Imagine if there were a way to combine the personalized instruction of a tutor with the reach and scale of e-learning. New technology based on machine learning and artificial intelligence (ML/AI) is helping educators deliver on that possibility with systems that can tailor the speed and style of content delivery to each individual student. Soon, this kind of intelligence may be embedded in all learning systems, from secondary schools to continuing education and vocational skills training.
The ML/AI technology may lack the personality of a teacher or tutor, but it can learn to recognize and reward each student’s strengths and progress, while tailoring specific drills and exercises to help them overcome weaknesses. Because ML/AI-driven learning is still delivered electronically over PCs or mobile devices, it offers the economic benefits of scale and the flexibility of learning-on-demand.
A recent survey of the field in The Economist found that e-learning companies are incorporating ML/AI approaches into their products and platforms to identify and correct common errors that students make when grappling with new concepts. The article notes that this approach can be especially fruitful in the area of language learning, where many learners are prone to the same kinds of mistakes. “In China, 17zuoye (‘homework together’) uses voice recognition software to help students learn English. If a child says ‘seven potato,’ or ‘nine apple,’ 17zuoye will offer help with plural nouns.”
At scale, the results are especially impressive. The Economist cites a study finding that an Indian after school program using one of the technologies, Mindspark, experienced greater progress than almost any other study of education practices in poor countries, at a fraction of the cost of traditional government-run schools.
The article mostly focuses on the potential of these new tools in secondary education, as a supplement for classroom instruction and traditional e-learning systems. However, it is actually just as applicable for adult learners, some of whom might find it more comfortable to interact with an AI than a human instructor. As the need for continuing education and job retraining grows with the rapid pace of technological innovation and globalization, expect e-learning leaders in a number of areas, including language skills, to explore how to bring these innovations to the next generation of platforms.