The transition to online learning due to COVID-19 has exposed significant gaps in our school systems. While there have been many technological advancements in the past decade, the education industry has been slower to adapt. Education institutions now have the opportunity to explore the potential of learning supported by artificial intelligence.
There are many social and economic factors that shape learning environments. Even though there are great teachers in some schools, many lack basic resources like textbooks and internet access. When these limitations are combined with an imbalanced student-teacher ratio, small cracks turn into wide gaps that become harder to close.
If we want to create an experience that is equitable and enjoyable for all, we have to eliminate as many obstacles as possible. Equipping educators with AI-powered technology can help alleviate some of these challenges. For example, using AI systems that act as personal tutors can help the student-teacher ratio problem by providing feedback and support when teachers don’t have the bandwidth. Introducing supporting tools like these from the ground up can help eliminate the socioeconomic discrepancies in schools, changing the way students perceive themselves, their peers and their overall learning experience.
It will be important for educators and policymakers to explore the intersection of education and artificial intelligence. The application of machines in learning environments is only one variable in a multifaceted equation. We have to consider barriers that prevent an even distribution in technological resources and how to overcome them. We must also ensure that teachers are prepared and empowered to leverage artificial intelligence. Assuming these elements are addressed, the possibilities of AI-powered learning are infinite.
Traditional learning methods haven’t always embraced the distinct experiences that shape how students learn. I believe the best learning experience is one that incorporates a variety of teaching methods and encourages individuality. Unfortunately, most teachers have responsibilities outside the classroom and can’t always consider each student’s style.
AI can be used as a tool in areas where teachers are limited. Machine learning applications process information more quickly and in larger quantities than humans do by leveraging algorithms that learn from data. These algorithms can then provide suggestions that are relevant to the teacher, like determining subjects their students have historically struggled or excelled in so they can be redesigned effectively.
Most teachers get bogged down by administrative tasks, limiting the time they get to spend one-on-one with their students. AI can augment these tasks and complete them at a pace much quicker than a teacher could. According to a report by UNESCO, roughly 60,000 schools in China have implemented an essay-grading machine that matches humans 92% of the time.
If this success rate can be achieved everywhere, teachers’ responsibilities could begin to shift. Up to this point, they spend just as much time outside the classroom as they do in it. The more mundane tasks that are lifted from their workloads, the more meaningful time they will get to spend with their students. Allowing educators to focus solely on teaching will lead to a richer experience for everyone.
AI-powered learning analytics could also be essential to teachers as they strive to create dynamic learning environments. Student data can be used to feed models that spot learning trends. Having taught diverse groups of students, I notice many have a hard time pinpointing where they struggle. As a teacher, it’s hard to communicate the direction a student can take to improve their learning unless the problem has been identified. We can use the power of data and analytics to make decisions that benefit students and solve some of their learning problems. Machine learning models can help us derive solutions to problems at scale and take preventative measures against them.
An AI system with rich data can also provide a more personalized learning experience. For example, if an art history student is struggling with a certain topic, an AI engine can recommend materials that past art history students have benefitted from. It may also recommend classes that other art history students have taken and liked. This could allow students to exercise more autonomy by learning at their own pace and playing an active role in what they learn.
Institutions are embracing distance learning, and many will continue to do so even after campuses reopen, opening the door for a blended learning experience — one that takes place both in-person and online. Learning platforms can be accessed on any device that connects to the internet, anywhere and at any time, expanding the number of students who can access the learning tools they need. This allows those who may not have access to a physical classroom or resources such as textbooks to access them remotely. It also allows students in different time zones to access the same information as their peers and learn alongside them.
UNESCO noted that AI “provides marginalized people and communities, people with disabilities, refugees, those out of schools, and those living in isolated communities with access to appropriate learning opportunities.” Even communities with limited resources can use AI to map a student’s trajectory, identify strengths and weaknesses and introduce them to subjects otherwise hard to grasp.
Though the future of education is unknown, we know AI will continue to transform our education systems. It can expand the capabilities of teachers and empower learners to explore their ideas. The power of machines alongside humans can help eliminate divides in our schools, granting students all over the world access to the best educational experience possible.