Artificial intelligence continues pushing the boundaries of what machines can do for us. Higher education could be a major beneficiary.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the nature of work that has been the sole domain of human laborers, from ordinary, task-oriented clerical knowledge work to roles that have been considered the sole province of the credentialed professional. In fact, the greatest strength of modern AI is its ability to extrapolate new, usable knowledge from its analysis of the glut of data created by our increasingly quantified lives and world.
Various industries are scrambling to figure out how to leverage AI to advance their efforts, and higher education is one field that sees the opportunity for revolutionary change.
The ability to make use of our embarrassment of data riches is probably the greatest contribution AI will enable toward penetrating the frontiers of human knowledge. This will happen not by supplanting human thought and analysis, but by supplying the scientific community with insights that can only be gleaned from processing and comparing countless unexplored terabytes of accumulated data. Here’s how that might lead to new advances in higher education.
The personalization of education
Colleges and universities face a variety of seemingly intractable challenges. Dropping enrollment rates, high dropout rates, and the disincentives to higher education that come with the current student debt crisis are but a few of these.
But a recent Brookings Institution post, “There Is No One-Size-Fits-All School Model: Developing a Flexible and Innovative Education Ecosystem,” which explored the viability and necessity for differing higher education models, reported this discussion from the 2017 World Innovation Summit for Education:
“In discussions on how to prepare students for an unpredictable future, we keep hearing ‘don’t prepare students for something; prepare them for anything.’ We would argue the same thing holds true for school systems: don’t design school systems for something; design them for anything. In an era of personalized learning, we wonder … [if] personalized schooling … [is] the possible step forward.”
As the conversation over personalized learning has begun around the world, the advantages of using AI in this process are manifest. AI can be used to correlate students’ goals, aptitudes, and deficiencies with existing class offerings to arrive at a custom curriculum for that specific student – taking into account their aspirations and deficiencies – at particular institutions. AI might even suggest online offerings from other schools to arrive at a complete educational package.
From there, imagine using the capabilities of AI to arrive at flexible educational prescriptions aimed at desired outcomes for individual students that factor in their aptitudes, deficiencies, or special needs. AI can analyze a student’s progress in a certain course and adjust and personalize the curriculum to review areas of need and accelerate other areas when that’s appropriate.
Robots might not be standing in front of a class of students any time soon, but AI still has much to offer in instruction.
AI in financial aid and retention
AI gives institutions the ability to make meaningful changes to their financial aid systems. For instance, AI might monitor the status of numerous factors to determine that a student might need a just-in-time microloan to get through a semester.
Likewise, AI can analyze granular data on a student’s behavioral patterns – well beyond GPA and attendance – to determine early warning signs on whether that student is at risk of dropping out.
The rise of AI as a discipline unto itself
Improving the capabilities of AI to more precisely analyze and correlate gigantic data sets will most likely become the single greatest area of focus for AI researchers. As such, schools such as Carnegie Mellon and the Milwaukee School of Engineering have launched bachelor-level AI programs. Many other top universities now offer AI concentrations for their BS degrees in computer science, including Stanford, Caltech, and the University of Illinois.
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