Is Artificial Intelligence in learning an oxymoron?

Robot education
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It really is only a matter of time before virtual assistants are so advanced we may eventually be educated by them.

Once enough data on language processing, reasoning, planning and cognitive modelling has been collected and appropriately arranged, tracking learning behaviours, giving personalised feedback, prescribing level-specific tasks and genuinely tailored course material in an instant will become commonplace.

If current developments in online learning management systems are anything to go by, and the increasing competitive pressure traditional campus institutions are facing to take an ever larger measure of their course offerings to the web, the stage is being set, whether wittingly or no, for the world’s first truly automated university.

Intelligent tutor systems

As you can imagine the implications of such an institution existing are magnificent and terrifying, divisive yet inclusive, worldwide and intensely personal. So, how close are we, and where does artificial intelligence in education stand today?

Well, general software applications known collectively as Intelligent Tutor Systems are already able to track step-by-step mental decisions learners make during problem-solving tasks, determine misconception of a task, and make estimations of how well a student understands the topic in question. Based on this data, they can automatically provide limited guidance, promote effective study habits by suggestion, and provide revision content relevant to the individual learner.

Furthermore, Intelligent Tutor Systems are now attempting to mimic one-to-one tutor interaction. A 2014 study on Intelligent Tutoring Systems and Learning Outcomes, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, found that in a wide variety of conditions Intelligent Tutor Systems outperformed a range of other instructional methods when eventual student learning outcomes were compared. It’s new and definitely a little scary, but this is really happening.

Deep learning systems

AI in education doesn’t end with the attempted replacement of tutors either. Deep Learning Systems read, write, organise and create educational course content based on input from teachers and professors, or indeed, one day, from automated tutors. The ability to automate the creation of custom textbooks with the educational content a student needs at any given time is apparently a reality.

A company called Content Technologies Inc. (CTI) provide a service whereby a syllabus can be imported into their CTI engine, and out the other end comes a fully formed textbook with all the core course content contained therein. Technology like this heavily promotes self-learning when, and if, the student eventually gets the opportunity to instantly produce their own customised course materials in the future.

The student eventually gets the opportunity to instantly produce their own customised course materials in the future.

So, other than having an omnipresent virtual tutor with you on every electronic device you own, infinitely customisable course materials, and receiving up-to-the-nanosecond guidance on your studies and career choices, areas impacted by the rise of artificial intelligence in education will also most certainly include:-

Analytics  

As far as analytics are concerned, they are set to evolve and expand exponentially as new capabilities in computing power facilitate the processing of vast amounts of new kinds of learning data, from quantifying and correlating vast arrays of student personas and behaviour to curriculum evaluation and adaptive learning.

These processes will feed themselves, expand, and the rate at which comprehensive automation of study programmes will increase will be astonishing. 

Global classrooms

Online higher education providers, like InterActive Pro Ltd., are already hugely experienced in bringing students from all over the world together for online lectures, seminars, discussions and exams.

Employing state-of-the-art learning management systems to deliver accredited qualifications is fundamental to the business of online education, so continual technological development in line with a desirable student learning experience is constantly required to create unique learning pathways, while always remaining competitive in the marketplace.  

Lifelong education

Why ever go to university; why ever leave? The nature of education, the format, and the tools - everything is set to change. There is little reason why education might not become something you rent on a weekly basis, accumulate points throughout your life, and intermittently collect accredited qualifications as and when you need them or can afford them.

Online learning platforms are already accessible on every personal device available, so when total automated learning makes its debut, it might well be something you simply have in your back pocket, for life.

Tradition

Traditional campus institutions are being challenged by the wave of online opportunities for students to get esteemed and accredited qualifications inexpensively, and without getting into huge amounts of debt. The global reach of online institutions means that prices of courses remain significantly lower.

Even Laurence Brockliss, official historian of Oxford University, recommended in a Guardian article, April 2016, that if the world famous university wants to continue to compete into the future, it will have to consider going online and eventually totally private. Oxford University is over seven hundred years old, and has never needed to think about a conceptual change like this. Not to mention that Google or Amazon could develop a free worldwide university almost in the blink of a standby light.

We have never lived with the possibility to freely offer standardised education to so many of the world’s population.

And that’s the point. The changing of how we conceptualise education is what is at hand here, and as far as education forms and informs the fundamental construction of civilised culture, how we adapt to the tools available to us now and in the future is critical. We have never been here before.

The implications of inexpensive (read: free), worldwide, open-access, automated education - it can be argued - will ask us significant questions about the nature and worth of being educated, how it applies to employment in general, and how we socialise around the pursuit of personal growth. We have never lived with the possibility to freely offer standardised education to so many of the world’s population.

The opportunities for training and education are seemingly boundless once the technology is there. That’s why AI in education is only an oxymoron if we’re not willing to actively consider how we reapply academic training in society.   

You:

“That’s all very well and good, but how will the world function with so many overqualified people for the huge amount of necessary but menial jobs that still exist?”

Nicholas 4.0:

“Calculating….I would love to invite you to come back to this blog page for my next article, “The Genius and the Broom”, where this very question, and the preparations businesses can make today, will be discussed. Enjoy your day, and happy learning everybo…”

You:

“Damn[***] powercuts.”

About Nicholas Eglin

Nicholas Eglin

Nicholas is an entrepreneur and writer with experience in the subjects of language, education, music and technology. He is currently building a publishing company, and writing about educational technology. 

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By peglin
01st Jul 2018 01:59

The questions you raise are radical and thus worth considerable thought. Certainly the 'sage on the stage' model of university teaching needs considerable re-thinking (and university education should certainly be free to the student). But who (or what?) will do the thinking? I mean that in at least two senses. The prospect of "free, world-wide, open-access, automated education" depends on everybody who wants such an education having (access to) a computer, and that internet access be available, and be affordable. Surely there are powerful political-economic forces standing in the way of that development, not least the US Federal Communications Commission. But, secondly, what exactly does "automated education" mean? That machines can think? I'm sceptical. See Computers, Minds and Conduct (https://www.wiley.com/en-ca/Computers,+Minds+and+Conduct-p-9780745615714) for the argument.
It's good to have the opportunity to think about these questions. Thank you for raising them.

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