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In a variety of different industries, from speech recognition to social media, writing blogs to warfare, artificial intelligence is changing the way we interact with technology. Whether we are aware of it or not, Artificial Intelligence has already become a reality in our lives. In the challenge of improving the quality of life, making it easier to get things done more efficiently, AI has helped paved the way for new levels of convenience. We see this in a range of applications which include smart sensors on most white goods and electronic appliances, smart communications systems, smart homes and even smart autonomously-driven cars. The latter may take a bit longer to get to our local roads. Just as AI has become the new norm in many manufacturing and service industries, AI has also been introduced within the educational sphere. In recent years we are witnessing a shifting from traditional methods of classroom learning to towards more open online methods which increasingly rely on AI to handle the large volumes of students enrolling on such programmes. In this article we outline briefly the manner in which AI’s role in education will increase and how it will shape the future of education.

1.Personalized learning

Delivering the same content to every single registered user on a programme is a very common practice in education. It can be an overwhelming challenge for the educator to adapt and cater for the needs of every single learner on a programme. Modern AI systems offer learners a personalized and unique learning experience through particular training plans customised to the needs and requirements of each individual. AI technology allows for the monitoring, evaluation, tracking of each student on a programme and the delivery of the corresponding mix of learning objects that match the student’s requirements at that particular point in a programme. In this way, an AI system can be used to encourage a student to address particular challenges which have been identified by the AI as obstacles to his or her continued progress. The AI system will then prompt the appropriate material to encourage and assist the student on the particular challenge. The system will remind the student to perform certain tasks, offering advice as to how best to tackle the tasks and providing additional references or materials. The AI system will then provide feedback on the work delivered, both to the student and the tutor who is able to monitor the individual programme of each student on their personalised programmes.

In addition AI can be used to gauge the performance of an individual student based on performance in previous courses. This information can be used to adjust the current standard learning material to provide a personalized learning experience to each learner. The AI can track the student’s progress, and can repeatedly  identify areas where each individual lacks proficiency. With each variance identify, the AI system can alter the delivery of the content material accordingly. In this manner, the programme is adjusted on an iterative basis through ongoing reviews of the programme content delivery and completion. This will allow for its adjustment to support the student’s progression through the programme.

2.Improved Accessibility for all

AI Tools for Visually Impaired Persons

Artificial Intelligence Is Providing Special Education Alternatives – AI Tools for Visually Impaired, Hearing Impaired, and people with ASD” published in August 2019 by Jun Wu in Artificialciti shows how AI is being used to cater for and improve the lives of individuals who have some form of disability which prohibits or limits their learning capabilities. Through AI, learning has been made much more accessible to everyone. In the field of special education, many children with disabilities are not able to follow mainstream educational programmes, some being more effected than others. Service providers are developing a new breed of AI-assistants, educational tools, AI-wearables, and robotics to make an impact on the learning capability of children with disabilities.

Wu contends that with computers, Braille books, and specialized education teachers and teaching facilitators, the visually impaired student is receiving more support than ever. However, they still receive only basic literacy education. Improving the quality of their education will improve the chances of their employment and self-sufficiency later on in life. Wu cites a number of apps on iPhone or Ipad that provide such children with effective handy tools for writing, speaking and calculation. She highlights the manner in which the use of Artificial Intelligence enables new  assistive technology which improve support to teachers, particularly when these are linked up to Wearables such as OrCam’s MyEye. This application can help the visually impaired read books, recognize faces, and distinguishing between products and brands. Such capabilities allow the visually impaired to integrate better within society. In addition, Wu cites another type of wearable, Aira which allows connections to human agents who act as visual interpreters for the visually impaired. Other resources already on the market are Microsoft’s free app called Seeing AI. This uses the functionalities of AI to narrate documents and other materials to the visually impaired enabling them to recognize and read text, describe scenery, currencies handled, identify products and even tell you the emotion on the face of the people standing in front of them.

AI Tools for the Hearing Impaired

Wu contends that for children who have disabling hearing loss, the classroom setting can be difficult places to learn. It is a difficult environment with lots of “external noise” which can distort the learning message. The internet, and assistive learning technologies often offer a better instructional environment which enables those with hearing impediments to work independently on the learning content. Closed-captioned instructional videos cease to be supplementary classroom materials, but often become the main instructional tools. Wu focuses on how Artificial Intelligence is changing the lives of the hearing impaired and improving their quality of life. She cites AI-enabled intelligent hearing aids such as Widex’s Evoke which offers a hearing aid that is wirelessly powered, connected to a smartphone and can learn sounds from the owner’s  environment. It can classify such environmental sounds as “background noise” or “important noise”. This allows users to focus on the relevant sounds and ignore the background noise. Such smart AI driven hearing aids, increase the chances of success for persons that are hearing-impaired, enabling them integrate better in learning activities and in other daily situations.

AI Tools for People with ASD

Wu cites the steady rise in the number of children who are diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). She contends that unlike other disabilities, children who have ASD go through abnormal development cycles and  even in special education classrooms, depending on the severity of the symptoms, these children can learn at vastly different levels. Wu argues that with the proliferation of iPhone and Ipad games, children who have ASD can learn to overcome their neurological conditions by using specific games for specific conditions. She maintains that the Age of AI offers an entirely different “game-changing” tools for people with ASD to help them overcome their limitations. Wu cites applications such as “Empower Me” an application which runs on any smart glasses, QTrobot, a humanoid social robot that is designed to help to teach children with ASD social skills, Auticon a new kind of workplace that is making it easier for people with ASD to work alongside people without ASD.

3.Real-time questioning/ Virtual Tutor

One of the major issues learners face when enrolling into online courses is that they are unable to clear any doubts that may arise during the course that they are enrolled in real-time. This is tackled by AI, with the introduction of Virtual Tutors. AI systems such as smart chatbots offer virtual assistant services. This means that at any time, learners can interact with the elarning platform delivering the course and put forward their questions, with solutions being provided in real time. The accuracy and relevance of these smart chatbots depends significantly on the depth of the data included in the system. With cloud based system, large masses of data can be accessed and searched for the required results to queries put forward. Such smart support solutions are useful to the learner who is able to get quality support on demand and to the organiser who is able to leverage the data and information developed as an integral part of the learning system.

AI or the human interface

In the context of the fast-developing AI field, the question posed so often is whether AI will render the human tutor “obsolete”. Whilst the effectiveness and power of AI driven learning systems is clearly developing at an ever increasing pace, learning is not just about delivering packets of information. Learning is about motivation, inspiration and personal values. These are still best conveyed by quality educators who have a passion for the subject matter they teach and are able to instil the same passion in their students. AI is not likely to replace such people for a long time, but AI will increasingly form part of the arsenal of learning tools that any professional educator would have at hand. Like all tools, this can be misused or abused. It will depend on the integrity, competence and professionalism of educators to ensure that AI is integrated smoothly into the learning environments of the future so as to add value to the complete learning process.