The Role of AI in Education

AI is transforming education from one-size-fits-all approach to a personalized journey

Imagine, at a point in time in a future classroom, a student sits down for a test. Her exam paper is compiled by an AI model based on her specific learning and the goals she has set for herself. Once she is finished, she hands her paper to her teacher, who uses another AI model to grade the paper. Based on the almost immediate results, yet another algorithm sets an amended learning path for the student, based on her strengths and weaknesses. This is personalized education at its best.  

Could this be the future of Artificial Intelligence in education? It is certainly possible, but most likely we won’t reach that extreme for many years. What we will see in the immediate future, however, is a classroom that is enhanced by AI in a variety of ways from creating personalized learning paths to using data to accurately predict success outcomes.  

In response to the global pandemic and subsequent widespread adoption of technology, an AI-enhanced classroom will likely become the norm even faster than predicted. However, this catalyst for rapid change also brings up several questions: How can tech, including AI, enhance the learning experience? And how will this accelerate the adoption of AI in K-12 classrooms, colleges and universities, and online learning?  

The answers are yet to be seen as students slowly return to the classroom and continue with online classes, but one thing is for sure: the traditional classroom will never be the same, and the opportunities for AI adoption in education are rife.  

Here is a closer look at some of the benefits of AI in education and some of the current opportunities for students at all levels.  

The Benefits of AI in Education 

Some of the biggest benefits of AI in education most likely exist within augmented intelligence, a current trend in AI. This means that AI is used to enhance the learning experience, rather than fully replace all the human elements within it. Human teachers will always be a critical part of the education process: inspiring and mentoring students and adding personality to lessons. That said, educators can use the power of AI to enhance and improve parts of the student experience. Some of the main benefits of AI in education include: 

Personalized learning 
AI can use historical data and future predictions to create personalized, adaptable lesson plans which respond to individual performance, allowing students to learn at their own pace, and in their own way.  

Accessibility through online learning 
Thanks to the global pandemic, students of all levels have adopted online learning, from formal education to online training sessions. This shift to online learning means improved accessibility for students with disabilities and other restrictions that made it hard to succeed in a traditional classroom, and for those in remote locations. Of course, online learning will never fully replace traditional classroom learning – as many children don’t have access to the hardware or software – however, it certainly can play a big part. 

Time saving 
One study found that educators and administrators spend 20-40% of their time on administrative tasks. AI can help to relive that burden by automating routine tasks and large volumes of paperwork, freeing up a substantial amount of a teacher’s workweek. This not only leaves educators with more time to focus on lesson plans and student development, but it also helps to reduce the overall workload, leading to less burnout and teacher turnover in schools.  

Better feedback  
AI models are fast, so when they are applied to student assessments, they are able to provide immediate feedback for quick changes in methods and teaching. For example, if, on an exam, many students get a question wrong, an AI model will flag it quickly, giving the test administrator time to evaluate whether a change is needed.  

The Early Years: AI in K-12 

Some of the greatest potential for AI in education lies within grades K-12, since much of the content is standardized, leaving ample room for the implementation of personalized learning courses – and seeing results. Personalization is one of the top ways that AI is transforming eduction.   

When AI is used in tutoring and development of study programs, it can easily identify trouble spots for individual students, adapting the course load to help the student learn in a more intuitive way. Computer vision models could potentially be used to identify expressions on a student’s face as they do work, to predict outcomes and help interpret test results.  

From 2017 to the present, the US national high school dropout rate has varied between 4-5%. Could this statistic be improved by the application of AI? Many administrative professionals think so. By using data on student performance, AI models can not only flag when a student is starting to struggle earlier than usual, but even predict, ahead of time, who might need help in the future, before they even start to show signs of trouble.  

One example of a company developing AI to improve the K-12 experience is Nuance, who created Dragon Speech Recognition technology, which, using voice recognition AI, allows students to complete assignments simply by speaking and teachers to quickly create lesson plans or lecture notes. This improves accessibility for students who struggle with writing and saves valuable time for busy teachers. 

Higher Education: AI in Colleges and Universities 

The pressure is on for colleges and universities to speed up digital transformation and adopt new methods of managing admissions, administering coursework and enhancing overall operations. 

Colleges and universities have an opportunity to revolutionize the student experience with personalization. Additionally, there is a renewed focus on students’ overall wellbeing as an important factor for overall success within higher learning. AI and ML models present an opportunity to monitor student performance more closely and spot warning signals that a student is struggling much earlier than ever before.  

CourseHero is a great example of a company using AI to enhance the college and university experience. Using crowdsourced study material, CourseHero applies ML algorithms to help students personalize their study experience in new ways.  

On the admissions side, one startup called Mainstay is using AI and Behavioral Intelligence to help colleges and universities connect, on a more personal front, with prospective students to improve enrolment and admissions. This personalized connection will likely be what students look for in the future and will become one of the main factors for choosing one school over another.  

AI Beyond the Classroom 

From the perspective of educators and administrators, using AI and ML also brings valuable benefits. For one, AI can be used in the personal and professional development of educators themselves, from providing richer assessments to identifying areas of improvement for development and training.  

How to Implement AI in Education 

When implementing AI in any aspect of education, it’s important to consider several important things. The first is to clearly define the objectives for the use of AI, along with expected outcomes. This helps to align expectations of what the AI model will achieve and to measure results more accurately. Then, two other important factors should be considered as AI is implemented within the education industry:  

  • Remember bias and ethics 

While there are impressive opportunities for the application of AI within education, it also creates endless entry points to perpetuate the inherent bias that already exists in our society. This has been reflected in facial recognition systems that don’t work on non-white faces, and in AI grading systems that routinely give high scores to incoherent essays that use fancy vocabulary. AI companies must also be ethical in their use of the data collected, particularly when it contains sensitive, personal data about students.  

  • Keep humans in the loop 

As mentioned above, the biggest strength of AI in education is enhancing existing processes and programs, not replacing them. Humans should always be part of the process, especially to combat bias, monitor quality control, and ensure that the tools are working as they should.  

A Personalized Learning Journey 

The valuable role that teachers and other educators play within education will never be taken over by AI. However, we see a very realistic future in which the work that educators do will be made easier and more effective with AI and ML tools. Soon, education will be personalized to a learner’s strengths, resulting in a more successful and worthwhile experience for all involved.