The Future of AI in Education: Personalization Isn’t Enough 

So, what does the future of education really look like?

GUEST COLUMN | by Ahsan Rizvi

In the 1920s, Sidney Pressey built what might have been the first teaching machine—a machine that enables students to learn by themselves without any teacher involvement. It even had a candy dispenser! Even though the Pressey machine was built a century ago, its ideas persist: technological innovation has immense potential to support learning. 

The Waves of Individualization 

One common theme across every era of new technology is this idea of the individualization of education. Education has been (and may always be) obsessed with the idea of individualized learning. The primary thesis is some version of the following: if we give each child the tools to be taught individually, we will produce more self-learning individuals. We have seen waves of technologies enter education that promise to usher in this era of personalization—from Skinner’s Box to PLATO to PCs to adaptive learning to Generative AI. 

These all enforce the premise that we can teach without a teacher, that the classroom is something to overcome. Why have we come to this assumption? Because education is inefficient in its current format and does not cater to individual needs. It is nearly impossible to do so when each teacher has more than twenty students to teach. Add to this mix a chronic teacher shortage and vast inequities in the classroom, and the AI savior may already be late.

‘Add to this mix a chronic teacher shortage and vast inequities in the classroom, and the AI savior may already be late.’ 

Unfortunately, these promises of automation are often delineated from the realities of educators in classrooms. 

This makes me sound cynical about education technology. However, I am the furthest from it. As the founder of an education technology company, I remain extremely optimistic about technology and its use in the classroom. It is with the constant push, with every new wave, that the supposed holy grail of technology in the classroom is the individualization of education. Each wave wants the same thing—to overcome the teacher-to-student ratio discrepancy by putting technology in a place to directly interact with students. 

Where AI Must Adapt 

As the AI race gets underway, we have a new wave of products entering the market. A multitude of OpenAITM powered bots are entering the classroom with the promise of finally delivering personalization for every student. A new bazaar of point solutions to replace our current bazaar of supplemental tools—however, this time powered by astoundingly large language models. The question is whether it is any different from past waves. 

Then comes the (rather big) matter of quality. We are still mired in a rather protracted and seemingly never-ending debate about the quality of the educational materials used by teachers and students. Some of the most popular and widely used curricula in the country are not appropriate for classroom use but still persist. In ELA alone, 40% of programs still teach multiple practices that run counter to research on effective reading instruction, and two out of three programs fail to address phonemic awareness. Yet, we are consistently shocked at reports of learning loss. That presents an interesting question. Who decides what is appropriate for a student or not in the age of AI? Whose responsibility is it for students to be exposed to the highest quality educational materials possible? What are we going to benchmark educational content to in an age where we can generate content at will? There is one simple answer to all of these questions…That is, we’ve been thinking about it all wrong. This wave of AI in education needs to be different. It’s not about enabling students to self-educate, instead it’s about empowering teachers.

The holy grail of technology is not a personalized educational content stream powered by Language Learning Models and delivered directly to students. We need to focus on the teachers. We should enable them to better engage students on their educational journeys. This empowerment does not mean teachers and students are asking questions of a computer over and over, but rather that a system is built around educators that enables them to better understand and connect with their students. The teacher should be empowered to guide students through inquiry, create discussions, encourage students to share knowledge, and conduct the classroom experience. 

Empowering Educators Beyond Personalization 

We should be thinking about how to implement AI in a way that empowers teachers so they can better do their jobs. The educator is still the center of the classroom driving discussion and exploration. 

One key example of this is inquiry-based learning. It is a powerful way to allow students to apply their experiences and knowledge as they learn. Teachers facilitate this process, guiding communication, discussions, and conducting the classroom experience. Using AI we can enable them to do that at an entirely new level. 

So, what does the future of education really look like? It still starts with teachers at the helm of the classroom, but they have a new partner. AI built and trained on high-quality education content and properly tuned for classroom use. This AI would understand student needs, which students are lagging, and who is outperforming. It could alert the teacher, be able to recommend quality materials it has discerned from other content in order to provide a remedy. This is no longer a point solution with a single benefit, but rather a platform that provides a holistic teaching and learning environment that empower teachers to do all things in a more efficient and effective manner. 

In K-12, intelligent systems and agents will hopefully reshape the entire educational technology landscape as new tools, untethered to legacy systems, enable us to make better decisions about students and their learning. This (ir)rational exuberance will lead to a thousand technology blossoms blooming in the age of intelligent machines. My hope is that this future will be one where educators are leading the way. 

Ahsan Rizvi is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Kiddom. Connect with Ahsan on LinkedIn. 


    Leave a Comment

    %d bloggers like this: