Personalised curricula for adult learners with varied learning histories – this is one of the promises of artificial intelligence (AI) supported education. Topi Litmanen (PhD) from education start-up Claned sheds light on what the AI start-up world has in store for adult educators.
To the casual observer, education start-ups seem to be major drivers of the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in education. The AI education sector is buzzing with new start-ups entering the market, many focusing their product to primary and secondary education.
What might AI-assisted education mean for adult learning? And how should an adult educator approach AI-based tools?
Armed with these questions, EPALE sat down with Dr Topi Litmanen of the education start-up Claned.
Claned, based in New York, Singapore, Mumbai and Helsinki, was chosen for the interview because of its focus on lifelong learning, in addition to primary and higher education. Litmanen, with a background in education research, works as Chief Educational Scientist for the company.
EPALE: Are start-ups like Claned significant drivers of AI development?
Claned’s main product, for instance, is an online platform for communal learning in the form of courses and knowledge sharing. While the learners interact with the platform, it collects learning analytics for the host organisation, pinpointing the strengths, weaknesses and interests of the learners. Therefore, like other AI providers, Claned offers both delivery and analysis tools. AI’s ability to analyse how we learn is a crucial part of its potential in education.
E: Adult learners have a lot of prior and silent knowledge. How does AI play to its strengths in adult education?
TL: You are right – adult learning is ‘messier’ precisely because the learners have a heterogeneous set of skills and learning histories, and knowledge is more co-created than in, say, elementary school. You cannot just offer a standardised one-size-fits-all ‘learning funnel’. You need to personalise the delivery, which is exactly what AI can achieve through analysing the meta-level of the learning experience. This is why it is worth to focus on recommendation algorithms – they enable personalised delivery.
E: What is required of the adult educator if they want to use AI solutions?
TL: A common question we hear from educators is: ‘Do we have to use the learning analytics?’. There may be this reluctance to get one’s head around new tools but I want to stress that
learning analytics does not invade the teacher’s territory: it illuminates things and enables the teacher to make evidence-based interventions in their teaching.
So, if you have an opportunity to use an AI-based solution, approach it with a curious mind – it’s here to help you!
E: What are the chances of adult educators having these tools at their disposal? Will AI solutions be reserved only for those with money or do you see mass availability?
TL: Prices of different AI-powered solutions will inevitably decrease as the technology matures. Educational organisations can relatively soon get their hands on more sophisticated technology with less money. At the same time, their ability to maintain their own in-house AI solutions diminishes because the algorithms need massive amounts of data to perform well. Education providers will increasingly have to outsource these services. Cloud service providers such as Google and Amazon will thrive because they have access to sizeable data. These companies then develop ready-made AI tools that companies like us can integrate into our products.
E: What is the ‘coolest’ thing happening in the AI education sector right now?
TL: The development of those recommendation algorithms we discussed earlier! This is something we pursue in our company too. These algorithms offer the learner the right learning content at the right time online. We are seeing the emergence of 5- to 15-minute online learning modules – bite-sized learning. A well-honed recommender system can, for example, suggest a bespoke short learning break at an optimal moment.
Artificial intelligence, or AI, generally refers to machines and computers capable of mimicking the human cognitive functions of learning, and problem-solving based on those learnings. The applications of AI are numerous, ranging from powering internet search engines and online advertising algorithms to driverless cars, military drones – and education.
Machine learning can be viewed as a subdivision of artificial intelligence, overlapping also with statistics. Machine learning deals with ‘teaching’ computer programmes to learn and draw conclusions from a given set of data without having been programmed to that given task. Applications include robotics, archiving, stock market analyses and computer games.
Read more on EPALE
- Artificial intelligence cracks open the black box of learning
- We have to keep learning all our lives – but where and how?
- Are you digitally prepared for the future?
Markus Palmen is a journalist, writer and audiovisual producer, and a freelancer. Since August 2017 he has been EPALE's Thematic Coordinator for Policy. For eight years Markus was the Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief for the European Lifelong Learning Magazine.