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Artificial intelligence set to flower in the classroom

Existing AI technology could drastically transform the way humans learn, says Fountech’s Nikolas Kairinos

What’s the first image that comes into your head when you hear the term ‘artificial intelligence’? Do you picture a futuristic world full of flying cars and drones? What about cyborgs, or perhaps killer robots?

I’ll admit, Hollywood has definitely had an influential role in shaping what most people consider artificial intelligence (AI) to be. And while the future does indeed hold no limits when projecting how technology will transform the way society functions, it’s important to realise that AI is already having a very profound impact in our daily lives, perhaps in ways people don’t realise.

From email filters that automatically categorise and sort incoming mail, to online chatbots that can recognise and respond to customer enquiries, AI is being creatively applied to carry out a range of basic functions. Organisations across the public, private, and even not-for-profit sectors, are taking advantage of AI technologies, such as machine learning, deep learning, blockchain and augmented reality, to improve the way they operate, or enhance their products and services.

Perhaps most excitingly, we’re only just scratching the surface in terms of how AI can be effectively used. This is particularly true when we consider education and, specifically, how AI is set to transform the way people – be they children, university students, working professionals, or retirees – are able to learn new things.

There’s even talk of AI devices being able to read facial expressions to determine whether the student is reacting positively or negatively to different learning methods

Learning in the classroom

Let’s move away from AI for a moment. Picture a classroom of 30 primary school students. It’s a mixed class, full of students from all types of backgrounds and cognitive abilities. Now picture a teacher standing in front of them, giving a lesson in basic arithmetic. The challenge for the teacher is delivering a lesson that caters to the 30 different students. Some will engage better with visual stimulus, others will respond to group activities. Yet, given the nature of classroom teaching, in this scenario the educator has to decide what teaching method will work best for the greatest number of students.

Most people who work in the education sector would see the above scenario as an inevitable reality of teaching in a classroom. Schools in the UK do not have an infinite amount of resources to draw upon – in fact, according to a survey by the National Education Union, 55% of teachers saw their class sizes increase between April 2017 and April 2018. Moreover, half of the education professionals surveyed reported teaching posts being cut.

With the number of students in the classroom rising, the idea of teachers delivering tailored lessons that cater to the learning needs of each individual pupil seems far-fetched. Yet, in reality, we are much closer than people might think, thanks to some of the exciting innovations unfolding in the AI industry.

Nikolas Kairinos

Changing the way we learn through AI 

For someone who doesn’t have an in-depth understanding of technology, AI may seem like an alien concept. Yet the basic crux of the term is simple – namely, the ability of a computer or machine to think, learn and imitate intelligent human behaviour.

Already, we are seeing AI and machine learning being creatively applied in the classroom. Companies are creating what is known as intelligence instruction design on digital platforms. By providing a student with a list of questions and exercises, the technology is able to understand, through machine learning, what method of teaching is generating the best response. It can then deliver tailored lessons catered to each individual. There’s even talk of AI devices being able to read facial expressions to determine whether the student (who could be nine or 90 years old) is reacting positively or negatively to different learning methods.

Teachers also stand to benefit from AI innovation. Take marking and grading papers as an example. At the moment, computers are able to mark multiple choice tests. However, algorithms are now being used to assess complex, open-ended written responses that test a student’s real understanding of the subject matter. In doing so, it gives teachers more time to dedicate to their students.

We’re only just scratching the surface in terms of how AI can be effectively used

The future of AI in learning

When it comes to AI in learning, we are only just scratching the surface. There will still be a natural period of trial and error, but we shouldn’t think that tailored learning through AI is something that we won’t see for decades.

Companies around the world are exploring the potential of AI to improve the way people are able to learn, be it a student in the classroom or an adult hoping to learn an instrument in their spare time.  While flying cars and cyborgs are not something we should envisage happening anytime soon, existing AI technology could drastically transform the way humans are able to learn.

Nikolas Kairinos is the CEO and Founder of Fountech.ai, a company specialising in the development and delivery of intelligent AI solutions for businesses and organisations