Stay organized with collections Save and categorize content based on your preferences.

Walden University uses Google Cloud technology to launch Julian, a dynamic interactive tutor for teaching and learning

About Walden University

Since 1970, Walden University has been providing online learning to working professionals, especially in the healthcare and behavioral science fields. In August 2021, it became a part of Adtalem Global Education, a leading educator and talent provider to the healthcare industry that currently enrolls 140,000 students across its programs.

Industries: Education
Location: United States

Tell us your challenge. We're here to help.

Contact us

Using Google Cloud Student Success Services, Walden University developed a dynamic, easily scalable online tutor built with Google’s AI and ML capabilities. Julian supports personalized learning on demand for Walden’s diverse student body of working professionals. With a tutor available 24/7, Walden’s students can practice mastery of more material and build more skills.

“I had seen choreographed, scripted tutors, but the real challenge was how to drive personalized, dynamic tutoring at-scale.”

Steven Tom: Chief Customer Officer, Adtalem Global Education

In September of 2018, a leadership team from Walden University met with Google Cloud to discuss developing an interactive tutor for classroom education and student support. Steven Tom, Chief Customer Officer at Walden’s parent organization Adtalem Global Education, says, “I had seen choreographed, scripted tutors earlier that year, but the real challenge was how to drive personalized, dynamic tutoring at scale. I wondered, how can we deliver education in places where students need more individualized help? As AI evolved, we started to believe there was a real opportunity to realize this vision.”

A year later, Karthik Venkatesh, then Vice President and CIO at Walden, was in the audience at a New York City I/O Summit when Google CEO Sundar Pichai demonstrated Google Assistant’s dynamic AI capabilities by using it to order a pizza from stage. Venkatesh was inspired and realized that this technology could help achieve Walden’s interactive tutor. “Walden has always been a key leader in online and distance learning,” he says. “We’ve never had campuses, so we’ve always been innovative. Technology is a key strategic skill for us and for our students.”

“Our students study nursing and education, which have highly subjective use cases. There was nothing in higher education like an interactive tutor for them.”

Karthik Venkatesh, Vice President for Student Experience, Data, and AI, Adtalem Global Education

Pichai’s pizza order was made possible by Google’s open source Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT), a pretrained natural language processing model for customizing question and answering systems. By understanding the context of questions, BERT can generate dynamic, unscripted exchanges with users, which made it the perfect foundation for an AI-based tutor. Other educational institutions had experimented with AI for student support services like advising, but there was nothing available like the flexible, responsive interactive tutor that the Walden team had envisioned. Tom says, “this project was a leap of faith for us, to improve access to tutoring and support our students, many of whom are first-generation college students.”

“Our students study nursing and education, which have highly subjective use cases,” Venkatesh says. “There was nothing in higher education like an interactive tutor for them.”

The Walden team began working on a proof-of-concept pilot for two courses: one in early childhood education and one in sociology. For the pilot, they enlisted faculty and staff to manually upload and test the course materials, but once trained, the interactive tutor was designed to do that itself. There were several models used to train the AI, with the vast majority being pretrained, large language models, similar to the models used in BERT and T5. The Student Mastery models, however, were tested with synthetic data, and fine-tuned as data came in as Julian was used. In 2020 they rolled out Julian, with four major features:

  • In Choose the Fact, Julian crawls content input by instructors and generates multiple-choice questions for specific sub-areas.
  • In Knowledge Notes, students highlight course content and Juilan evaluates how relevant the notes are for mastering the content. Students can save and later review these notes to focus their studies effectively.
  • In Paraphrase, Julian generates a spontaneous statement for students to paraphrase, then evaluates and gives feedback on its accuracy.
  • In Ask Question, Julian can answer student questions on complex content and also ask questions on the fly to test their knowledge.

Tom sums up their achievement: “We can feed entire courses and curriculum to Julian, have it tutor across a wide range of subject matter, and have it provide personalized tutoring at scale without the need for scripting or choreography by humans (which is time consuming and not personalized to the individual student).”

Over 60 students opted in to participate in Julian’s pilot and the response was very positive. Students appreciated having easy and flexible access to the tutoring, which offered a different interaction every time. Surveyed faculty also appreciated automating some practice work so that they had more time for teaching. As they roll it out across more courses and subjects, the Walden team believes Julian can help them support teaching and learning in new ways. Because Julian is built on a modular platform on Google Cloud, it is easy to maintain and update–and easy to scale to more content. The team designed Julian with applications even beyond higher education in mind: “Think about K-12 scenarios across the globe where students don’t have convenient access to personalized instruction,” Tom says.

The Walden team has already been working on an update, which it plans to launch early in 2022. They also envision rolling Julian out to use in Adtalem’s medical schools. “It’s been a really positive experiment,” Venkatesh says. “We moved quickly and got results. We tested and validated before scaling up. We wouldn’t have been successful without this level of cooperation between organizations.” Both Google and Walden share the goal of developing talent by expanding access to technology. At a time when many parts of the country are struggling with healthcare worker shortages, Julian can help Walden provide upskilling and reskilling training to all types of learners. This improves their job prospects as well as helping local economies and expanding wellness services in their communities.

Tom adds, “we learned a lot from Julian’s first version. We created a truly dynamic, self-directed tutor for personalized learning. Our next move is to scale and automate by ingesting, labeling, and indexing more content to create even better dialogues. Julian is not about saying ‘hey this is cool.’ It’s about helping higher education realize the opportunity here–to make personalized learning and tutoring accessible everywhere. We want tutoring to fit into our students’ busy lives, on their terms, and improve their odds of success.”

To hear more about Julian watch this panel presentation from the Google Cloud Government and Education Summit with Steven Tom.

Tell us your challenge. We're here to help.

Contact us

About Walden University

Since 1970, Walden University has been providing online learning to working professionals, especially in the healthcare and behavioral science fields. In August 2021, it became a part of Adtalem Global Education, a leading educator and talent provider to the healthcare industry that currently enrolls 140,000 students across its programs.

Industries: Education
Location: United States