When the term artificial intelligence is used, it is easy to for the mind to wander to Isaac Asimov’s foreboding stories that contemplate when humans will become obsolete. However, AI is a part of most Americans everyday life. Whether we are trying to push our way through a company’s automated answering to get to a “real person,” using an ATM over a teller at the bank, checking anything on our smartphones or asking Alexa® what the weather will be like today, we encounter some form of technology designed to make our lives easier. One arena that has been slower to bring AI into the fold is education, but with giants like IBM, Google, Apple and Facebook taking an interest in ed tech, resistance is futile. It is no longer a matter of if AI will permeate education, it is more a question of when and how it will change the way people learn.
Personalized learning for students
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested more than $240 million into the field of personalized learning. The concept is simple; people learn at different rates. However, one-to-one learning isn’t cost-effective. That’s where IBM has implemented cognitive systems into AI which can make personalized learning a reality for all students.
What one person might pick up immediately could take another multiple lessons or different explanations to understand. However, in a classroom where one teacher has an entire classroom to teach, whatever choice is made could be harmful to some students. Does the teacher hold up the rest of the class to continue working with the child who doesn’t understand, leaving those who do bored and disengaged? Or does the teacher move on knowing there are children who didn’t grasp an essential concept, leaving them with the impression they are bad at the subject?
This is where personalized learning technology could change teaching for the better. Rather than repeating a lesson, an AI tutor could engage the student in conversation about the subject and better determine the area that isn’t understood.
“The idea that you could talk to a [virtual] advisor that would understand different misconceptions and arbitrary linguistics around it, that’ll certainly come in the next decade,” Bill Gates said in a recent interview.
Not only could this work for students who are behind in class, but also for students who are ahead in a particular subject, cutting back on disruptive classroom behavior and improving students’ learning capabilities.
AI isn’t being designed to replace teachers, but to assist them and improve learning. It can be utilized as a teaching assistant, helping ease the workload teachers carry as well as pinpointing where individual students need help. By providing analytics and insight into how to reach individual students through analysis, simulations and gamification, schools can provide a higher-quality education. It can also reduce costs. Computers work all the time and, for all intents and purposes, for free. With the advancements in the field, AI can already reliably grade and analyze students’ answers as accurately as a human. The SAT and GRE essays have used AI to replace one of the two people who grade essays. As Georgia Tech discovered, AI bots can answer student questions online as well as ask students questions and evaluate their answers to provide instant tutoring, improving the student’s understanding of the subject.
Increase retention rates in higher education
Retention rates are a growing issue in education. Students drop out for a myriad of reasons, and as enrollment numbers decline, schools are feeling the impact more than ever. AI can offer a few solutions to the retention challenges. Analyzing big data and helping identify specific markers in students, as well as offering a solution for how to help retain at-risk students, is just one way it can change an institution’s approach to student retention. It can also use the same data to create a better student selection process. Diving more into personalized learning, AI could analyze student entrance exams and pinpoint the specific areas, rather than general subjects, where a student needs remedial education. A student would be able to catch up to regular classes in less time, saving them money and increasing their retention rates.
It’s hard to predict whether or not AI will be the future of education, but it will certainly play a role. Adding technology in classrooms doesn’t happen without growing pains, making it easy for resistant faculty to give up without giving technology a chance to impact learning. Increased pressure to cut costs and produce better results will continue to drive AI in education to new levels.