As parents, academicians, psychologists, and instructors continue to debate about the aptness and benefits of e-learning for youngsters, a silent revolution is bringing about unprecedented changes in the academic world. This revolution which comes in the garb of most popular and top trending digital technologies-machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence)-is transforming online education. The interplay between eLearning and AI is enabling the partakers and beneficiaries of online education to get a good glimpse of how education might look in the foreseeable future.
As per the 'Artificial Intelligence Market in the US Education Sector' account published by 'Research and Markets'(https://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/4613290/artificial-intelligence-market-in-the-us), involvement of AI in US education will increase by 47.5% from 2017-2021. Smart chatbots which are already being used extensively in many commercial and industrial segments may assume the roles of a schoolteacher, lecturer, online tuition, and mentor. AI may facilitate perfect coordination of instructors and machines, and the synchronization will ultimately benefit the students.
AI techniques and tools will also benefit every participant in the overarching processes of teaching and learning in multiple ways. Educational institutions and tutorials will be able to use bots for imparting instructions based on a learner's individual needs and capacity. AI tools will offer support to students beyond the four walls of a classroom, help streamline administrative tasks, and most importantly help universalize education.
What exactly is Artificial Intelligence?
Most of us take advantage of AI in our everyday existence without even realizing the technology's versatility and resourcefulness. You interact with AI when you use the voice-to-text feature of Google Assistant. AI bots are at work when you book an Uber cab for commuting to your workplace or the airport.
So, what exactly is AI or artificial intelligence and how does the technology work? AI, sometimes known as machine intelligence or machine learning entails the capacity of machines (think computers) to reflect, imagine, and perform tasks almost in the same way as humans do. Artificial intelligence is classified under computer science and primarily involves creating 'smart' machines capable of acting just like human beings.
Simply put, AI is akin to application software or software programs that work by simulating human intellect-how humans think, react and understand. GPS tracking, voice recognition, knowledge reasoning, robotics, computer vision, machine learning and natural language reasoning are some common applications of AI. Nowadays AI programs, software, and algorithms are being formulated for executing specialized tasks and functions in a wide range of industries and businesses.
We are witnessing the use of AI in agriculture, aviation, education, finance, government, healthcare, transportation, telecommunications, music, military, media, marketing, job search, and e-commerce. Deep Blue, the supercomputer that defeated the chess grandmaster, Gary Kasparov way back in 1997 is a burning testimony of how mechanical or artificial intelligence can trounce human intelligence. It was that momentous contest between man and machine that acted as a spark, eventually igniting the gradual evolution of AI.
The interplay of AI with education and eLearning
Though AI was adopted more inclusively by specific industrial sectors like aviation, healthcare, military, and marketing, the technology eventually made deep inroads into the realm of education. Slowly and gradually, AI is proving to be a panacea for almost all the ills plaguing the academic sector. Whiteboards and intuitive panels and screens linked to computers that display slideshows, videos, and graphics are steadily replacing chalkboards.
In this digital age, the number of students and learners as well as teachers, instructors, and teachers willing to interact through online forums is rising rapidly. Schools, colleges, universities, and nearly all other forms of educational institutions are gradually doing away with offline grading and assessments of students. Even midterm and final examinations at the secondary, high school, undergraduate, and postgraduate levels are being held online.
Students and teachers are increasingly resorting to AI tools and techniques for completing their respective tasks. Rapid and dynamic strides made in artificial intelligence and machine learning is paving the way for the replacement of inefficient and obsolete teaching techniques.
When did online education start and how did eLearning evolve? Which was the first college or university to introduce online courses and programs? When and how did digital education and learning started to gain popularity? Tracing the history of online education could more often than not, seem like an overwhelming exercise.
Though the concept of online education is about two decades old, the idea is more than 170 years old. An instructor in Great Britain mailed assignments and projects to his students and received the completed tasks via the same route. This exchange facilitated the birth of distance mode of education that in turn led to the evolution and development of e-learning or online education.
Timeline of online education: Important dates
Long gone are the days when one simply required a college degree to land an entry-level job. The job market in the 21st century-veritably termed as the digital era-has become highly specialized. So nowadays just having a formal high school or undergraduate degree may not suffice for securing a job position.
In the present times, aspirants need to at least pursue a postgraduate program or a skills-development course to apply to a job in their preferred professional field. However with the prices of almost all UG and PG courses skyrocketing unprecedentedly, affording a college or university education is beyond the reach of majority of students. And this is exactly where eLearning or online education can come to the aid of learners who struggle to fund their higher education.
Online learning together with MOOCs (massive open online courses) offers students the leeway and the flexibility to learn and earn at the same time. As a matter of fact, eLearning is increasing in popularity day by day, thanks to the marriage of web-based education with AI resulting in excellent synergy. Even a few decades back, the applications of AI used to be restricted to sci-fi movies.
But with the passage of time, artificial intelligence and machine learning made forays in every sphere of human existence. We are already the reaping the benefits of Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri in our day-to-day life, thanks to AI. And now the versatility of AI is being tapped to the hilt in the academic world, especially in the eLearning ecosystem, benefiting all the stakeholders, including students, teachers, and educators.
AI has completely revolutionized and reformed the existing structure and mode of online education and beneficial effects are being taken advantage by all concerned: –
Until AI began to be tapped for the purpose of making e-learning more personalized and individualistic, online education hitherto was a very monotonous and impersonal affair. Students who pursued the traditional educational system and format did not have much scope for one-on-one interaction with their teachers and mentors. However, the advent of online education system has ensured a personal touch to teaching and learning, thereby offering good scope for interface between instructors and learners.
AI will help reshape online education in ways that teachers and professors cannot imagine in the present setting. For instance, sophisticated AI algorithms will analyze the comprehension capacity of the students, and thereby modify teaching approaches for boosting the teaching and learning experience.
AI will expedite the development of new and more innovative forms of online education. The eLearning system will adapt and adjust to the individual learning requirements of every student.
AI will make it easier for learners to make the most of cloud based and IoT services for getting assistance from tutors and mentors situated halfway across the globe. At the same time, students will be able to learn better in classrooms and become more attentive and focused, thereby resulting in a prolific learning experience.
Textbook and study material publishing firms will take advantage of AI algorithms for creating tailor-made course materials and workbooks.
Artificial intelligence is slowly and surely bringing about transformation in education exactly in those areas educators and mentors wish to. AI is changing the existing education system in following ways: –
AI entails designing smart software and taking optimal advantage of perceptive algorithms for evaluating its immediate environment. And based on the analyses and evaluations, stakeholders in the online education ecosystem can make quick and practical decisions for promoting eLearning. It is estimated that AI will promote and streamline conventional brick-and-mortar classrooms as well as online learning hubs.
AI algorithms or formulas will play the following roles in the traditional classroom setting: –
Educators, instructors, teachers, and tutors will need to master Big Data analytics and complex AI algorithms for imparting education via the internet in the future. In other words, educationists and teachers will have to function very much like software programmers and engineers. The versatility of AI lies in the fact that the technology can quickly learn, analyze, and implement an effective strategy.
AI has not yet evolved to an extent where everybody connected directly or indirectly with e-learning can make the most of the latter. It is expected that in the foreseeable future, AI can be tapped more effectively for taking advantage of all aspects of online education that makes it so prospective for all concerned. Artificial intelligence is already transforming key sectors of the economy in an unprecedented manner, and there is a good likelihood it will influence education hugely.
Though it seems unlikely that bots will substitute professors and lecturers in brick-and-mortar educational institutions, they might exploit AI algorithms to coach students. AI-driven education software will be able to focus on specific areas where students need to improve, thereby making teaching and learning experience more learner-centric. To say the last but not the least, the synergism of AI with education will result in a more immersive learning experience both online and offline.
E-learning proponents and pundits strongly believe that AI will loom large in every facet of education in the near future. Therefore, it is crucial that every stakeholder involved directly and/or indirectly in furthering learning should take steps to master the technology. If students and teachers become conversant with AI, both parties will be able to contribute towards enrichment of education per se.