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The Silicon Review Asia

Derek Haoyang Li, Squirrel AI Learning Intelligent Adaptive Education by Yixue Group Founder: ‘We Created an AI-Powered Virtual Tutor Engine, which Diagnoses and Remediates Each Individual Student’s Knowledge Gaps in Real-Time While a Student is Learning and Practicing’

The Silicon Review
December, 2019


One of the greatest challenges with regards to education is that people learn differently and at different rates. Students go through the education system with differing levels of learning ability and aptitude. Some are more adept at ‘left brain’ thinking with skills for analytical thought, while others are more skilled at ‘right-brain’ thinking with creative, literary, and communicative ability. Others are challenged in different ways with physical and mental disabilities, or skill sets that differ from one region of the world to another, facing challenges in re-learning new languages and alphabets.

In light of the foregoing, we’re pleased to present Squirrel AI Learning Intelligent Adaptive Education (by Yixue Group).

Squirrel AI Learning is the first artificial intelligence company in China to apply AI-powered adaptive learning technology to K12 education. Squirrel AI Learning successfully developed the first artificial intelligence adaptive learning engine with completely independent intellectual property rights and advanced algorithms. Squirrel AI Learning is a student-centered intelligent and personalized education platform. It applies artificial intelligence technology in the education process of teaching, learning, evaluation, testing, and training. On the basis of simulating excellent teachers, it can even surpass experienced teachers. Moreover, the platform offers a human teacher model that is designed to teach students in accordance with their aptitude, effectively solve the problems of the high cost of traditional education, the lack of resources for teachers, and low learning efficiency.

Squirrel AI Learning has a new business model of online AI course and physical learning center. It has nearly approached two million students and more than 2000 learning centers in the last three years. The 2018 annual revenue including headquarter and national learning centers is one billion RMB (150 Million USD). The year of 2019 is 1.6 billion RMB (Revenue 232 million USD). It is now worth almost 1.5 Billion USD and is already an AI Education Unicorn.

Squirrel AI Learning was established in 2014 and is headquartered in Shanghai, China.

Derek Haoyang Li, Squirrel AI Learning Founder, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Rewind: Taking Flight

Squirrel AI Learning was founded by Derek Haoyang Li when he recognized the need to study the learning development of children and indicate where strengths and weaknesses present themselves. For Mr. Li, education is an incredibly important asset in the life of a child and his goal has always been to give the best opportunities possible for them to excel. When asked why Squirrel AI Learning became an idea to pursue, Mr. Li explained: “Some of the reasons came from my background and experience, especially when I was a student. I excelled at school, jumped a grade when I was in elementary school, started in the computer programming experimental program when I was eight years old, got Academic Olympic prizes, and was admitted into one of the top China Universities by merit without taking the college entrance exam.” Because of those advantages, he was able to recognize the need to create a program to aid students who are deficient in areas and possibly not know it.

“I spent one-fifth of the time learning compared to the other students and got better results. Not because I was smarter, but because I mastered the methods of learning and took advantage of the great teachers I was exposed to. I found out that a master teacher is 10 times or even 100 times better than a mediocre teacher, but such a resource is just so rare.”

The idea was there, but how to put it all together was still eluding him. “Later, when I found out that Artificial Intelligence can mimic a master teacher and clone them to deliver personalized learning at scale and can potentially deliver such high-quality learning impact to every student, no matter if they are in a second-tier or even a third or fourth-tier city, no matter if the parents are rich or poor. Such technology and algorithm can change the game of education and make high-quality education more fair and accessible.”

Mr. Li explains that Squirrel AI Learning believes that the traditional lecture-centered factory model of learning where a full classroom of different students follow the same path at the same pace where the instructor is proceeding without individualized attention to each individualized student is by design inefficient. “We built a mastery-based, fully personalized tutoring model in which students can receive immediate feedback and fully adaptive instruction. We created an artificial-intelligence-powered virtual tutor engine, which can diagnose and remediate each individual student’s knowledge gaps in real-time while a student is learning and practicing.”

Elements: That Make Squirrel AI Learning Outshine Competition

Whenever the student struggles or does not meet a proficiency requirement of a particular knowledge point, Squirrel AI Learning’s adaptive engine would introduce relevant instructional content (such as videos, concept reviews, instructions on solving exemplar questions, mistake analysis, etc.) and assessment content (such as pre-test, post-test, practice questions, quizzes, etc.) remediating the knowledge gap and helps the student to complete an optimized journey through a personalized pathway towards the mastery of materials.

“Even though a human tutor can intuitively perform such tasks, we believe we can only implement such a superior pedagogical model in scale and with consistent quality through AI-powered adaptive platform.”

Through machine learning algorithms and data analytics techniques, adaptive learning systems offer learning experience personalized to students’ characteristics and abilities. The intent is to determine what a student really knows and to accurately, logically move the student through a sequential path to prescribed learning outcomes and skill mastery. Many learning products with adaptive features have been developed, such as Cognitive Tutor, Knewton, RealizeIt, i-Ready, DreamBox Learning, ALEKS. Such systems constantly collect and analyze students’ learning and behavior data and update learner profiles. As students spend more time in it, the system better knows their ability and can personalize the course to best fit their talents.

“In October 2017, Squirrel AI Learning successfully held the first man-machine learning competition in the AI field in Asia-Pacific region; the Squirrel AI Learning teaching robot outdid a senior teacher with 17 years of experience – scoring nine points.”

The event was widely covered by major media outlets such as CCTV, U.S. CNBC, Japan’s NHK Channel, Forbes, FORTUNE China, Chinese Business News, etc.

All Set to Expand into International Territory

“We believe the adaptive technology can be applied as a general method for a wide area of learning scenarios. Even within China, there are great varieties of content, curriculum and requirements across the many provinces and cities we are operating in. As each student is by nature different in character, knowledge, and capacity, we are solving the generic problem of dealing with these differences using the adaptive approach. We have already been approached by several US, European, and Asian education institutions who are interested in adopting our platform in their countries. When we started our program, we also leveraged the experience and lessons learned from the US and Europe. Our approach to expanding into future international markets is to take advantage of our experience in localizing our platform by integrating local content to optimize for the local education policy, local teaching and testing requirements as well as regional student characteristics.”

“We are planning to expand into the international market within three years and if the conditions are appropriate, we might even consider accelerating the timeline. First, we need to excel in the Chinese market, which is our foundation and we need to establish enough operation and data size to optimize our core platform. Once we gain enough experience and operational expertise, we will be able to rapidly replicate our success. We will consider all options for our international presence, including direct operation, joint venture, platform collaboration, direct or indirect investments, and the like.”

“As each student is by nature different in character, knowledge, and capacity, we are solving the generic problem of dealing with these differences using the adaptive approach.”



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