ALICE: Adaptive Learning via Intuitive/Interactive, Collaborative and Emotional systems (ALICE)

Published on: 15/12/2011

Despite a great potential and some initial successes, e-learning systems do not yet have the impact that many believe is possible. Moreover, the gap seems to be increasing because of the greater expectations of the current generation (Digital Natives) who have grown up with modern technology. There are also more general problems. In particular, an over-emphasis on cost effectiveness has meant that content is often not as strong as it needs to be and this deficiency has contributed to a lack of user engagement and some high attrition rates. Studies have consistently highlighted the important relationship between engagement and learning, with students who are highly motivated being more likely to engage in the learning process.

ALICE aims at building an innovative adaptive environment for e-learning combining personalization, collaboration and simulation aspects within an affective/emotional based approach able to contribute to the overcoming of the quoted limitations of current e-learning systems and content. In other words the proposed environment will be interactive, challenging and context aware while enabling learners demand of empowerment, social identity, and authentic learning experience.

The defined system will be able to effectively involve learners in educational, cultural and informative activities in two specific contexts: university instruction (with particular emphasis on scientific topics) and training about emergency and civil defence (as for example the behaviour to take at a personal and collective level when the threat of a big risk shows up e.g. a natural event like an earthquake, or a man-made one like a terrorist attack).

The ALICE starting point will be an already existing e-Learning platform named IWT developed exploiting experiences and know-how gained in several EC projects. ALICE results will be experimented with real users in real learning and training settings in order to evaluate the impact of the offered innovative features.

Description of target users and groups

Science Teaching at University

- Teaching of scientific topics (e.g. mathematics and physics)

Emergency and civil defence training in secondary schools

- Training students of secondary schools about actions and procedures to be performed in case of emergency (e.g. the behaviour to take at a personal and collective level when the threat of a big risk shows up)

Description of the way to implement the initiative

ALICE is a project co-funded by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme. It is aimed to define models, methodologies and prototype software components able to solve some of the most relevant problems of current e-learning systems and tools such as:

  • lack of Interaction: most times the only interaction available is to click on "next" button to step through the material presented
  • lack of Challenge: unchallenging material makes the learning experience unattractive and discourages progression
  • lack of Empowerment: the learner expects to control the learning experience, while, often, the learning experience controls and limits the learner
  • lack of Social Identity: the learner is often isolated from his/her peers reducing the collaboration and the learning achieved through social interaction.

ALICE will contribute to overcoming these limitations in specific contexts like instruction of scientific topics and training about emergency and civil defence.

To do that the ALICE project will provide answers to the following questions:

  • How is it possible to create collaboration conditions and therefore to encourage the learner to choose a collaborative-type education when collaboration is actually difficult?
  • How can the effectiveness of learning actions be supported by interactive simulations and serious games that may be created with low costs thanks to techniques of reusability?
  • In what way can the storytelling be integrated with Learning Experiences having contents of different types?
  • Eventually, how to create a learning additivity related to the earlier themes, being not the simple sum of various aspects, but a real integration and subsequent super-additivity with respect to single components?


The Starting Point

IWT will constitute the technological basis and the reference platform for this project. This means that models, methodologies, learning resources and software tools that will be here defined and developed will be thought to be integrated in IWT for experimentation purposes. IWT logical architecture is divided into three main layers.

The first layer is the framework used by developers to design and implement core services, application services and learning applications. The second layer is composed of core services providing basic IWT features like resource management, workflow management, information extraction, ontology storing, user authentication, content storing, metadata management, role and membership management, learning customisation, logging and profiling and data mining. Core services are used by application services and learning applications.

Application services are services to be used as building blocks to compose e-learning applications for specific domains. They include document management, conferencing, authoring, learning management, learning content management, ontology management, communication and collaboration, business intelligence, process management and information search services. Applications represent complex solutions covering specific learning scenario obtained as integration of application services.

IWT architecture is modular enough to allow the deployment of solutions capable to cover application scenarios of different complexity and for different domains by composing service building blocks.


Basing on these features, IWT will be part of the ALICE solution. In particular, starting from IWT, the results expected by the project can be summed up in the following key points:

  • extension of the IWT adaptivity with the capability of managing feedbacks received from the emotional-affective interaction learner-system;
  • extension of IWT collaboration and communication skills, with specific attention to virtualized collaboration;
  • assessment of new learning paradigms, guided by interactive-experiential approaches, but based on storytelling and serious games;
  • experimentation of new paradigms of assessment distributed along the learning process and realised, thanks to advanced resources;
  • generation of learning resources able to assess the progress done in the learning process about scientific themes and the cognitive impact after learning experiences enabling to integrate and manage aspects like adaptivity, driven not only by aspects of learner personalisation, user profiling, knowledge and didactic modelling but also by emotional/affective aspects and storytelling.



Science Teaching at University

  • Teaching of scientific topics (e.g. mathematics and physics)

Emergency and civil defence training in secondary schools

  • Training students of secondary schools about actions and procedures to be performed in case of emergency (e.g. the behaviour to take at a personal and collective level when the threat of a big risk shows up)

Technology solution

ALICE-defined models and methodologies will be used as a basis to develop prototype software components that will be integrated in an already existing e-Learning platform named IWT (Intelligent Web Teacher).

IWT is a "modular" user-centred virtual environment, based on the explicit knowledge representation, that allows users to arrange and perform "customized" scenarios, adapted to individual users' specific needs and characteristics, to improve the knowledge transfer and sharing through collaborative environments, social networking, community, integration of calculus, simulation and virtual reality tools and competency management.  

More specifically, IWT is a complete e-learning and knowledge management platform whose aim is to fill the lack of support for flexibility and extensibility in existing e-learning systems. IWT arises from the consideration that every learning/training context requires its own specific solution. It is not realistic to use the same application for teaching, for instance, foreign languages at primary schools, mathematical analysis at university and marketing management to enterprise employees.

It should be not only the content that varies but also the didactic model, the typology of the training modules to be used, the application layout and the supporting tools. In practice, the need to introduce the e-learning in a new learning/training context is hard work for engineers, teachers and providers of learning resources. IWT solves this problem with a modular and extensible solution able to become the foundation for building up a virtually infinite set of applications for e-learning.

IWT can deliver personalized courses which take into account the learners' previous knowledge and preferences, allowing each learner to learn only the required concepts through the most feasible learning resources. In this way, IWT manages to improve the quality of the learning reducing both the time of the learning process and the courses authoring phase. Indeed, the teacher is asked to simply select learning objectives and let IWT arrange a personalized course for each enrolled learner. IWT guarantees such a feature through the adoption of three integrated models: the Knowledge Model, the Learner Model and the Didactic Model.

  • The Knowledge Model is able to formally represent the information associated to the available didactic resources. In particular it allows the teachers to define and structure disciplinary domains by constructing domain dictionaries (including relevant concepts), and ontologies (organising concepts through different Core Services Application Services kind of relations). Ontologies are used in synergy with metadata associated to the learning resources in order to allow the dynamic personalization of learning paths and the automatic evaluation of the students (gaps and competencies evaluation and assessment).
  • The Learner Model is able to capture the knowledge acquired by each learner during learning activities as well as his/her learning preferences (considered as cognitive abilities and perceptive capabilities) with respect to important pedagogical parameters such as: kind of media, didactic approach, interaction level, semantic density, etc.
  • The Didactic Model defines the rules that the system must follow in order to build the best sequence of learning activities to be performed by a specific learner in order to let him/her acquire the selected domain concepts with respect to his/her learner model and according to a given knowledge model.

Born from the integration and the industrialization of results coming from several national and European research and development projects, IWT is currently adopted by several enterprises and organizations as well as from departments and faculties of many Italian Universities. Thanks to the proposed innovations IWT also won the prize "Best Practices for Innovation" in November 2007 from the General Confederation for Italian Industry.

Main results, benefits and impacts

ALICE will enhance current e-learning platforms and systems by providing an integrated solution leveraging on collaborative learning, simulation and serious games, storytelling, affective and emotional approaches and new forms of assessment. From a conceptual point of view this will result in a new learning resource type (A-C Advanced Content) composed by traditional textual content, simulation, high emotional contents, affective stimuli, story telling, assessing material (both cognitive and affective-emotional) and in a system able to manage in real time the feedbacks coming from the learner-system interaction.

The added value of the proposed approach is that the creation of advanced learning resources will not represent a simple additivity, on the contrary it will be a real super-additivity. Actually, if on a one hand the modelling of the knowledge domain, of the learner (according to his/her preferences) and of the didactic model will provide basic elements for the learning experience construction, on the other hand important will be the availability of learning resources on collaboration, simulation, storytelling and assessment as well as of resources specific for their affective-emotional aspects.

In such a way the advanced learning resources delivered through the obtained system will produce all the advantages of a pedagogy-driven approach rather then a technology-driven one. A technology based on intuition and iteration, essentially activated thanks to the simulation and strengthened by a feedback forward system that takes into account emotional/affective feedbacks coming from collaboration and the evaluations coming from a distributed assessing system.

Another added value of the solution that will result from the project should be an adaptivity that is not deterministic but customized for the learner, dynamical on the interaction between the learner and the system and guided by both cognitive and emotional-affective feedback. The adaptivity will directly impact on the content distribution; for example, in the simulation context, by taking into account the interaction feedbacks, the system will dispatch different simulations with respect to different learners and so realizing in this way a multi-layer presentation of the same simulated phenomenon.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

The Alice project represents for sure a useful case to be transferred to the scientific community. It could be a base to learn about intuitive and collaborative eLearning as well as it could be taken into consideration thanks to the innovative approach based on emotional and affective elements. See also section 33.

Lessons learnt

Three main lessons have been learnt working on the project.

First of all the importance of the inclusion of Intuitive components as well as Knowledge ones into solutions.

Secondly, the importance of developing catching and smart applications in order to stimulate attention and motivation during learning activities.

Finally, about the Business, it is more effective to proceed with agreements at local and/or national level rather than proceeding with single agreements closed from time to time with single structures.

Scope: International