Episode 8: The Impending Impact of AI in Education

by Feb 5, 2020

Welcome to Education and Technology Futures, a videocast that highlights interesting trends and connections in the worlds of education, technology, and culture.

Within the next 10 years, we’ll be able to converse with almost anyone in the world, real-time,  using just our smartphone and an app. If you think that’s disruptive, just imagine what the growth of AI portends for general education content and courses.

Full Transcript

Full Transcript

These days, that existential hum I seem to be hearing may actually be caused by the steady market buzz streaming in from the general Artificial Intelligence sector.

Almost everywhere I turn, someone is extolling the virtues of AI, the imminent threats posed by AI,  the latest feats of AI, or how AI promises to change the landscape in this or that market.

And yes, I get the irony. This videocast is certainly adding to that noise.

But if you can, please forgive this former language instructor as I think out loud a bit about how AI might alter human communication, and in the process, our core curriculum and some of our business models for education.

This past week, Google announced that its Google Translate product will soon be able to transcribe long lectures while translating them into another language in real-time. Meanwhile, Amazon has shared information about its use of AI to automatically audio dub videos into other languages. Add these efforts to the rapidly growing list of other real-time translation gadgets like the ONE Mini Pocket Multilingual Assistant, and you start to get a clearer picture of the future. 

Given the research and continued progress in accuracy and computing power, I think it’s safe to say that, within 10 years, anyone in the world with a smartphone will be able to carry on real-time, natural conversations with people across the globe in at least 25 languages.

This development, and the virtual elimination of language barriers, will have a definitive impact on how we interact globally and also how we think about the people beyond our provincial borders. It also portends to change the way we think about languages, their importance, and how or why we teach them.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly think we can and should continue offering language instruction. That said, it’s hard to imagine languages, per se, remaining a required component of our core curriculum.

Now, if you think a touch of schadenfreude might help you swallow that particular vision of the future, you might want to consider how AI will likely upend both the markets for general education and big-volume course materials.

It seems inevitable that the explosion of open educational resources, coupled with good learning design models and the well-defined taxonomic structures of general education courses, will make it possible in the next decade for AI engines to deliver high-quality, customized-on-demand courses for college credit at a fraction of the cost providers currently pay to create these.

My thinking is that this will likely translate into colleges and universities reducing their core requirements to only a few, institution-specific courses that are designed to meet a university’s specific mission. The rest of what we currently call “general education courses” will be delivered by authorized providers via AI and some human-supported services.

And if I had to guess, I would probably count AI leaders such as Google, Amazon, and Alibaba among those authorized providers.

What? Now you’re hearing the same existential hum? Huh!

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