AI in education. Part 11 of the series ‘Perspectives on Artificial Intelligence’.

Of all the current technological developments, artificial intelligence is both the most profound and the least understood. We are witnessing impressive new applications, but can hardly foresee their impact on people, organisations and society. In this series of blogs – Perspectives on Artificial Intelligence – we investigate not only the opportunities, but also the intended and unintended consequences.

Training for jobs that do not yet exist

We live in the era of digital Darwinism: everything that can be digitised will become digitised. The combination of robotics and artificial intelligence has led to the development of smart machines that are increasingly taking over activities from humans. According to McKinsey research, 50% of working activities can be automated using current technology.

We can foresee some of the new jobs of the next decade. In addition to robot mechanics and drone pilots, we will also get new professions interfacing between humans and robots. Robots need to be trained, while people need to learn to work with robots. Robots and AI systems must also be controlled. With self-learning systems (thanks to machine learning), pre-launch tests will not suffice. Because outputs from self-learning systems change over time, continuous monitoring will be necessary to ensure they are functioning correctly.

Educational institutions therefore have two questions that need answering. Are we educating students for jobs that are going to disappear? And how do we prepare students for jobs that do not yet exist?

Learnability Quotient

When we look at what makes someone successful during his or her career, we see that knowledge gained during their school years has a limited influence. After all, the shelf life of school education is brief. The ability to learn new skills and adapt to changing circumstances plays a much more decisive role.

This is why, in addition to IQ and EQ, the LQ or Learnability Quotient has great significance. This indicates how one deals with change. At www.learnabilityquotient.com you can take part in a test which asks you to answer yes and no to questions such as, “I prefer to use tried and tested methods”, “I enjoy trying out a new approach”, “I want to understand how things work” and “I like to meet new people”.

Technology has democratized knowledge. Everyone can search for anything online and, thanks to artificial intelligence, this knowledge is increasingly being presented in a format that is easy to understand. Instead of a displaying a long list of potentially relevant articles from a search engine, an AI system can specifically answer a question you ask in casual terms, not in specialist’s jargon.

This democratisation puts an end to the old adage of ‘knowledge is power’ and makes the pupil an equal interlocutor when conversing with a teacher. However, Googling is not the same as knowing. Searching for something is not the same as possessing knowledge. In addition to skills, knowledge remains important, even if this is only used for the formulation of the right questions.

Technology in education: EdTech

Schools should not only teach technology, but also implement it more frequently. In the same way as the financial sector has FinTech, EdTech (education + technology) exists for the field of education. We are witnessing the rapid development of new applications both for use in the classroom and online. With the assistance of AR and VR (Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality), the outside world can be brought in and students can truly experience what they are learning.

One of the most important advantages of these new technological applications is that they enable personalised learning. On platforms such as Coursera, Udacity and 2U/Getsmarter, you are given online access to educational programs from the best schools and universities worldwide. The range of massive open online courses (MOOCs) is so huge that making your choice is not easy. These platforms also offer solutions for companies that wish to offer training courses for their employees. On Udemy’s public marketplace, anyone can become a teacher and host a course.

New technology also makes it possible to better tailor education to individual needs and learning methods. With a digital teaching program, you can study at the time that best suits you and at your own pace. Furthermore, teachers can observe which subjects you find difficult and provide additional instruction. Teaching materials can also be automatically adjusted according to your progress; if you make frequent mistakes, you are given extra practice exercises. You can apply these adaptive learning methods both in the classroom and online. Primary schools in the Netherlands are achieving good results with the Snappet platform.

Learning can be further encouraged by applying gamification techniques. A good example of this is Duolingo, where users learn languages ​​and are encouraged to continue learning by reaching higher levels which earn them virtual points, as well as compare their performances with fellow players or fellow students.

Lifelong learning can be further promoted with tools such as Degreed, which is also available in a business version. Employees can test and certify their skills here, regardless of their previous education or work experience. You can also select courses that help to improve certain skills. Employers can observe which skills are present within their organisation and take this into account when building a team.

The school as a learning platform

Schools and universities are often blamed for being insufficiently prepared, and at too slow a rate, for the digital age. I remember the story of a teacher at a University of Applied Sciences who noticed that practically the same group of students met up every Tuesday afternoon and took part in serious discussions. This did not look like a student union gathering and there were too many of them for this to be a group project meeting. Upon inquiry, it turned out that these students were teaching each other about new technologies because they felt that too little attention was being paid to this subject at the school itself. Clear agreements were made for their group members. Everyone was welcome, provided they contributed in a positive way.

How do schools deal with such events? What do you, as a teacher, do when a student in the classroom knows more about a certain subject than yourself? Do you experience this as an undermining of your position or as an opportunity for your student to shine and for you to learn something new? Thanks to the accessibility of information, all teachers will sooner or later encounter this situation.

The answer is to not only see the school as a place where teachers transfer knowledge and skills as one-way traffic to students, but as a learning platform. In this model, the school is the organiser of knowledge transfer and all participants can be both providers and consumers of knowledge. In concrete terms, this means that it is not only the teachers who head the class;  students will also learn from other students. Companies can also acquire knowledge from and bring knowledge to schools. This way of keeping education up-to-date is much less dependent on the availability of new textbooks and teaching methods.

In combination with the aforementioned tools which help you to ‘get to know your students’ you can offer personal support and put together an individual teaching program on the platform. This model also makes it attractive for alumni to return to school at regular intervals for further training.

The future is now

Technological developments are moving forward so rapidly that we can be sure that, over the next 20 years, large groups of people will be doing a very different type of work than they do today. This means that employers are now hiring people with skills of which the future relevance is uncertain. In turn, students do not know whether the course they are following has future value. Lifelong learning has never been more important.

For educational institutions, the urgency to adjust their curriculum and use technology in and for education is greater than ever. You can not train for a profession that does not yet exist, but you need to take the first steps on a new path without knowing exactly what your final destination will be. Only by embracing experimentation will you be able to find out.

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