Artificial Intelligence (AI) has already changed the way we use and interact with technology. We are already feeding substantial amounts of data to AI every day. AI determines what we read in our Facebook timeline, helps Google to interpret and deliver relevant search results, schedules our appointments and reminds us of groceries to buy as we drive by the store. Amazon’s Echo is a personal assistant that can carry on a conversation and assist you around the house. Google’s new text messenger, Allo, uses AI to predict messages before you type them. Recently, Pearson released a report exploring the virtues of using AI in education. With AI at the forefront of innovation, it will only be a matter of time before it reaches the world of education.
Colleges are exploring the democratization of learning by giving students control over their own education. Top colleges like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT have released their curriculum for free through edx.org. Companies are creating
nanodegrees through online learning platforms like Udemy, allowing people to learn new skills online and bypass college altogether. Tesla, Google, and Facebook are all vying to be the first to provide the internet to the entire world. This will provide anyone with a smartphone or laptop the ability to access information and a self-guided education, no matter their geolocation.
Khan Academy and their ‘One World Schoolhouse’ can provide a robust education to anyone able to access their site. Saul Khan has created the Khan Lab School, an alternative school that encourages self-guided learning and mastery through their online curriculum and project-based learning. In this model, teachers become facilitators and guide the student to develop their own education. Sugatra Mitra has extended his Hole-In-The-Wall experiment into SOLE, a futuristic curriculum that is challenging the institution of education by arguing that given a computer and access to the internet, students can teach themselves.
But what could AI in education look like? The answer can be seen in the recent Oculus virtual reality event held by Facebook. During a virtual reality demo, we see what Mark Zuckerberg sees as he interacts with two co-workers in an augmented reality. What became immediately clear is that future classrooms will take place virtually, with students and teachers interacting through avatars, using digital tools to learn, create, and explore different worlds. It isn’t much of a leap to imagine an AI instructor soon guiding students through their education. And what better way to learn than through a coach that can be personalized to your own style of learning, providing specific support and instant access to information? Seem far fetched? AI algorithms are already capable of grading English papers just as accurately as a human teacher.
In Finland, early education teachers stay with students from grade to grade. This provides students with a mentor that can guide them through crucial stages of their development while fostering a deeper connection to their instructor. The teacher is able to adjust the classroom content and individualize the student’s education to their own learning style. Finland recently shifted their model of education to eliminate the isolation of subjects from their curriculum, choosing instead to focus on the study of interdisciplinary topics. Is it unfeasible to think that soon an AI instructor will be able to provide a student with the same guided learning within a virtual or augmented world? This AI instructor could be with the student throughout their entire academic career. The AI would quickly learn the student’s learning style, and grow and adjust with the student as it learns with the learner. The AI instructor could also bridge multiple subjects as the student is guided through inquiry-based projects.
So what becomes of the teacher? In many ways, we are already modeling what an AI teacher will become: a mentor. Someone who guides student learning, providing timely feedback and assessment. To an extent, this is already happening. Duolingo recently released chatbots that help people learn new languages by simulating conversations. The chatbots learn from the user and adapt their responses to provide instant feedback.
One advantage humans have over AI is our ability to intuit. Students will still need us to help guide them, support them, and build 21st-century skills. A computer cannot teach people how to interact with other human beings. It cannot foster personal relationships because it is, after all, artificial. In this way, AI will become an assistant to the teacher, allowing for more engagement and personal instruction between the student and instructor. The future of education is already here, unfolding rapidly before our eyes. In order to stay relevant, education must look to AI as a resource for developing our future students.