AI and Education

Written by Beena Ammanath

On a recent school field trip, with my son’s class, we visited a one-room school replica from 1884, and it was fascinating to hear how kids learned back then. The learning process is one of the oldest process that mankind has mastered. Today’s schools are quite different compared to that one room school in terms of size and the teaching mechanisms. Most of the classes use some kind of electronic device. However, the fundamental learning process and curriculum has not changed drastically.

Just like the other fields, where AI has started driving massive transformation and disruption, I believe that AI will impact how we teach and learn. The continued progress of AI poses us an opportunity to build a new framework for thinking about education.

Personalized Learning

The world around us is getting more and more personalized — with advertising targeted at an individual level, digital personal assistants that recognize our voice and react accordingly, music in tune with our moods, home heating fine-tuned to our body’s needs and so on. AI will drive similar changes within the education system with curriculum that is optimized for each student, based on their learning patterns, their natural abilities, their innate capabilities, their strengths and weaknesses and their background.

We all know that every child studies differently and at a different pace. With class sizes over 30 students, most teachers are not able to tailor the lessons based on individual students abilities. Personal tutors provide some level of one-on-one personalized learning. However that’s simply not cost effective and scalable. With AI based education, one on one level teaching becomes much more easier, once you have the system ready. Students who experience difficulties with understanding a subject will have the opportunity to practice more. And above average students will be challenged with more complex assignments.

AI will also help choose the right tools and techniques — whether its classroom style teaching, games, virtual reality labs, project style assignments, simulations — based on the individual student. AI can help students have positive learning experiences and increase their confidence about their academic abilities.

No Stress Tests

An AI based education system could make the idea of standardized tests and grades obsolete. Since the AI system will be fine-tuning the lessons for each student at each step based on their progress and their knowledge competency state, the assessment is continuous and more real time. Teachers can validate with a formal assessment and provide feedback to the AI systems for more fine-tuning.

My hope is that we reach a point where failing a test is no longer possible. AI should continuously analyze the student’s progress, their learning patterns and the study material should be optimized for their learning efficiency.

Enhanced Curricula

Curriculum that we follow today is primarily still based off the education system from a century ago. We might have seen certain changes to adapt to current times, however I believe that there needs to be some fundamental changes. Some of these changes have already started at the higher-grade levels. Curriculum still needs to cover core fundamental materials but today’s world does not require us to have the best handwriting or memorize facts or do math in our head. AI will be able to help more educators inspire children to find pleasure in learning, to encourage them to be resourceful in solving problems in a collaborative way and to have clarity in thought and ideas.

As AI based search engines get smarter, along with the concepts, learning will also have to be more about the application of the concepts and more project based learning. A World Economic Forum report has found that children need to learn social and emotional skills if they are to thrive in the workplace of the future. The new research shows that as the digital economy transforms the workplace, skills such as collaboration, communication and problem solving will become ever more important as more traditional roles are mechanized. With more than half of children now entering school expected to work in jobs that don’t yet exist, adaptability is also becoming a core skill.

There will be have to be more creativity in education. Future jobs will require creativity for success. Learning will be not be just about taking in information and answering a test about it — it will be more about figuring out what to do with that information in the real world. Students will have to learn the soft skills on how to negotiate issues and exchange ideas effectively. AI can generate several simulations to help students understand and practice these soft skills.

Human Teachers with AI Assistants

As with every other field that AI has impacted or is impacting, there is a fear that we will soon have robots replacing human teachers. However, I believe, just as we are seeing in other areas, the role of the human teacher will evolve. We are not in any danger of human teachers going extinct at least for the next several decades. The teacher’s role becomes more crucial than ever.

Teachers will have to play a critical role in designing and rolling out the AI based education systems, providing continuous feedback and validating the student performance to match the expected learning level. AI will certainly play an invaluable role in being a teacher’s assistant — it will help them to be better educators.

Mentoring will become even more important and crucial to a student’s success. AI will certainly become a key player in education, however human teachers will be primarily responsible for teaching the human skills. My hope is that AI will also free up the teachers to be able to focus on teaching life-long skills like mindfulness, empathy, emotional strength and grit from an early age.

Evolved Schools

With AI, learning certainly won’t be limited to just a physical school. However, humans are social animals. There will always be a need to provide a place for students to be in an environment for social interactions. The role of the schools will evolve. Even with AI providing opportunities for independent learning on most topics, students still need a teacher who can guide them, a place to play with kids their own age, labs to do physical science experiments and certainly a place to have fun and practice out all their soft skills lessons.

Continuous Learning

As adults, we are all aware how important it is to keep learning throughout our lives. A concept first introduced by early AI researchers decades ago called a “lifelong learning companion” is like an imaginary coach might soon become a reality. Learning companions would accompany students — asking questions, providing encouragement, offering suggestions and connections to resources, helping students talk through difficulties. Over time, this AI-based companion would learn what the student knows, what interests her, and what kind of learner she is. The companion is not a tutor that knows all the answers, but a player on the side of the student, there to help him or her learn, and in doing so, learn how to learn better.

Another positive effect of a lifelong learning companion is the continuous evaluation of individual learning processes designed to prevent people from growing unstable and/or becoming mentally ill.

Artificial Intelligence has transformed and disrupted a number of areas in our lives in unimaginable ways — whether its how we work or how we drive or how we connect with our friends or how we manage our time. The possibilities for artificial intelligence to make significant contributions in any field are tremendous, and education won’t be left behind.

I believe we are going to see AI driving some huge transformation in how we teach and how we learn. And maybe as part of this process, we will also enhance what we learn. Education or teachers or students will never disappear. It will just take up different and hopefully, better forms, thanks to AI.

About the Author:

Beena is the founder of Humans For AI, a non-profit focused on building a more diverse workforce for the future leveraging AI technologies. Learn more about us and join us as we embark on this journey to make a difference!