What does the introduction of artificial intelligence mean for training providers?

Brad Tombling, customer success director at training management platform, Bud Systems, invites sector experts to share their insights on artificial intelligence in further education

The apprenticeship as a teaching discipline is an 800-year-old model, but it’s on the cusp of some dramatic changes that will revolutionise training and the way young people work. Why? Popular estimates predict that 65% of children entering primary school will work in jobs that don’t even exist today. This is based on the fact that, in many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is only set to accelerate.

If we don’t anticipate or prepare for these future job skills, we simply wouldn’t be able to fully take advantage of these trends. So how can the education industry prepare to train the workforce of the future? The answer lies in its ability to embrace the latest technology and turn the buzzwords of today – ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI) and ‘automation’ – into the practical applications of tomorrow.

We are in the infant stages of seeing where digital transformation can take many business sectors – not least education – and witnessing huge advancements in computer science, driven by the practical application of AI. Based on technologies such as machine learning and natural language processing, it enables machines to sense, comprehend, act and learn with human-like levels of intelligence.

AI is already enabling us to perform many day-to-day tasks by analysing data to optimise a business function. Bud Systems itself is a training management platform based on a foundation of data gathering and designed around a framework of real-world regulatory reporting requirements. Today it offers a platform for training providers to easily generate the necessary insights into individual learner performance, as well as the wider business performance, in real time, and to take timely remedial action if necessary. It is also laying the groundwork for learners of the future.

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But what are the possible applications of AI in education, and are human teachers and trainers about to be replaced by machines and robots? We asked some of the industry’s leading experts to give us their thoughts on this topic:

Chris Monk Director of business operations, Decoded Academy
Jason Holt CEO of the Holt’s Group, a family of social enterprises in education and immersive technology
Ben Pike CEO at MasterStart, a fast-growing edtech business

Where do you think AI will add the most value for the education industry?

Ben Pike: “It’s easy to see that technology is the vessel which will prepare children for things that don’t yet exist. But in terms of teaching styles, I strongly believe it’s about augmenting -not replacing – humans. It’s about identifying the quick wins which will free up people to do other things. In the medium term there are huge opportunities to automate processes, connections and basic learning support – those activities where humans are not adding value.”

Chris Monk: “Where we’re seeing good application of AI across business and the world is not where we try and use it to replace human beings, but where we use it to augment human beings.”

Will AI eventually negate the end point assessment?

Jason Holt: “Many parts are at play with human decision-making. Studies have shown that judges can be influenced by how hungry they are, for example, and will come to a different decision than when they are full. If technology is designed effectively, it can make objective decisions; the end of the end-point assessment would be the holy grail. To understand through AI involves a robust way of monitoring competence and understanding throughout the learning journey. If it were able to negate the end-point assessment, AI could have many attractive benefits for the learner (and ITP); after all, many people take up an apprenticeship as they don’t like the academic side of learning.”

CM: “As humans, we’re well used to relying on our natural instincts to make decisions. When interviewing a candidate, for example, as well as processing the responses of the applicant, a large part of the decision-making process comes down to instinct. This is where technology may come in. Machine learning is extremely useful at analysing many streams of data sets which may help humans make a decision, perhaps rather than doing it for them.”

It’s an exciting time to enhance what we do in the UK, and the early adopters will be the winners – Ben Pike, MasterStart

Will we ever see robots training humans?

BP: “We’ve seen that technology can be very effective in training delivery with repeated engagement and simulation, and it can be incredibly powerful. The 1:1 learner to trainer ratio with AI-based learning could really be of benefit to the learner, but we see cohort-based learning engagement is also vital in education. Not only do young people learn from their trainers, they also learn from their peers. The role of the human teacher could be to raise the standards of teaching. This interaction with humans is going to be very important.”

CM: “Technology advancements in education are an opportunity to super-charge blended learning. Some content is best delivered via video, some is best in a classroom setting to benefit from peer-to-peer learning. I believe AI will be another amazing tool in our arsenal; after all, it doesn’t get tired or lose its temper. But we also need social contact with other humans, and the power of humans holding humans to account in education.”

What about cultural learning. Can we leverage technology to deliver standardised learning across the globe?

BP: “The big players are working to bring virtual reality and AI products to mass markets, and reduce prices to an affordable level. But it is not there yet. Access to even current generation technologies – as well as bandwidth issues – can mean continents like Africa and Asia are unable to keep pace with other areas of the world. And strict data protection laws in some countries can prevent the necessary research and innovation from occurring in the first place. Access to technology is really key to unlocking this. Countries need underpinning infrastructure to compete on a global scale. I think it will happen quickly – there is a predicted £90bn of venture capital investment in edtech alone over the next few years. It’s an exciting time to enhance what we do in the UK, and the early adopters will be the winners.”

In related news: Most UK adults wary of artificial intelligence, survey finds

What can ITPs do to prepare now?

BP: My advice is: don’t think about assessment, think about the learning journey. How do we advance that journey to automate stuff on repeat while freeing up the human side of things? We need to be more proactive in intervention and support those who are struggling the most. Build some great immersive stuff for the repetitive types of learning, but wrap around with human support and experience.”

JH: Training providers should be considering three things. Firstly, they should be considering how to make materials really engaging, using incredible immersive tools to create stimulating environments. They should also ensure someone within their organisation takes ownership of the data so it will be in a great position to leverage once the AI is ready. And they should think about how to improve personalisation of the learning experience through pre-assessment.”

CM: “Learning to keep, store, manage and ultimately leverage data is a great place to start. The trainer isn’t going anywhere for several decades at least, and there are many exciting things on the horizon. But there are also positives to take from the conversation about AI in the short to medium term. For example, the possibilities of individualising learning through data, and creating an infinite classroom where repetitive teaching on a one-to-one basis can be scaled. Small businesses could benefit from AI support in looking after and managing their apprentices in the same way that large businesses can. And AI can also support line managers giving them the right tools to do the best possible job.”

JH: “The challenge for the vocational sector is to open our eyes to what is going on in the wider world and not just look at what is going on in this sector. If we can do that, the future is ours for the taking.”

For more on the opportunities of AI within FE, listen to Bud’s podcast here.

Bud Systems is a vocational training management platform developed through training industry insight and experts in software development. For further information, go to bud.co.uk

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