Will Teachers be Replaced by Algorithms?

As artificial intelligence (AI) develops, it is playing an increasing very important role in education. For example, AI-based solutions allow schools to embrace personalized learning, and publishers to roll out adaptive learning platforms. Some futurists have gone so far as to claim that intelligent machines will replace teachers within 10 years. Not surprisingly, this causes concern among educators. But, should teachers really be worried?

Image © University of Texas

I have been involved in AI in education throughout my career, developed award-winning AI-based products and written highly cited articles on the topic. But while I am more excited than ever about the potential of AI to improve the quality and economics of learning, I don’t think educators should worry about being replaced by machines. Instead, AI is more likely to empower teachers, reduce drudgery and overwork, and make their jobs more rewarding.

Studies show that teachers have more impact on student achievement than any other aspect of schooling, and effective teachers have a lasting impact on student success. Yet many teachers report that their workload is unmanageable, and much of their time is devoted to activities other than teaching. This is an area where AI can help. For example, by automating the scoring of student work teachers spend less time on grading assignments and on data input and management, and can focus instead on responding to student needs.
Teachers with large classes find it stressful to meet the needs of individual students. Students in large classes don’t get much opportunity to practice new skills in class, which makes it harder for them to achieve mastery. AI can give these students the practice opportunities and individualize feedback that they otherwise might not receive.

For example, instructors at major universities are using Alelo’s AI-based Enskill® English platform to overcome the challenges of large class sizes. With 50 or more students in a class, it is virtually impossible for students to practice speaking in class. With Enskill, teachers now can ensure that students are getting the practice opportunities that they need. The Enskill avatars are infinitely patient; they give learners the opportunity to practice in a safe environment, without fear of being judged. Learners receive automatically generated feedback and personalized exercises that focus on the skills that they need to improve.

Teachers have few opportunities to interact with students outside of the classroom. AI-based learning environments can be made available to students anywhere and anytime. Learning can continue outside of the classroom. This helps every learner to make rapid progress toward mastery.

In the 21st century economy, people must continue to develop and improve their skills throughout their lives. However, the interactions between teachers and students are typically limited to single class or course. In the future “pedagogical agents” will be available to learners on an ongoing basis, helping them maintain and continue to develop the skills that teachers taught them in class.

Thus the question should not be whether AI algorithms will replace teachers, but how they can support teachers and learners both inside and outside of the classroom. To see examples of AI-based learning systems in action, visit www.alelo.com/enskill-english and try one for yourself.

About The Author

Lewis Johnson

Dr. W. Lewis Johnson is President of Alelo and an internationally recognized expert in AI in education. He won DARPA’s Significant Technical Achievement Award and the I/ITSEC Serious Games Challenge, and was a finalist in XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling. He has been a past President of the International AI in Education Society, and was co-winner of the 2017 Autonomous Agents Influential Paper Award for his work in the field of pedagogical agents. He is regularly invited to speak at international conferences for distinguished organizations such as the National Science Foundation.

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