Today, Artificial Intelligence is all the buzz. You can’t go two feet on the internet without running into an ad for a company leveraging machine learning, or an article predicting the future AI will have on a particular market. It is undoubtedly a hot topic – and for good reason. MarketsandMarkets forecasts the AI market to be worth a whopping US$190.61 billion by 2025, up from just US$21.46 billion in 2018. Even now, AI-driven applications are either widely popular, gaining popularity at an alarming rate, or redefining markets entirely, like Duolingo, the language-learning app or Babbel.
As it stands, AI isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – if anything, artificial intelligence will see increased adoption across as many markets as possible, where plausible. As Content Technologies so aptly puts it: “The notion of artificial intelligence is a thing of the past. The reality of artificial intelligence is a thing of today.”
And that’s why this is in fact one of those articles exploring the impact of AI in the not-so-distant future, with a particular focus on education. However, as it stands, learning has been one of the areas least impacted by the huge advancements into machine learning, with little more than lightly personalised Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to show for it. That is not to say that no steps are being made on this front. Development of virtual tutors, personalised learning paths, and bots that automatically create textbooks are certainly underway, but little to none of it has made it into mainstream adoption. Classrooms look very similar to how they did 100 years ago, with the exception of the internet or the odd computer course that does more to distract students than it does to teach them.
That being said, before we get into this, what is really important to understand first is that AI is not a threat to the education industry, particularly teachers or instructors. It is certainly not there to replace either, but rather help facilitate a better standard of education for both the learner and teacher/instructor.
Enhancing the role of the teacher
For both traditional learning and e-learning – the time a student spends with a teacher or instructor should be focused solely on their development. Particularly at school, building problem-solving and communication skills through their interaction with teachers, is vitally important for students. All the other time schools and universities spend dealing with mundane administrative tasks (like applications) or marking assessments can be outsourced to AI, leaving teachers with a surplus of time they can devote to their job, teaching. Even now, brick-and-mortar schools and universities are using AI to mark multiple choice exams, and very soon AI will be able to assess written assignments as well.
AI can also be used as a teacher’s assistant, lightening the workload for already overworked teachers. These assistants can be used, for example, to answer commonly asked questions by students, which appear throughout the year and often grow in scale with the size of the classroom, be it real-world or digital.
Thinkster Math, is a great example of how AI can improve the learning experience in ways not possible for a traditional classroom. Thinkster Math is a math tutoring app that tracks a student’s progress and identifies areas where the student is lacking. The AI then customises the learning on the app to better suit the learner. This also means the learning speed of every individual student can be customised, in addition to the content, which is simply not possible with a classroom of 20 to 30 children.
It really isn’t a new idea that each student learns at a different pace, and that a curriculum should be adapted to individual interests and capabilities. But for most of recorded history, we’ve done the opposite, dishing out standardised educational content in schools so that individuals can all ‘learn’ in an easily controllable, centralised and mass-adapted way.
AI can revolutionise not only schools, but universities and online learning portals as well, by providing each student with a tailor-made version of the core curriculum, without removing the teachers, instructors or lecturers from the learning experience. Essentially, AI can enable educators to offer learners a more differentiated and individualised learning experience.
AI can also improve the system of giving students feedback. In a classroom setting, teachers often do not have the time for in-depth one-on-one tutoring and feedback. Rather, what we have now, is that work is reviewed at a later time without the student present, introducing a separation between effort and any kind of feedback, diluting the learning experience. To remedy this, learners should be given access to AI tutors that, in addition to customising their learning according to strengths and weaknesses, provides students with immediate, actionable feedback which helps better cement knowledge.
Accessibility to education
In a few integral ways, incorporating AI into education helps facilitate universal learning accessibility. On one hand AI can translate learning material – which normally wouldn’t be available to schools or universities of a specific region – to popular local languages, granting learners access to otherwise unobtainable knowledge. And on the other hand, AI can also help learners with disabilities, like auto-readers that read content aloud for students with reading problems.
Furthermore, learning content online – which is already accessible on a global scale – can be adapted or redacted, without major rewrites, based on a community’s norms and cultures.
If we look just beyond the classroom, understanding the economic situation of the world and examining the relationship between learning, skills and employment is an integral part of the economic development.
AI can digest global and local trends, which can help educational facilities better prepare the workforce of tomorrow. AI can analyse the supply and demand of skilled personnel in different markets, identifying where opportunities exist. This information can incentivise or influence universities and schools alike to focus on these gaps and create economic opportunities for its students.
Whether we like it or not AI is hugely relevant to schools, universities, and e-learning platforms. Education is the cornerstone of human prosperity and advancement in a world whether many countries still lack both. AI can improve the level of education or even just make it accessible for developed and under-developed areas, uplifting communities without the need for near-impossible large-scale systematic changes or stretching teachers any thinner than they are now. And because of that, we should all support it.