Foreseeing the Future of EdTech

CIOJune 14, 2018

In this article, I want to talk about artificial intelligence (AI) and how it is transforming the training and education sector. Before we get to that part, let’s quickly take a look at how formal and informal education have evolved side by side throughout history.

Evolution of formal and informal education

Formalized education has existed for thousands of years. Greek philosophers used to deliver lectures and teach their students long before the time of the Romans. It goes back hundreds of years before the Julian calendar was even introduced. If we dig deeper, formal education can be tracked all the way back to Babylonian times.

Informal education has existed throughout history and is much older that formal education. Even before humans invented language and writing, they communicated with each other and transferred useful information to their fellow human beings. If that wasn’t the case, humanity would never have been able to move out of the caves to start living in tribal societies and so on.

Educational technology evolved from the quill and animal skins to the printing press and now the internet. Perhaps the most significant development in EdTech, before the internet, was the printing press. Before the printing press, if you needed to create multiple copies of a book, you had to rely on handwritten copies. The printing press enabled mass production of written material and changed the game in the education sector forever. From 1440 to 1980, improvements were made to the printing press, the typewriter was introduced, and distance learning was made possible to a certain extent through radio and television.

The introduction of the internet changed the world in the 1980s, and distance learning became common through digital means in the 1990s. This was made possible due to a number of schools, colleges, and universities making use of online education. It is around this time that the term “e-learning” became common and eventually replaced distance learning.

According to the World Economic Forum, we are going through the fourth industrial revolution.

  • The first industrial revolution was all about steam power.
  • The second was about electricity.
  • The third is about computers.
  • And now a fourth industrial revolution is upon us, characterized by a fusion of physical, digital, and biological technologies.

Artificial Intelligence is driving the fourth industrial revolution. It is already supporting several industries, such as health care, automotive (powering self-driving cars), finance (software advising on stocks to invest in, etc.), and now education and training.

So, what is artificial intelligence?

The term artificial intelligence was coined by a Stanford researcher, John McCarthy, in 1956. Since then, it has been a popular sci-fi subject. However, it is becoming a bigger deal now than it ever was, considering the developments in machine learning and deep learning.

Basically, the concept of artificial intelligence is based on the notion of building machines capable of learning, thinking, and acting like humans.

In short, a code that continues to learn and evolve is contributing to the revolution.

Impact of artificial intelligence on e-learning

Just like the printing press and the internet, artificial intelligence will prove to be another game-changer in the e-learning industry. In fact, I believe that AI will be the highlight of this century, not only in EdTech but in other sectors, as well.

AI is going to play a critical role in competency-based and adaptive skill building. It will define how students interact with the system and learn. It will assess not only what students know now, but also determine which topics they need to master to achieve the learning outcome.

AI will automate learning feeds and recommendations based on people’s competency, auto feedback on questions on various topics, career paths and career mapping. It can provide a great level of personalization and customization of training and deliver a unique learning experience for each individual.

Possibilities for the future

I came across this interesting article recently in which the author talked about how data in the education sector still exists in silos, and that the consolidation of said data will allow for machine learning to do its magic and make predictions and recommendations like never before.

While AI is currently being used to curate educational material and make recommendations, the opportunities presented by this technology are limitless. If self-teaching artificial intelligence can learn to sift through data and learn new skills, it can also learn to sift through text, audio, and video answers to open-ended questions.

It is easy to grade students on multiple-choice questions, true-and-false questions, fill-in-the-blank questions and so on, because these questions have a predetermined correct answer and anything outside of it is a wrong answer. When it comes to open-ended questions, you still need a human to grade students on their performance. Artificial intelligence can be used to automate that part of the process, essentially filling the need for a human teacher to grade the students.

Artificial intelligence like Amazon’s Alexa is already being used as a home assistant and can also be used to satisfy the curiosity of a lifelong learner. Not only can AI tutors change the role of teachers, but there have been some exciting new developments with AIs that can create curriculum based on pre-provided course outlines.

For example, at QuickStart, we have integrated artificial intelligence with our LMS, turning it into a cognitive learning platform. The AI notices the courses the learner is interested in, crawls the public domain for supplementary educational material, and makes it available to the learner along with the official courseware. It equips learners with everything they need to combine informal learning along with formal learning. And this is only the first iteration of the AI. We are planning to develop AI to study the data available on the internet so it can recommend new courses as well as career paths to the learners.

Impact on modes of learning

When we think of multi-modal e-learning, people usually prefer self-paced courses and instructor-led courses. The preference depends on the type of learner you are and the kind of availability you have. At QuickStart, we deal in hard skills and most of our courses are on the technical side of things. This means that people need to interact with a human instructor while the training is being delivered, and that is why instructor-led training is a clear winner among our offerings.

When it comes to such training, availability is one of the biggest issues. You can take self-paced courses anytime, but for instructor-led courses, you need to be available at a certain time and date, so that you can attend the class, albeit virtually, as and when it happens.

Having an AI tutor, who teaches the class, interacts with the students, answers questions in real time, makes recommendations, tracks and grades the students’ performances, and shares progress reports can prove to be a game-changing implementation of artificial intelligence, as that will take two different modes of learning, and bring the best of both worlds (instructor-led and self-paced) to the learner.

With the kind of developments being made in the ed-tech sector, especially in terms of artificial intelligence, the age of AI tutors is closer than you think. In conclusion, the code that learns is a killer application and it will create a huge impact in the learning and development industry in years to come.

This article was written by Ed Sattar from CIO and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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