The Plight of Physical vs. Online Education

Recently I heard an interesting argument against artificial intelligence based learning delivered over the internet. It stated that if the child just doesn’t “get” the algorithmic learning or the format isn’t good for them, they can fall increasingly behind and never be able to catch up. The final statement declared that her own child had experienced this with a reading app used by a school, but when they moved and had a physical teacher teaching this subject area, their child quickly caught up. (The speaker was in the Flash Forward podcast episode Bot for Teacher)

This argument holds some validity, but is largely invalidated by some simple logic and facts. Countless students in public schools have fallen drastically behind and sit in the very low tier of their classes. It is entirely and reasonably possible that a machine learning system personalized to their style and able to adapt and change if they start falling behind, could help them learn faster and better. With a service like this, they could have been very successful in their educational pursuits, and it is strictly because of the lack of personalization in public schools that caused them to have fallen so far behind.

Software is as easy as an over the air update to improve. Whereas, teachers, as lovably human as they are, simply can’t improve or personalize at that rate. Changing learning approaches is as simple as swapping subscriptions to a new service, whereas changing schools frequently requires relocations or strenuous bus/commute schedules.

From this perspective, it is almost criminal not to support and use adaptive online learning platforms as our current system doesn’t allow for the diverse approaches a buffet of learning tools would provide.

For now, a teacher may be able to better identify and work with a student’s struggles, but our digital learning systems are rapidly increasing in their effectiveness. I’m definitely keeping my eye on how Duolingo, Khan Academy, Tinycards, edX, and others develop and improve.

Notes: Flash Forward is a great podcast I enjoy and this is not in any way meant to call into question it’s content, but rather offer a different perspective on the matter discussed.