It wasn’t too long ago that we heard this song playing on the radio. It seems hard to imagine a life without television, sitting in front of a radio and listening to our favorite television programs. But the radio star wasn’t the only cultural phenomenon that died with technology. With the launch of MTV, the radio began its downward spiral. People opted to watch their music rather than simply listen to it. Today, fewer people are watching television and MTV is a shadow of its former self. Instead, they are streaming their favorite shows, sans commercials and rigid television schedules.
Higher education isn’t far behind. It’s amazing to watch what’s happening in this industry, but it’s not surprising. For years, we’ve been witnessing the rise of the use of mobile apps, online learning and other new ways of teaching. Learning is accessible to people of all walks of life as barriers to education are being removed. Full-time workers, moms and dads, high school kids, retired, homebound and even those managing illnesses now can take classes and even graduate without ever stepping foot into a classroom.
For higher learning institutions, offering flexible instruction and embracing the technology to make it possible opens up an entirely new frontier. They can reach a limitless number of people through online courses. Many schools are even offering free online classes to anyone who wants to take them. The only fees that are required are if the student desires to test to earn certifications or degrees.
Online courses are just the beginning, however. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is making its way into education. These smart chatbots use various technologies such as algorithms and machine learning to not replace educators but to empower them. They can continue to reach more people because they have more time to reach them. Instead of answering mundane and repetitive questions, they can focus on making connections and teaching valuable material.
How is AI changing education? We’ll give you 7 ways, some of which is already happening and others are just on the horizon.
Higher education has traditionally been out of reach for many. Either the cost is prohibitive or the lifestyle isn’t conducive. Today’s student isn’t only 18-year olds who just graduated from high school. They are adults of all ages, many of whom have jobs, families and hectic schedules. The more automated their educational journey, the more attractive and conceivable it is to actually give college a shot.
AI introduces automation in tangible ways, saving these nouveau learners precious time and frustration so they can get on the road to success faster and stay there. AI not only makes the enrollment and other processes simpler, it helps keep students on track. By analyzing all of the big data surrounding each student, analytics can predict which students are at risk, develop timely interventions that support them, and encourage students to reach their goals.
AI algorithms also help connect virtual learners, bringing them into a community where questions can be answered, problems solved and learning extended. Their campus is no longer limited to a physical place but an entire globe of possibilities. This flexibility enables students of all demographics to partake in learning wherever they are, whenever they want. Remote or local, wealthy or looking for free classes – all can participate in higher education and learn the skills they need to be productive and successful in the job market.
AI is also helping students with virtual mentors as they assist them with self-direction so they can be more self-sufficient, self-assessments where they can monitor their progress, and self-learning where they can get their questions answered quickly or join a crowd-sourced study group. While advisors will still play an important role, chatbots can answer many of the more repetitive and general questions, such as when a test is going to be administered, professor tutoring hours, answer keys, assignments, and more.
These are questions that administrators, professors and teaching assistants can answer but by handing this burden over to a chatbot, they have more time to focus on more important topics – like teaching the actual material. Chatbots are like a virtual assistant, providing real-time, always-available answers to frequently asked questions.
Look inside any classroom from K-graduate programs and you will find that despite the material being taught to the masses, there is an abundance of students who learn differently. They learn at different speeds, struggle in different areas and simply need different instruction. Unfortunately, the classroom hasn’t traditionally been set up to serve these learners. Until now.
AI is using machine learning to collect patterns of data and provide insights for professors. Using this data, they can find gaps and areas where students aren’t “getting it.” Even textbooks can be customized using this data. Educators can be better at what they do because they are more able to customize the material to fit every type of learner.
Students can learn at their own pace, assisted by AIs that supplement their learning. The curriculum is customized, giving students the best chance for success.
Sometimes, the most challenging part of being a student, particularly a young student, is that the higher education journey appears so complicated. Students aren’t sure what classes they need to fulfill their degree requirements, which classes qualify for financial aid, where those classes are located, how to navigate all of the paperwork on time, and so forth. AIs are providing the much-needed guidance these students need and appreciate – in real-time and on demand.
Recommendation engines analyze interaction data for each student, such as individual learning, social and learning contexts, personal interests, degree goals, etc. and then present timely recommendations. AI is there to guide them down the right path, ensuring they take fewer detours to have the best student outcomes. Students can engage with chatbots to determine the best next step, play with “what if” scenarios, and better understand how each decision impacts their goal attainment.
Just as with the recommendations, AI can send students gentle reminders in the form of SMS text messages or push notifications when certain tasks need completing, deadlines are approaching or events are coming up. The beauty of chatbots is that they are two-way, not simply one-way blasts of information. They invite students to engage in conversations. It’s in these conversations that students feel like they are getting personalized attention and messaging. It’s much more effective than paragraphs of generalized information buried in intranet sites and portals.
While mobile apps are great, chatbots allow for conversational interaction in real-time so students can get what they need the instant they need it. No downloads or updates, no waiting for appointments with advisors. As more people become familiar with chatbot technology (booking appointments, shopping assistance, ordering food and car rides), they will anticipate their schools are able to provide the same functionality.
Many of the most common tasks and questions do not need human assistance. In cases such as finding out where a class is located, how many hours a student needs to graduate, what prerequisite classes are required, what events are scheduled and when – these are just a few examples of information chatbots can quickly and successfully deliver.
When students can find the information they need quickly, they relieve the burden placed on administrators, teachers and fellow students. Chatbots allow users to complete tasks quickly using common commands and ask questions as if they were speaking directly with support personnel. Students should be able to register for classes, apply and pay for student aid, and do other basic administrative tasks without having to wait for a response from a human. AI gives them this ability.
With the technological advancements and careers that will arise out of the ashes of others, continual learning will be the norm as people try to keep up and remain competitive. Two- and four-year higher learning institutions are finding ways to engage students post graduation. Students are being considered more as lifelong customers rather than temporary learners. It’s a lifetime of learning opportunities and AI can make learning easier and more accessible.
AI brings people of all ages and stages of life to a global classroom. It is a vehicle higher learning institutions can use to offer lifelong learning that begins in the classroom but then extends into the learner’s life outside of school.