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Sunday 17 September 2017

Artificial Intelligence: educating for the future

Another academic year has just begun.  It does not look much different from the one before – indeed, it is not much different from when I started my education some 50+ years ago.  And it has not fundamentally changed from the compulsory education introduced in the 19th century.  Till today, children are grouped in classes according to age and receive whole-class instruction from a teacher in charge of a class or a subject.   Although the slates and quill pens have been replaced with updated writing equipment and curriculum has been modernised, the way children are organised and taught have not changed essentially since the beginning of formal education, despite huge technological advancements.

The same does not apply to the world of work.  The way people work today does not resemble the working environment or conditions from the 19th century.  So how effectively do schools prepare young people for the next stage in their lives?

For many reasons, schools are extremely slow in adapting to new technologies.  The technology already exists – with virtual learning environments and on-line learning tools – to provide personalized-style education to match pupils’ skills, individual academic maturity and ability to ensure the best progress for each child.  This type of learning is not only motivational but it also develops self-regulation needed for achieving greater learning independence in the future.   However, this type of learning is not being successfully applied to benefit all pupils’ education fully.  Despite the overwhelming research evidence (Black et al., 2003; Fullan, 2003; Csikszentmihalyi, 1991). of the benefits of personalized learning to pupils’ achievement and motivation, educators and policy makers have failed to reach a common understanding of what it actually entails and how to embedded it effectively into today’s schooling.  Although attempts at providing personalized learning can be noted in some schools, in the main, learning and achievement are focused on individuals as part of a class/group, rather than on individualized learning pre se.  This is why little has changed over the years with respect to how schools organise learning.

The limited use of modern technology to provide solutions beyond the interaction with some of the curriculum content is hampering young peoples’ individual progress and fails to prepare them adequately for the demands of the modern world.  Some of the attitudes among the educators need to change imminently.  Only recently, looking at an old, decrepit stand-alone keyboard in a south London nursery, where my grand-daughter’s precious early education was just about to be entrusted, I enquired about the use of technology.   I was simply told that it was the settings’ philosophy not to use any IT because children had enough access to computers at home… 

Beyond the use of tablets, interactive boards and other mobile devices, the technology is moving towards the application of artificial intelligence (AI) in educational settings.  Since the access to the internet and personal computing failed to change fundamentally the organisation of education and the way pupils are essentially taught, the application of AI should change profoundly the way young people will learn in the not-to-distant future.  It will undoubtedly enable pupils to engage with AI-based tuition for a truly personalized learning matched to their individual learning curve. 

“Collaboration with human-computer could help students to learn using new approaches we can’t yet imagine”, explains Professor Emma Brunskill from Stanford University.

Erik Choi, Principal Researcher at Brainly asserts, “Each student can gain access to information that will help them along their unique path of their learning curve.  In the future, that means that a student won’t have to learn the same exact thing at the same exact pace as 30 of their classmates”.

With the popularity of e-readers, the look of some of the school libraries has changed.  However, the use of AI technology should truly revolutionise children’s learning and the way schools are structured within the next 15 years.  It will provide opportunities for each child to learn in a personalized way and to make progress at own pace like no implementation of any assessment policy has been ever able to accomplish.

Traditional schooling is about to change dramatically with the arrival of AI tutors.   This signals the biggest transformation in the way children will be taught and will learn since formal schooling was first introduced some three centuries ago.  The use of teaching robots will enable personalized learning on a large scale, thus ending the traditional teacher-led whole-class instruction, which has been the feature of traditional education for centuries.   These changes will have an impact on the way learning is monitored and assessed, and how and when pupils gain their qualifications.

Tractica, a market intelligence firm, says that “The rapid emergence and adoption of AI techniques are a wakeup call.  AI will transform the technology landscape and touch almost every industry over the next 10 years”.   There are reasons to be excited about the introduction of AI tutors to facilitate and monitor individual education.     

In considering learning for the 21st century, I have already written about the necessity for the mastery of learning independence to effective preparation for multiple career changes.  The application of AI techniques in education will have an enormous impact on the development of learning independence through the use of effective personalized learning strategies uniquely matched to every learner.    This will revolutionise education as we know it.   And about time!


Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B. and Wiliam, D. (2003) Assessment for
learning: Putting it into practice. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.  New York, NY, Harper Perennial

Fullan, M. (2003). The Moral Imperative of School Leadership. London: SAGE.