Education, the ability to pass on knowledge, is one of the most ancient practices that sets humans apart from all other species on earth. It is through education that, instead of rediscovering and mastering the laws that govern the world we live in, new generations are able to pick up where their predecessors left off and enhance the knowledge and skills we possess.
Now, the learning and teaching process is undergoing an unprecedented transformation thanks to ed-tech, a conglomerate of technologies that is redefining classrooms, schools, universities and the entire education process.
At the forefront of those technologies is Artificial Intelligence, the often mystic and misunderstood science that is taking the world by storm and is helping (or replacing) humans at performing complicated tasks in various industries. Here’s how AI is changing education for the better.
Customized courses and material
Until now, teachers and schools were forced to use a cookie cutter approach, treating all students more or less in the same manner in the classroom. Now, thanks to Machine learning, the branch of AI that finds patterns in data, teachers can glean actionable insights from student performance and make informed and efficient decisions in helping steer them in the best direction.
By collecting data, ML algorithms can find where a student is having more problems and assist them by providing them with custom material, exercises and lessons that can help them bridge those gaps. By collecting and analyzing data from a wide number of students, ML algorithms can find and prescribe learning paths to students and make sure they face the least difficulties on their way to building their career.
The same algorithms can identify possible strengths and talents in students and help them choose majors based on areas they’re likely to perform best.
Other advanced applications of AI in content delivery can use Deep Learning (DL) and Natural Language Generation (NLG) to synthesize and deliver customized content, written exactly as a human would. This is a concept that is being explored by Content Technologies.
Online tutoring has been around for a while, thanks to broadband internet and the explosion of cloud computing resources and services. These services have enabled tutoring tasks to be ported to online platforms and performed remotely, connecting people thousands of miles apart and helping them learn and hone their skills.
Now, thanks to AI, these platforms are moving to the next level, helping connect the right people and enhance the tutoring experience. One example is Brainly, a social media platform that enables millions of students to connect and solve homework and assignments.
Brainly uses a team of over one thousand moderators to determine the quality of questions and answers that are being exchanged between users. Now, thanks to AI algorithms, the platform is easing the burden of moderators by detecting and filtering out spam and low-quality questions and answers, helping the staff focus on providing quality services.
Brainly is also leveraging algorithms to make friend suggestions that can help students complement each other’s skills and get in touch with people who can answer their questions. This will be a crucial step toward providing a personalized online learning experience.
Other platforms such as Front Row, Carnegie Learning and Tabtor are working on AI-powered tutors that are able to mimic the benefits of one-on-one tutoring.
Helping teachers fill gaps in education
When dealing with dozens of students, teachers often miss gaps in their lectures and educational materials, which can confuse students and hamper the learning experience. AI can help find those shortcomings and alert teachers in a timely fashion.
An example is Coursera, a open online course provider, which alerts teachers when a large number of students submit wrong answers to a question, while assisting the students by providing them with a customized message that can steer them in the right path.
By creating smart, personalized interactions with the students, the AI assistants give immediate feedback to students and help them understand concepts without waiting on the teachers.
Another interesting effort in this space belongs to Third Space Learning, a platform that provides online one-to-one maths tutoring over the internet by connecting children with teachers around the world.
Since its launch in 2012, Third Space has recorded thousands of hours of teaching and learning on a weekly basis, and is now leading a project aimed at discovering patterns of positive teaching outcomes and help optimize the teaching process.
With the help of an AI engine that has been trained with the data generated from millions of lessons, Third Space aims to enhance its platform to provide realtime feedback to teachers on what their students might have misunderstood or how they can better teach a concept.
The future of education
The teacher-student relation is so complex and human that a future where human teachers are replaced by robots and AI algorithms altogether is—in my opinion—not a favorable one (though not unforeseeable).
However this doesn’t mean that we can’t leverage AI to enhance this sanct and valuable interaction to unprecedented levels. These efforts will help future generation acquire knowledge at a faster rate and propel the human race forward at an even faster pace.