How is AI used in education?
Artificial intelligence in education is being widely adopted, growing at an annual rate of around 48% (CAGR). Broadly speaking, AI is being used by educators as a means to automate previously manual tasks – scheduling, administration, document management, educational content creation, personalized study plans, intelligent instruction design, and so much more.
One of the more emerging use cases of AI in education is for personalized online learning – a non-prescriptive approach where courses are tailored to an individual learner. With the ability to set the learning experience to suit each student’s learning style and pace, the opportunity for personalized online learning is expected to grow by over $250 million by 2025.
Personalization for each student is the Holy Grail for educators, but it has constantly been limited by how much time those working in the sector have available. The scalability of AI is making it possible to tailor learning schedules, content and media to the individual, without requiring greater human involvement.
Conversational AI is a good example. Students can speak with a conversational AI any time, day or night. That conversational AI could be a voice assistant like Siri or Alexa, a text-based AI chatbot, or a digital human who can meet “face to face” and show emotions like empathy and warmth.
What are the key benefits of using conversational AI in the education sector?
Conversational AI forms a natural-feeling interface between computers and the people using them. It allows people to use voice, text and speech to interface with machines, making it easier to find and often retain certain information. In return, the best conversational AI tools give responses that are more natural – for example, a human-like spoken response from Siri – meaning the interaction becomes more similar to real-life human interactions.
And they’re available 24/7, they offer consistent information without human error, bias or frustration, and they benefit from being not-human in some scenarios – for instance, when people feel embarrassed to share certain personal information for fear of judgement.
There are a number of use cases for conversational AI solutions (in particular, digital humans) in the education sector:
- Digital teaching assistant/virtual tutor: Nothing will replace a real teacher; but when students have questions as they’re doing their homework in the evenings, a conversational AI can act as an informative virtual tutor.
- Intelligent personal assistant: For more administrative tasks, a conversational AI can be a student’s personal assistant, providing information about classes or lecturers, helping students stick to their schedule, and reminding them of upcoming deadlines.
- Multilingual tutor: Around 60% of the world can speak more than one language. Conversational AI assistants can speak hundreds of languages and dialects, helping international students translate and understand certain terms that may allude them, and building better language proficiency without the fear of judgement.
- Admissions assistant: Applying to college and university can be a long, complicated process. Conversational AI solutions, like digital humans, can live in an online form application, walking applicants through the process as they go, answering any number of questions, and making the individual feel supported and valued.
- Feedback facilitator: Receiving student feedback can be a difficult process for educators – and vice versa. Conversational AI can be used to create a safe, trusting environment to give critical feedback; and also conveying feedback to students or educators in a timely, friendly and empathetic manner.
Conversational AI | Putting multimodal learning at the forefront of education?
Educators will be familiar with the many different learning styles, and which work best for their individual students. VARK methodology, for example, suggests that some people learn better through visual media, while others “learn by doing”.
From young children to mature students, the most likely scenario is that learners take in information best when presented with a combination of styles. And it’s this combination that ensures some people aren’t left behind.
Conversational AI interfaces can incorporate the various ways people learn best – visually through on-screen imagery; through text and typing interfaces; through two-way speech; and by interacting with the subject material.
However, the choice of conversational AI might present only a few of these learning styles, rather than the whole gamut. Chatbots, for instance, are great for people who learn information best when it’s in text form. Voice assistants are great for auditory learners, but visual learners may struggle to take in that information.
This is one of the benefits of digital humans and AI avatars in education scenarios. People can hear what the digital human says; they can see on-screen visuals and text presented by the UI; and they can directly interact with the AI and the learning material.
What about using chatbots in education? A strong starting point.
As we talk about the pros and cons of using conversational AI in the education sector, we naturally begin to discuss chatbots and what they offer. As one of the simplest forms of conversational AI, chatbots have been some of the first solutions out of the gate, and some of the most widely used by educators.
But there are natural limitations to using chatbots as education tools:
- They primarily use text as an interface (and sometimes visuals) making them ineffective for people who learn better through other means.
- They lack an emotive experience. Only 33% of millennials consider chatbots to be friendly and approachable, with lower results among older generations.
- They cannot show emotion, providing a rather flat user experience, which can be detrimental when dealing with sensitive or emotionally charged matters, like admission applications.
- They can’t show personality. It’s personality that makes for the most memorable and effective educators. Our research shows 42% of organizations are now adding a “more human experience” to their chatbots as their biggest priority. But is it possible in a simple text box?
That’s not to say chatbots are inherently bad. The benefits of chatbots in education settings are well established, including convenience, ease of access and their ability to answer simple questions quickly.
For those reasons, conversational AI projects are increasingly being deployed to create a hybrid digital workforce. A digital workforce combines human, digital human and chatbot channels. These workforces exist today in industries like retail, financial services, healthcare and telecommunications, as well as in education settings.
You can learn more about hybrid digital workforces in our free eBook – building a digital workforce.
Using digital humans to build emotional connections in education.
Hopefully it’s getting clearer how conversational AI can lead to better educational outcomes.
We’ve touched upon the convenience, scalability and versatility of AI solutions for schools, colleges, universities and other education organizations.
But the potential of conversational AI goes far beyond utilitarian use cases. Digital humans are the means to add EQ to the IQ of an educational institution’s AI and backend systems.
Digital humans, unlike any other technology, show personality in how they speak, the words they say, their tone of voice, and the body language and facial expressions they use. Just like real people – like real teachers, assistants and staff – they interact with friendliness, humor, empathy and warmth.
The impacts are similar to digital human implementations in other sectors – and the effects can be rather profound.
For instance, some conversations students may need to have can be sensitive in nature. At other times, questions may seem too trivial, silly or embarrassing for students to ask a real person. Avatar-based AI technology removes some of the stigma or sensitivity of starting such conversations, while keeping a human approach at the centre of the interaction.
In healthcare, avatars and digital humans have been shown to encourage more disclosures of sensitive information among patients, providing people with the support they need without direct human involvement. Patients with symptoms of depression, for instance, have shown to form cooperative, supportive therapeutic alliances with digital humans. The education sector – where supportive environments are so important for positive outcomes – can also benefit from “non human” support channels.