Literacy ITS Teaches Reading Skills to Adult Learners


U. S. Navy


The reading skills of many Navy personnel fall short of the Navy’s requirements. The resources of reading instructors are already stressed and are unable to keep up with the large number of students.   Thus, the Navy needs computer-based systems that enable each instructor to teach more students. Existing reading software systems cannot satisfy this need because they teach only low-level reading skills instead of higher-level comprehension skills, or because they contain reading material for young students that is inappropriate for adult learners. Also, reading instructors are unavailable aboard ships at sea, so the software must diagnose each student’s reading skills and provide tailored instruction automatically.

The need for reading skills tutoring software extends far beyond the U.S. Navy. Literacy is one of the most fundamental requirements for succeeding in today’s world. Yet, 50 million Americans are not functionally literate.


Working with adult reading skills instructors, Stottler Henke developed an intelligent tutoring system that automatically assesses and diagnoses each student’s specific reading skill deficiencies and tailors its instruction accordingly. It employs innovative probabilistic techniques to estimate proficiency levels of interrelated, high-level and low-level reading skills. A scaffolding mechanism helps students learn difficult skills by presenting exercises that build upon skills already mastered. In addition, the system helps students understand the relationship between the various aspects of reading and how they can be put together to achieve a high level of comprehension. By encouraging reflection, the software helps students to understand the text in more depth.

Studies show that adult reading instruction is significantly more effective when the reading material is related to each student’s personal interests and career goals. Thus, the reading tutor includes an authoring tool that enables course designers to create relevant reading material without programming. For example, a manufacturing company could include reading material related to manufacturing process guidelines and instructions, so employees can acquire reading-skills level and learn work-related material at the same time.


The tutoring technology developed during this project was incorporated into the ReadInsight product, released in September 2003. The tutor was evaluated at Arizona State University for instructional effectiveness in comparison to the Lifetime Learning Program currently used in various parts of Navy for reading skills enhancement. The study found that learners working exclusively with Readinsight scored significantly higher on the Accuplacer post-test than learners working exclusively with the Lifetime Learning software. When used in combination with the GradAtions and the STAR tutor, the three tutoring software applications led to a combined learning gain of 15.5 points or a gain of 1.1 grade levels. The tutors were used for a total of 45 hours of instructions. The POC for this study is Dr. Robert Atkinson at Arizona State University. He can be reached at (480) 965-1832 or

In a second study conducted by the Navy compared the learning gains achieved by students using the tutors against those achieved by those given classroom training. They found that the group working with the tutors achieved skill improvements comparable to the classroom group but in half as much time. A follow-up assessment six weeks after the training showed that the group working with the tutors also had significantly lower levels of skill decay compared to the classroom group.

Related applications

The reading tutor has received considerable interest from community colleges and adult education centers. It can be used by commercial organizations to improve workplace literacy, and it can be used to teach subjects. Because it assesses and assists each student’s reading comprehension at a deep level, it can used to help people understand written instructions, rules and regulations, and instructional manuals.

Additional information

I/ITSEC 2003 paper: An Intelligent Tutoring System for Adult Literacy Enhancement        

Intelligent Tutoring Systems 2000 poster session: An Intelligent Tutoring System for Adult Literacy Enhancement     

ReadInsight overview      

Software demo:      MS Powerpoint