ai in education
Education Technology or EdTech is a serious business, with multiple platforms dedicated for discovering new AI use cases for education.

AI in education

Artificial Intelligence is arguably the greatest technological innovation in recent times. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit report “Artificial Intelligence in the Real World,” 75% of business executives surveyed said their businesses will actively implement AI by 2020.  

AI and Machine learning are disruptive powers transforming the very ways in which industries function, from operations to customer service. From manufacturing to retail, every industry is feeling the profound impact of intelligent machines that augment human resources to perform vital functions.  

Today we live in an era where AI is a part of our everyday lives in the form of smartphones. Our children grow up exposed to the latest in technology and gadgets. Although the effect of all the screen time on kids is still a topic of great debate among educators, psychologists and parents, AI-powered schooling is already here and flourishing, redefining education and shaping its future course.

AI in American education is touted to grow by 47.5% from 2017-2021 by the Artificial Intelligence Market in the US Education Sector report. 

Where is it now? 

We have access to exciting AI-powered education tools on our smartphones. One of the best examples is Duolingo, the language-learning app. A study has proven that 34 hours on the app is equal to an entire university semester of language education. 

On a much broader level, AI is used in numerous ways in the educational sector. Education Technology or EdTech is a serious business, with multiple platforms dedicated to discovering new AI use cases for education. Companies like Carnegie Learning and Fuel Education apply AI to K-12 learning. McGraw Hill’s ALEKS is a web-based, AI-powered assessment and learning system that covers content at different levels – K-12, homeschool, and college.  

Smart classrooms are no longer a novelty, with schools across countries implementing the system. China, which is a hotbed of AI innovations, leads the race in AI-enabled education, with the US following closely behind. While AI in education is growing at a rapid pace, so is the concern of AI ethicists for the effect on young minds. 

What is it for the future of education? 

A big concern for educationists is the fact that the future of education may become AI-led as opposed to AI-assisted. However, education is one field in which AI can never usurp the position of humans: particularly teachers.  

Writing for The Australian Association for Research in Education, Neil Selwyn points to six aspects of teaching that humans can still do far better than computers:  

  • Teaching from experience 
  • Making cognitive and social connections 
  • Communication and exchange of ideas through speech  
  • Using gestures for emphasis 
  • Improvisation when resources are limited 

While AI is being used to empower teachers and institutions meaningfully, the innovators must never lose sight of the goal: providing the best education. The future of AI in education should not be perceived as a competition between machines and teachers; rather, it is about how the two can work efficiently together to successfully nurture young minds. 

The focus of AI in education can be directed towards the following areas 

  • Teacher-AI collaboration  
  • Personalized digital learning 
  • Universal access to learning 
  • Task automation and support to teachers 
  • AI tutoring and mentoring for students at their homes 

The foundation of AI in education: Knowledge Base theory 

The goal of AI in education is to personalize the learning process based on what a student knows and what he doesn’t. This is worked out by means of diagnostic testing, modeled on the Knowledge Space Theory.   

Introduced in 1985 by Jean-Paul Doignon and Jean-Claude Falmagne, KST has been studied and developed over the years for designing automated assessment procedures in education. KST aims to give a detailed assessment of a student’s knowledge state as opposed to a numerical mark in traditional assessments. More specifically, the result of a KST based assessment tells two things –  

  • What the student can do and 
  • What the student is ready to learn 

“Knowledge Space Theory applies concepts from Combinatorics and stochastic processes to the modeling and empirical description of particular fields of knowledge.”

KST assessment uses algorithms to provide a map or picture of a student’s knowledge of a particular subject, by tracking his knowledge points. KST forms the basis for computerized models like ALEKS and EdTech companies like Squirrel AI. 

Benefits of AI in education 

AI is advantageous to both students and teachers in many ways.  

24/7 access 

Students can learn through AI apps on their smart gadgets, at any time they want, and get real-time feedback on their performance. 

Diverse learning options 

AI-based solutions tailor study modules based on the student’s knowledge, aimed at addressing their weak points and making studying a fun experience. 

Virtual coach 

Virtual AI mentors provide instant feedback and monitor students’ progress to keep them motivated. 

A better understanding of student needs 

Teachers can identify student weaknesses through different training courses. For example, the Coursera platform can notify the teacher if many students chose incorrect answers to a particular question.  

Better engagement 

Gamification and VR help to provide a better ambiance for learning, and increase motivation. 

Automated curriculum building 

AI takes care of curriculum building based on individual needs, allowing teachers to focus more on areas requiring their attention. 

Access to great teachers 

Students have the opportunity to interact with and learn from the best tutors from across countries on online educational platforms. 

Challenges of AI in education 

A Working Paper entitled ‘Artificial Intelligence in Education: Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Development’ presented by UNESCO and ProFuturo at Mobile Learning Week 2019 studies how AI technology is helping education systems use data to improve educational equity and quality. In it, the following areas present challenges to AI implementation. 

  • Developing a comprehensive public policy on AI 
  • Ensuring inclusion and equity for AI in education 
  • Raising AI awareness among teachers 
  • Developing quality data systems 
  • Funding research for AI in education 
  • Policymaking for the ethical collection, use, and dissemination of data 

Real-world examples and use cases AI in education today 

Assessment facilitation 

AI tools help to assess standardized tests and detect plagiarism, helping teachers to cope with endless assessments of tests, homework, and grading work which consumes much of their time. 

Voice assistants 

Amazon Alexa and Apple Siri enable access to learning materials directly and make for a novel learning experience other than the traditional classroom approach. Arizona State University uses Alexa for routine campus needs. 

EdTech platforms 

Third Space Learning, Carnegie Learning, and ThinkerMath are some of the numerous EdTech platforms today offering individualized learning solutions based on student aptitude. 

Smart content 

With AI, students have the choice to learn from all kinds of materials, ranging from digitized books to customized interfaces. Noteworthy examples are Content Technologies, Inc., and Netex Learning. 

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