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Personalized learning: AI in
the classrooms of the future


JULY 8, 2018

To date there is no single accepted definition of personalized learning (PL) and no consensus on the uses of AI to achieve it. There is a consensus, however, that PL prioritizes the needs and goals of each individual student and that data-driven AI appears to be the most effective way to tailor instruction to address those needs and goals. 


Although school systems, administrators and teachers are aware of the critical role that AI and other EdTech can play in supporting the complexity of the PL process, the reality is that most schools and teachers are not sufficiently trained to use AI or other EdTech. Furthermore, the learning management systems (LMS) that most school districts have contracted to use in recent years do not utilize AI-powered personalized e-learning.


Hence the focus of Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan (CZI) who have made the use of technology in PL the centerpiece of their education philanthropy. They are fully aware that the promise of EdTech, and especially AI, remains mostly a promise. In practice, CZI funding efforts to-date have proven that PL for every student is very difficult to implement in schools. Interestingly CZI has even been cautioning schools against assigning too much power to technology when it comes to PL.


Even more telling, CZI now is talking about technology merely as a tool to strengthen person-to-person relationships between student and teacher and as a way of creating shared experiences that “empower students’ learning experiences.” Interestingly, therefore, it appears that efforts to promote adoption of technology to move traditional education to PL and competency-based learning mostly may have served to highlight for educators the critical importance of accommodating individual student’s learning experiences, interests and styles in school, online, at home and in the community. The pace of learning for each student needs to be at their pace not the educator’s pace and time-based requirements.


The value of AI, when use of it can be mastered by educators, is seen as a tool to differentiate instruction and break-down whole group teaching so that teachers can collaborate with students and use flexible means to support their unique, individualized learning plans. Student progress no longer is assessed at a set-time and simply summed up in a grade at the end of the year. AI enables assessments of learning at any and every point in daily instruction. AI enables students to shape their own PL and makes the best choices about their own learning. As a result AI can have more influence over the education and lives of young people in the coming years than any other factor even as AI adoption moves very slowly in the education sector.


For many years school systems, classrooms and teachers around the nation have been using course or learning-management systems (CLM or LMS). Both students and teachers in classrooms have been able to log into an LMS and see current and future assignments. LMS then evolved into cloud-based platforms with several capabilities: managing the educational program for schools and entire school districts; and enabling social media interactions among students, teachers and users even in other classrooms, schools, and schools around the world.


Even though there has been a great deal of buzz about the use of artificial intelligence in e-learning, and how it can revolutionize learning technology, until recently learning management enterprises have not started to offer IA solutions to school systems to enable teachers to personalize student’s learning. Instead of LMS companies, we’re seeing the emergence of AI-powered e-learning companies, thus far mostly focused on business clients rather than schools, including one backed by Zuckerberg Venture.


Most of these AI-powered e-learning systems are designed to capture data on every interaction learners make with the system -- when learners read, write, collaborate, organize and plan. Everything that learners do while learning is captured and AI- processed to create alternative personalized learning paths for each student.


Thus, the emergence of e-learning businesses focused almost exclusively on the business market is happening at the same time as the most important paradigm shift in public and private education. Many companies now provide online platforms for school systems with curriculum and content to enable schools and entire school systems to track professional, student and school milestones and metrics as they strive to evolve into the schools of the future that make student’s individual learning-needs the primary focus of all instructional decisions.


Thus far hundreds of school districts in every state in the U.S. with thousands of pre-K–12 schools and millions of students have contracted with these EdTech companies to provide web-based interactive courses. These EdTech companies selling competency-based platforms or systems (some call themselves competency-based learning management systems) have emerged as a very big business in the U.S. Offering thousands of lessons, language courses, remediation and special ed programs, tens of thousands of e-books, providing online training for tens of thousands of teachers, and of course consulting for every aspect of planning and operations, webinars, workshops, conferences, online chat, etc.


In the foreseeable future, AI in the classroom and AI in the workplace will become a continuum of personalized learning experiences.

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