Artificial intelligence is poised to radically change education, according to Pearson’s 2016 report Intelligence Unleashed: An Argument for AI in Education. Though the report lists numerous ways in which recent advancements in educational AI programs are improving learning efficiency and outcomes, a section I found to be particularly thought-provoking highlights a few ways that artificial intelligence can provide intelligent support for collaborative learning.
Collaborative learning involves assigning groups of students to work together to accomplish a single task or project. Much research has suggested that collaborative learning leads to improved learning outcomes when compared to individual work. A 2011 journal article titled Benefits of Collaborative Learning suggests that collaboration more actively involves students in the process of learning, leading to heightened effort and interest in completing schoolwork. The authors also describe how group work helps students develop higher level thinking skills, practice oral communication techniques, and reduce overall classroom anxiety.
Effective collaboration among students rarely occurs automatically, though. As I’m sure many educators can attest to, facilitating group work can oftentimes be challenging, particularly in large classrooms with many groups of students working simultaneously. That’s where Pearson believes in the power of AI to facilitate this process – here’s how:
Adaptive Group Formation – AI takes the guesswork out of forming groups. Adaptive group formation analyzes data on each student’s work style and past academic performance in order to divide students into groups that are well-balanced and properly equipped to accomplish the task at hand. In some situations, this could mean forming groups where all students are at a similar level of subject matter understanding. Alternatively, a teacher might decide the optimal group makeup consists of students of varying levels of academic performance, each bringing their own unique talents and interests to the group. Gone are the days of letting students form their own groups or leaving group formation up to chance – AI enables educators to effortlessly and intelligently divide students into optimally shaped groups.
Expert Facilitation – AI facilitates better collaboration. AI systems can be trained to recognize effective collaboration strategies, then use that information to identify which groups are most frequently encountering difficulties in understanding certain concepts or ideas. This information can then be used by teachers to address lapses in effective collaboration, providing students with timely, targeted, on demand support.
Intelligent Virtual Agents – AI can contribute to the conversation. One of the most exciting ways that artificial intelligence enhances collaborative learning is the integration of AI agents. By acting as either an expert participant (like a coach or teachers aide), a virtual peer, or someone for the student to teach, intelligent virtual agents can both mediate and meaningfully contribute to group work. This approach could be particularly useful in digital learning environments like games or online classes – the intelligent virtual agent working in conjunction with students, asking questions and providing new information when appropriate to help strengthen subject matter understanding among group participants.
Intelligent Moderation – AI supports educators, too. It’s simply impossible for one teacher to listen in on the conversations of multiple collaborative groups at once. Intelligent moderation AI programs can monitor multiple discussions simultaneously, providing timely alerts to educators if a group’s conversation repeatedly goes off topic, or conversely if a group is progressing at a faster rate than their peers. Utilizing AI techniques like machine learning and shallow text processing, intelligent moderation empowers teachers in guiding their students towards fruitful collaboration.
Intelligent support for collaborative learning is one of many ways in which artificial intelligence can benefit learners, educators, and administrators alike. For more on this topic I would highly recommend reading Pearson’s full Intelligence Unleashed report, which not only details more ways in which AI is impacting education today, but also dares to forecast how artificial intelligence will reshape the future of education.