Exploring the future of AI in the education sector

Artificial intelligence is no longer science fiction – it is a part of our everyday lives. As we use tools like Siri, Google assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, we are just beginning to see the possibilities of AI in education. Just as AI is set to revolutionise every other industry, education is no different. So what does an education system embedded with artificial intelligence look like?

Despite detailed analysis being conducted around the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) in various industries, its effect on education has been relatively unexplored.

Global innovation foundation Nesta has begun a research project to explore the future of AI in education and found a relatively modest – but fast-growing – bank of academic literature focusing on the topic. As the literature on AI in education grows, however, they also expect to see its scope widening.

Early academic literature was, typically, focused on how AI could be used to solve ‘Bloom’s 2-Sigma Problem’ and replicate the ‘gold standard’ of education: one-to-one tutoring. However, academics, researchers and technologists are now describing experiments where AI is focused on whole range of different elements – from enabling collaboration between peers to assessing complicated skills, like creativity.

Education specialists, Pearson, have even speculated on the development of a lifelong learning companion, driven by AI, which will be able to support students through school and after, knowing their strengths and weakness and able to help fill any knowledge gaps. In their report, Intelligence Unleashed: An argument for AI in Education, Pearson’s authors set out a positive and plausible vision of how learning could be transformed by artificial intelligence in education.

Although most of us think of ‘adaptive learning platforms’ (software programmes that use AI to personalise the content and pathways that learners follow, based on their habits, progress and interests) when we think about AI in education, Nesta sees a much wider range of AI applications in our education system – from managing school inspections to automating feedback for learners.

Although at a relatively early stage, Nesta sees these applications as having great potential to help address some of our education system’s most persistent and stubborn problems, outlining nine challenges that AI is well-placed to tackle:
1. Teaching overwhelmed by administration
2. Inflexible progress through the education system
3. Difficulty of improving teacher practice
4. Failure to defeat entrenched social immobility
5. Difficulty of teacher recruitment and retention
6. Unsuitability of current curriculum for future society and economy
7. Difficulty of facilitating alternative pedagogy
8. Culture of assessment inhibiting teaching and learning
9. Homogenisation and lack of personalised learning

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While it is uncertain as to how exactly AI will affect education as a whole, it seems that the biggest expectation is that utilising this technology will free-up time and allow a personalisation of the curriculum and education experience for students.

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