Most people with knowledge of Artificial Intelligence (AI) believe that we are only seeing initial hints of what AI will soon be able to do, and, consequently, it is a challenge to plan and prepare for the opportunities that lie ahead. Still, we need to think creatively, imagine vigorously, and resist allowing our assumptions to limit our vision.
This challenge is especially acute in education. The design of the schools we have dates back more than a hundred years. Despite calls for and efforts to change, our schools remain organized as they have for generations, and they function much as they always have.
AI challenges us to use what we know to question what we have assumed, examine practices that no longer serve our students, and follow what we know about how learning happens. Consider these five assumptions, the common practices associated with them, and the ways in which learners might engage (and the ways in which learning could be transformed) in the age of AI.
Assumption #1: Learning follows a linear path, at a predictable pace, from ignorance to knowledge.
Real learning often either speeds up or slows down in response to the learner’s background knowledge, interest, and learning experience. A learner’s curiosity may create a desire for a “side trip” to explore a topic, concept, or skill of interest rather than adhering to a scripted, preset, narrowly focused curriculum. Artificial Intelligence can shift direction, adjust pace, and open new doors to learning in response to each individual learner. Meanwhile, AI can assist learners and educators to track progress and measure key skill development across a variety of contexts and experiences.
Assumption #2: Learning results from exposure to a cycle of formal instruction, guided practice, and learner response.
Schools have traditionally been organized based on the assumption that the teacher is the primary source of knowledge and uniquely possesses the expertise to plan lessons, determine the pace of instruction, and assess learning progress. Further, the assumption has been that learning must occur in the classroom, under the supervision of the teacher, in order to be recognized. Learning occurring outside of the classroom and curriculum is generally ignored, rarely assessed or valued. AI offers the potential for learning to be stimulated by a wide variety of sources and experiences in near limitless locations, at a pace that works for the learner. AI holds the promise for learning to happen anytime and anywhere. It also has the capacity to assess and document learning that occurs well beyond the walls of the school.
Assumption #3: Learning activities must be presented in discipline-based curricula and lessons.
Traditionally, school curricula have been organized to present skills and content within the confines of a specific discipline such as science, math, English, and social studies. AI holds the potential to embed learning experiences in contexts that span multiple disciplines, connecting concepts and skills in seamless experiences that make application of knowledge and skills gained in one subject or context easy to transfer and apply in another.
Assumption #4: Schools are to train students to ask fewer questions and give more answers.
Most of our youngest learners come to school filled with curiosity and questions. However, for schools to operate as designed, students must focus their attention on the questions adults ask and concentrate on providing the answers adults will accept. Artificial intelligence can respond to endless questions without becoming impatient or frustrated. Even better, the questions learners ask can become stimuli for exploration, exposure, and understanding. Rather than limiting the number of questions learners ask, AI can help students to become skilled inquirers and drivers of their own learning.
Assumption #5: Learning must be measured by formal, often standardized tests.
AI can offer assessment options well beyond the traditional standardized test. Simulations, case studies, and other learning applications and demonstrations can assess areas of learning such as critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, and decision making. Authentic learning assessments that used to require elaborate planning and set up can now be organized and carried out in near real time. Further, assessment results can be presented in objective, criterion-referenced narratives that provide depth and insight beyond the capacity of previous assessment systems.
We cannot know what the future holds—but we cannot afford to wait until it arrives to plan and prepare for it. While much is not yet known about the capacities Artificial Intelligence will develop, we can use what we do know to begin reimagining, reorienting, and reinventing the way learners experience school.