How AI is Affecting Modern Education – Will Your Child’s Future Teacher Be a Robot?


The generation starting college this fall doesn’t remember a time before computers and the Internet. Their children may not remember a time before Artificial Intelligence.

Raised on technology, Millennials were the first generation to rely (at least partially) on the Internet to get their homework or college coursework completed. As technology continues to permeate the classroom, it’s only a matter of time before Artificial Intelligence becomes a key component in education. The opportunities presented by this development will be a decided departure in the way students learn and teachers teach...a modern twist on the timeless values of teaching.

Small Scale Disruption: Innovations in K12

If you’re familiar with Alt School, you’ll know that the future of modern education isn’t on the horizon – it’s already here. Alt School was developed by a former Google employee, Max Ventilla, who decided that algorithms driven by real-time data could lead to hyper-personalized learning for school children. This, in turn, would facilitate students to progress quickly through lessons on subjects they excelled at, and more slowly for those they found more challenging. Students are supervised by teachers, and their curricula are driven by the data fed into computer systems.  Alt School is just the tip of the iceberg in the move toward a more modern style of education.  Like many revolutionary approaches, it’s a small prototype and in its current form too expensive an approach for many school systems to implement.  

Disruptive Innovation at Scale: In Higher Ed

As Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) emerged in 2012 they were praised for allowing accessibility for those who couldn’t afford a traditional education, or those in remote areas who could not be physically present to attend classes. A scalable method of distributing information online, MOOCs are merely the start of the technological revolution in education.  

As they mature, these online approaches have met some resistance from critics of their comparative quality.  But, MOOCS and online courses fit the classic definition of disruptive innovation. Clayton Christensen of HBR says that disruptive innovations “are initially considered inferior by most of an incumbent’s customers. Typically, customers are not willing to switch to the new offering merely because it is less expensive. Instead, they wait until its quality rises enough to satisfy them. Once that’s happened, they adopt the new product and happily accept its lower price.” The key to increasing quality without blowing up the MOOC cost model?  High quality, scalable assessments that are driven by performance data.

And the opportunity that the explosion of online courses at traditional universities brings?  MOOCs serve as a precursor to AI and authentic assessments, by paving the way for students, educators and employers as they adjust to learning online in an environment where a massive amount of digital activity can be captured and analyzed.

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The Artificial Intelligence (AI) methods that Authess uses to measure complex problem-solving, are well-positioned to take a central role in higher education in the 21st century as MOOCs and online courses continue to take market share. The key to scaling these solutions while increasing quality is to make them affordable, efficient, and reliable. As the path of disruptive innovation continues, AI-driven personalized learning will be a true game-changer in online higher education.

Authentic Assessments and AI: Much-Needed Change

Benjamin Bloom’s “The 2-Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring” identified that 1-to-1 tutoring works best. MOOCs have delivered on the promise of reducing the cost of delivering instructional material, but they fall far short when trying to provide personalized learning and 1-to-1 tutoring experiences. The Holy Grail of online education is not just low-cost delivery, but truly personalized experiences with meaningful feedback and assessment capable of measuring critical thinking and problem-solving skills at scale. New developments in AI are opening the door to that kind of disruptive opportunity. Students can finally receive specific, actionable, and relevant feedback without a personal instructor sitting next to them every step of the way.

Data-driven technology takes things one step further by analyzing data from individual student performances and aggregating it, revealing trends and offering comparisons and benchmarks. This closed loop method benefits students by focusing their learning at a pace they’re comfortable with. It’s a dramatically more efficient system, too. Neither the student nor the educator waste time on what they’re already good at, but focus on where they are weak and need to up-skill.

Interacting with the course material and knowing when answers are correct (or not), is key to acquiring knowledge. It has been proven that learning is easier and better when students employ scenario-based approaches. Authentic assessments allow students to apply their knowledge to real-life scenarios. This not only reveals how well they have retained new knowledge, but also better prepares them for the workplace as they develop the skills to think critically and apply their knowledge in the real world.

Deploying these real-life scenarios at scale hasn’t historically been feasible, so we’ve fallen back on multiple choice and contrived short answer questions that only measure knowledge. These tests aren’t good predictors of students’ ability or true mastery of the concepts they are learning – just because students know factual material does not mean they know how to apply it to solving a problem. Employers meanwhile, care what you can do, not just what you know. There’s no doubt that authentic scenarios are a more effective means to develop problem solving and critical thinking skills, but these complex assessments are hard to administer and even harder to evaluate. AI is the disruptive opportunity that may finally be able to complete the circle and provide authentic assessment at scale.

Will Robots Replace Teachers?

One of the biggest arguments against the use of AI in education is that teachers will no longer be required. Advocates for AI disagree. Often, teachers’ capacities are overstretched due to the number of students they need to teach. They also seek ways to impart knowledge with as many of their students as possible, usually employing the traditional lecture-style approach—the least effective way to learn, according to Bloom’s research. But the worst part for teachers is knowing that, inevitably, one size lesson doesn’t fit all, and some students will fall behind.

The undeniable truth is that teachers can not personally grade the work of 500 students on their own. So, for larger classes or online programs, many have already replaced themselves in part by ceding assessment to auto-gradable multiple-choice tests. These tests have been shown to be poor measures of anything beyond factual recall. What Authess aims to do with AI and analytics is bring back performance-based assessments—the results of which are more meaningful and more representative of competency and mastery. AI doesn’t replace teachers, it augments them and provides them a powerful and effective tool to support assessment and feedback to enhance learning.

Shimon Shocken, founding dean of the Efi Arazi School of Computer Science at IDC Herzliya and advocate of MOOCs and education technology, believes “Teachers should be empowered, not replaced”. In fact, those who see the benefits of AI, authentic assessments, and education technology, argue that technological advancements in the classroom will in fact, allow teachers to excel at teaching. How?

For starters, AI solutions can provide educators with real-life information on who is performing above or below standards, allowing them to focus more time on coaching students who need it most, on the specific areas where they need it most. Thus, supporting Bloom’s point on 1:1 learning as being the most effective. Teacher interactions with students become much more relevant and productive to those students. One of the great potential benefits of AI and education technology is that they make it possible for teachers to spend more time with students on a meaningful, individual level, as the time grading coursework and lecturing is greatly reduced. If AI replaces anything, it’s the arduous and tedious act of grading. In its place, AI can provide teachers with higher level reports that focus on where the student missed the mark and where the opportunity for student development is most needed.

Identifying common problem areas for students can be accomplished efficiently by machines, but guiding how that weak area can be improved, of course, requires a human element. That’s when the teacher gets the opportunity to formulate a new approach to teaching that particular pain point.

Leveraging technology in this way also allows teachers to “flip the classroom”: students learn their lesson independently and then come together, with the teacher’s help and supervision, to apply that knowledge while interacting with each other. Individually learning lessons and then working collaboratively in a group is an effective way for students to apply the course content, and it also stimulates the development of power skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving. All of these skills are commonly cited by employers as lacking in recent graduates. There is no age limit for this methodology either: it can just as easily be applied in a K-12 environment, all the way to adult learning.

AI and Education

Artificial Intelligence is already here, and whether we like it or not, students are living in a very different world now. Children born today never may never even drive a car.  The children of this year’s college freshmen will have a very different education experience to their parents and almost unrecognizable from their grandparents, but will share many of the same timeless values. AI-based solutions for education have the capacity to give these future minds the exact level of stimulation they need; the tailored attention from teachers they deserve; and the skills to succeed in their careers.