I came home to find my 9-year-old daughter in tears. She had been trying to find articles for a class project on sea urchins, but almost all the Web pages being returned by the major search engines had been too difficult for her to read. Her frustration provided that extra motivation for me to look further into the question:
How could we improve search technology to make it more effective at helping people learn?
Search engines are one of the primary ways that people access the dynamic, ever-expanding information on the Internet. Major search services return fast, precise results for billions of queries per day from around the globe. To achieve this, the last 15 years have seen remarkable advances in search technology: from the complex server engineering required to guarantee reliable, split-second response times, to the algorithms that accurately predict when and where to crawl for the freshest content, how to fix spelling errors, and how to rank relevant pages for your query.
Yet as my daughter’s example shows, current technology still falls short for some important scenarios, like helping people with their learning goals. Here are four recent examples of directions that researchers are exploring to improve technology in service of the educational needs of both children and adults. Continue reading