Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an ever-expanding field of science that programs computers to analyze data and complete processes that would normally require human intelligence to complete. Common examples of AI many of us are familiar with would be Alexa, automatic thermostats, smart plugs, and many computer games. In education, AI is a disruptive technology that challenges the traditional paradigm of a teacher in a classroom of 20 students. It requires thinking about learning in a way that is student-focused and not teacher-driven. AI is on the rise in the U.S. education sector, expected to grow at a CAGR of 48% during the period 2018-2022, according to recent TechNavio research report, “Artificial Intelligence Market in the US Education Sector 2018-2022.”
AI is promising for adaptive education
AI checks many of the boxes that comprise “good” education: it is adaptive to students’ learning needs; it is tireless and available whenever it is needed, the more data that goes into it the more effective it is, and its teaching “techniques” are based on the science of learning. AI holds a lot of promise in educational activities such as assessment and grading, establishing learning paths for students, scenario-based learning and implementation of gaming aspects into learning, and efficiency in back-end processes to free up more resources for institutions’ key educational activities and support functions.
Many see AI as having an important role in solving critical problems from limited access to qualified teachers in certain locations and ensuring the latest techniques and learning science are available to learners no matter where they live to getting learners of all ages excited about STEM. AI is already creating opportunities for serving students in remote, underprivileged or understaffed areas.
Adaptive, individualized learning—supported by AI— could be implemented to allow instructors to focus their time on students with the greatest needs, or to temporarily serve a larger number of students effectively in times of teacher shortages. Further, as with other industries, automating some of the more administrative tasks associated with teaching can free up the instructors to spend more time with students, thereby maximizing their impact.
AI doesn’t replace the personal experience
Learning is an intensely personal experience. The human element is essential and always will be. That makes education a particularly complex and fascinating AI use case, and not a candidate for complete automation, no matter how “intelligent” the technology solution.
Even when an AI-enabled solution is determined to be a good idea by an educational institution, it likely isn’t going to be implemented quickly. The wheels of change move slowly in education and rarely keep up with the newest and most promising technologies. There are cost factors and change management issues to consider, along with strong opinions about the risks and benefits of new technology. In particular, many educators and administrators have strong, long-held beliefs about the role of the classroom teacher as the best person to use his/her expertise to understand the needs of individual students and make adjustments to the instructional delivery or materials to meet those needs.
Not AI or Humans. AI and Humans.
AI is a continually advancing field, and just keeping up with it is practically a job in itself! Given the budget constraints that most educational institutions face, implementing the latest AI-powered solutions is not yet feasible. But, as is often the case with technology solutions, the costs will come down over time as the products become better and cheaper to produce.
Like many things in life, it is great to find out what the possibilities are and what we CAN do. My hope is that we can rely on our education leaders to be open to innovation, but to also take a measured approach to putting students’ needs first and making our decisions based on those criteria.
Human intelligence and human interaction will always be an important part of learning. Education needs to push forward and look for opportunities to utilize AI to solve problems of equity and unique student needs—while not losing sight of the role of the human educator in the process. The best way forward is for us to use AI strategically to free educators for the most important, one-on-one interactions. I still believe that the relationship a human can build with a student will be more powerful than anything AI can do, now or in the future. As in all things, a balanced approach is likely the best approach.