MET:Kurzweil to support learners

From UBC Wiki

Kurzweil 3000™ from Kurzweil Educational Systems Inc. (a leading developer of reading technology) is a 'screen reading' computer program created in 1996 that combines text to speech technology with many other comprehension and writing tools. It was designed to aid students with visual impairments, English Language Learners (ELL), students with learning disabilities (LD), or students who need additional support with reading and/or writing but can also be an effective teaching tool for the whole classroom. It provides a multifaceted approach to learning where students can access and engage with text in a style that suits his/her individual need(s).

Description of product

Kurzweil is an integrated scan and read program geared towards students in grade three and older that provides multisensory access to virtually any text or curriculum, including print, electronic, and Web-based material. The program effectively allows the student to learn from grade appropriate content, develop valuable study skills, and become independent learners. Kurzweil is not a program that teaches reading or writing skills however; it provides additional support for students who have the cognitive ability to work with the same material as their peers. Kurzweil is designed with the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as it provides multiple means to aquire knowledge, express knowledge and engage with knowledge. Kurzweil can be used as a remedial tool for some, in addition to a learning tool for all!

Who benefits from Kurzweil and how?

Kurzweil is an inherently flexible and accessible program that provides support to a wide variety of students in accessing the curriculum.

  • English Language Learners (ELL)-are able to work independently with the curriculum with the assistance of the built-in features such as bilingual dictionaries, a picture dictionary, voice-recording capabilities and a translation tool.
  • Blind or Visually Impaired-speaks text aloud using natural sounding voices and allows the user to send files to Braille note takers or embossers or to portable devices such as DAISY or MP3 players.
  • Learning Disabled (LD)-can be used over a wide range of subjects, skill levels and ages to help decrease the gap in ability and expression of knowledge, and has multiple tools available to scaffold learning.
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)-encourages active learning and participation in the classroom.
  • Dyslexia or Dysgraphia-Text-to-Speech reader allows the learner to read along, practice word prediction and spelling with the Talking Spellchecker.

Kurzweil video clip


Ray Kurzweil

Based on his passion for educational technology and desire to explore how the brain works, Ray Kurzweil, developer of Kurzweil 3000, was the primary inventor of the first Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) flatbed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition software. He has continued to explore avenues of artificial intelligence and the related implications and opportunities for the future. Kurzweil’s work and advancement of research in this field led to his appointment as Google’s Director of Engineering in January 2013.

Recent Awards

Honors and Publications

Kurzweil has received nineteen honorary doctorates, and honors from three U.S. presidents and authored seven books, five of which have been national bestsellers. The Age of Spiritual Machines has been translated into 9 languages and was the #1 best-selling book on Amazon in science. Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity Is Near, was a New York Times (NYT) bestseller, and has been the #1 book on Amazon in both science and philosophy. His latest NYT bestseller is How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed.


Kurzweil has several versions available for purchase: Kurzweil 3000 Professional (available in colour or black and white), Kurzweil 1000, Kurzweil LearnStation and firefly. Each version is created for a particular audience and is tailored to the needs of that demographic. The latter two options are only for users who already have a version of Kurzweil 3000.

Comparison chart

This chart will aid in deciding which version is best suited for your needs.

Name Kurzweil 3000
Kurzweil 3000
Kurzweil 1000 firefly
Operating System Required Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, or Mac OS X 10.4 through 10.8 Windows XP, Vista, or 7, or Mac OS X 10.4 Windows XP, Vista, 7 or Mac OS X 10.4 Windows: XP, Vista, 7, Mac OS X 10.4
Designed for... Stuggling readers and students who have learning disabilities (LD) ex. dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADD and english language learners (ELL) students Students who are blind/visually impaired with access to Kurzweil 3000 Students who are blind/visually impaired Struggling readers, students with LD, and ELL students who have Kurzweil 3000
Price Black and white $1095
Colour $1495
$395 $995 free to Kurzweil 3000 web licensed users
Primary features Text-to-speech for websites and documents, scans print and PDF into readable format, text-to-Braille, displays and speaks text simultaneously, highlighting and note taking, assisted writing program, translation, spelling tools, study tools Takes already-existing Kurzweil-compatible texts and reads them (will not convert or scan files itself.) Text-to-speech for websites and documents, scans printed text into readable format, document creation and study tools, highlighting and note-taking Text-to-speech, spelling tools, cloud storage for digital files, access anywhere on a tablet
File formats kes files, text files, NIMAS files, web sites, PDF, can include image files kes files, text files, NIMAS files, web sites kes files, text files, DAISYfiles, web sites, PDF kes files, NIMAS files and text files
Internet Connection required For some features For some features N Y
Views Graphics Y N N Y

Kurzweil 3000 Delivery Options

Kurzweil 3000 is available in four delivery options:

  • Single Copy-Best for individual users.
  • Network-Ideal for institution usage. Can be installed anywhere within a network and multiple licences that the institution purchases can be used simultaneously.
  • Web Licensing-software license is managed online and it allows the user to install and use Kurzweil 3000 on any computer (school, home, library, laptop, etc).
  • USB Flash Drive-USB flash drive that contains Kurzweil 3000 for Windows with 2.6 GB of storage and requires no installation.

Classroom applications (K-12)

Kurzweil 3000 also offers features that support foundational literacy skills such as decoding, fluency, comprehension and writing. More specifically the program supports struggling learners by offering multi-sensory reading instruction, pre-reading and vocabulary strategies to aid in comprehension, tools that focus concentration and improve reading fluency. Kurzweil 3000 also allows students to practice their writing and proofreading skills as well as strengthening study habits and honing test taking strategies.

Multi-Sensory Reading Instruction

There are a number of ways in which Kurzweil 3000 is used to promote language fluency. For instance, the program reads scanned text, digital files or Internet pages aloud to students. It also visually tracks/highlights words as they are read.

File:Kurzweil Highlighting.png
Highlighting helps increase reading fluency

Students can also insert recorded or printed notes into the document with auditory support as the student types. Individual words can be highlighted and vocalized and can even be broken down into syllables or played back multiple times, as needed.

Pre-Reading and Vocabulary Strategies

Kurzweil 3000 supports pre-reading by allowing students to quickly skim through a document using the Read feature. The Notes function can be used in combination to write down questions and comments and to highlight important information or new vocabulary for later review. With regard to teaching vocabulary, students can instantly look up unfamiliar words in the online Dictionary, as they read. There is also a Thesaurus to help identify similar words while the Syllable tool can be utilized to help identify word roots, prefixes and suffixes.

Improving Reading Fluency

For LD students, who also have attention deficit issues, Kurzweil 3000 enables them to concentrate on their reading for longer periods of time. Students also experience less fatigue and stress, while significantly increasing their reading rate. Kurzweil 3000 helps students stay focused through a number of different ways. The program prevents students from skipping or missing challenging parts of words that they may have skipped or ignored on their own. Reading becomes an engaging and interactive process rather than simply a routine activity. In essence, reading becomes more accessible to students who tend to encounter reading challenges.

A Digital Story Explaining how Kurzweil can Support a Struggling Reader in a Classroom

Added by Anne Harbottle Feb. 2015

Practice Writing and Proofreading Skills

Those readers who struggle to decode and spell, often have difficulty expressing their thoughts in written form. Kurzweil 3000 helps students write more effectively by modeling the writing process beginning with brainstorming ideas and continuing with writing templates. The program offers a multitude of graphic organizers to assist with brainstorming.

These organizers range from cause and effect, compare and contrast, single and multi-paragraph writing, book reports, to narrative essays and personal narratives, just to name a few. Teachers can customize both graphic organizers and writing templates to suit the specific needs of individual students as well as class specific writing projects.

As a student progresses through a piece of text, the information he/she choses to highlight can be turned into Column Notes. Column Notes are organized according to the Main Ideas and Details determined by the highlighting colour scheme chosen by the student.

These notes can then be turned into an outline for larger original compositions (story, essay, etc.). The Spelling tool, Dictionary, Word Prediction tool as well as the Thesaurus helps students explore and manipulate language to achieve varied sentence structures which alters and enhances other literary aspects such as tone, flow, point of view etc. The auditory playback allows students to listen to what it is he/she written in order to proofread his/her own text for proper spelling and grammar.

Strengthening Study Habits and Test Taking

Struggling learners/readers can have difficulty both studying for and taking tests. Kurzweil 3000 can help students study more effectively for tests. It can also be used as an accommodation for test taking. Some of the benefits of using Kurzweil 3000 to study or take tests include learning information more effectively through pre-reading, highlighting, note taking, and summarizing strategies. Outlines built from identifying key information makes review easier.

In test taking environments, Kurzweil 3000 can be used to answer fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, true/false, short answer and essay questions electronically. This program allows students to practice using different test formats which can reduce test taking anxiety. The vocalization tool reads the question and answers aloud to students, and can provide access to the Dictionary and Thesaurus tools, as permitted by the teacher.

Design Affordances


Before implementing a Kurzweil program into an institution it is necessary to give due consideration into a number of important aspects. Firstly, one must determine the ultimate outcome and discuss the current needs of the student(s); this consideration will help identify which program, delivery option and the number of licenses are needed. Next, consideration should be given to what hardware will be used to run the program. To ensure that the network/system will support this program see system requirements in chart above. Finally, once all the initial footwork has been completed focus must be placed on training. Regardless if the Kurzweil program will be used as remedial support or to reinforce learning for all students, teachers using the software will not only need access to the software, but also training on how to use it to its full extent to direct its use and create learning materials.


As with the use of any technology(s) within a classroom setting, educators are urged to consider the overall goal and purpose of implementing the use of a particular program or application. With regard to Kurzweil 3000, there are a number of challenges which one must consider and evaluate in order to determine if the program is a good fit for the class and the particular student(s).


As referenced in the Comparison Chart above, Kurzweil programs range in price from $400 to $1500 (approximately). While these prices are cost prohibitive for the individual teacher to purchase, Learning Assistance and Integration Support (LAIS) Departments are better able to afford such programs given that once loaded, it can be used by numerous students over the course of a school day or at home. From a multiple-user perspective, the cost of a Kurzweil program becomes more manageable and fiscally attainable.

Computers, Computer Networks and Internet Access

Clearly, Kurzweil programs run on computers which have the appropriate Kurzweil software. This point can be problematic, depending on the program delivery option chosen (see Kurzweil 3000 Delivery Options section above) and whether or not students are required to change rooms throughout the school day. Such challenges are overcome by registering individual school laptops versus anchored workstations, within the limitations of the delivery option chosen. However, due consideration should be given to the additional costs, of laptops etc., in relation to the overall cost and benefits of using a Kurzweil program.

Of related consideration is access to the school computer network and/or Internet which is also utilized by Kurzweil programs. Anchored workstations, connected to school networks, are the simplest way in which to manage the program. The use of laptops on the other hand, introduces questions about the availability of wireless network access and security issues.

Student to Teacher Ratio and Training

For students in one-on-one student/teacher environments, both the teacher and student are able to work together to ensure the user is introduced to and comfortable using the program. When queries arise, the teacher and the student can work together to troubleshoot or brainstorm solutions and opportunities. However, in mixed learning classrooms, it can be challenging for educators to be able to allocate time to ensure proper set up for those using the program while other students are engaged in activities. Individual learners using the program within a traditional classroom, require a reasonable level of competency with the program in order to ensure independent success.

With specific reference to teachers using Kurzweil, or those with individual students using the program, time needs to be allocated to viewing tutorials, reading about and exploring the program. As with all other technologies introduced into the classroom, educators must be prepared to invest time in researching the program, its uses and applications and then planning how to utilize it to enhance his/her overall aims, goals and learning outcomes.

Speech Technology

The speech technology used in the program advances with every version but is still recognizable as computerized and robotic. Understandably, the computer generated speech pattern does not perfectly mimic the rhythm and flow of conversational speech. Some students may be distracted by this fact while others may find the robot-like voice futuristic and engaging.

Ease of Use

Elementary students who become comfortable with Kurzweil can easily scan materials in themselves or take teacher created electronic materials and import them into the software. This teaches students independence and increases their confidence while preparing them for high school.


  • Scientifically Based Research Validating Kurzweil 3000: An Annotated Review of Research Supporting the Use of Kurzweil 3000 in English Language Learner Classrooms. (2005, October). Kurzweil Educational Systems,. Retrieved 19:00, February 25, 2013 from