5 ways to transform education by applying artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) has transformed traditional industries such as retail, medical care, social interaction, among other sectors. While AI has yet to widely influenced the field of education, there is much reason to expect the field will come to benefit from AI and related technologies in the future.

According to the Education Research Team at Meridian Capital China, the number of education-related financing cases reached 405 in 2017, most of which mainly focus on quality education, K-12 education, and informatization of education and knowledge consumption. AI, as a major trend in educational technology and with investors’ keen interest at this stage, will likely influence the direction of emerging companies in these areas.

The following are five new directions in which AI is expected to lead education: individualized learning, virtual tutoring, educational robotics, programming-based technological education, and virtual-reality-based scenario education.

I. Individualized learning can be realized by artificial intelligence.

For teachers in classrooms, generally speaking, it is very hard to adopt multiple teaching methodologies with a large group of students in a single session. Educators often struggle to provide students with the opportunities to learn at learners’ own pace or in the learners’ own particular style.

Recently however, some startups in the education area have developed adaptive-learning systems based on AI, which helps students reap the benefits of individualized learning. With this newly developed educational system, technology helps to collect data relating to a student’s study pace and method, and then adapts to the student’s study patterns.

This technology is already in use. America and Australia-based company Smart Sparrow, founded in 2011, developed a multifunctional platform for teaching design, online study, data analysis, and so on. In virtually every aspect of teaching, educators can use this system to provide interactive activities for students. The system collects data simultaneously as students complete activities and tasks.

II. Virtual tutors can help parents engage in children’s study.

Many parents are stuck at work, meaning they often face obstacles to helping their children with their studies. Many, for instance, face a lack of time and energy. However, artificial intelligence is capable of empowering parents to support their children. A company named Whizz Education in London, for instance, promoted a product of ‘Maths Whizz’ which is an online math tutoring software. After installing this software on computers, students can interact with virtual tutors and receive answers to their questions. After the students finish studying, parents can receive software analysis reports from the program.

III. Educational robots can play the role of educators in communicating with children.

Some startups have been developing robots capable of interacting and even befriending children. In 2015, New York-based company “Cogni Toys” promoted their robot called “Dino” that can talk with children. When asked questions by children, Dino searches for information online. After conversing several times with a particular child, Dino will better understand the child based on interactional assessments of temper and personality. Though the range of topics that robots are capable of talking about remains limited, the trend of educational robots may likely influence the relationship between children and education.

IIII. Technological education based on programming and robots will become a competitive area of the industry.

America has adopted STEM education including science, technology, engineering, and maths. Meanwhile, Chinese parents who have been showing strong preferences in practical education, are also in the pursuit of STEM education.

However, compared with old generation, young parents in China who were born in the 1980s are more concerned about quality education. In 2017, there have been 63 financing cases relating to STEAM education, showing an increasing market in China.

Startup Primo Toys has produced a type of education for teaching programming. Children as young as 3 years old can play with Cubetto, the robot designed by Primo Toys, by designing a route for the robot. Through interaction with Cubetto, children learn through practice and are enlightened with education via programming.

V. Virtual-reality-based scenario education is applicable to various contexts and kinds of education.

Large companies like Google and Facebook are already devoted to researching how to best apply virtual reality to education. Ireland-based company Immersive VR Education, for instance, specializes in developing education approaches focused around virtual-reality technology. For example, children can virtually experience the Apollo 11 moon landing by wearing special glasses, an approach that might ultimately give students a better understanding of the world.

Though the applications of AI in education paints a promising picture for the future, some remain doubtful of the value of AI and the supposed revolution it might bring about to education. This is partly due to the fact that there has yet to be defined a clear business model that successfully combines AI with education. Based on the necessary condition that artificial intelligence requires huge amounts of capital, the lack of business model makes the future relationship between AI technology and education unclear. On the other hand, to deal with the enormous amount of knowledge accumulated globally on a daily basis, developers of a broad range of products will need more and more AI specialists. Only time will tell how -— and how much — AI and education will intertwine in the days to come.

(Top photo from Sohu.com)

Lena Zhang
Lena Zhang

Lena is our columnist. She is a Beijing-based educator who has previously worked as a finance reporter. Lena is passionate about the social sciences and curious about how technology impacts our lives. She holds a master's degree in Social Anthropology from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a master’s degree in Communications from Jinan University.

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