployed. 

Featured Image: James Tarbotto, Unsplash.

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