How AI Can Support Learners Under COVID-19 and Beyond

by James Lester (North Carolina State University), Jack Mostow & Carolyn Rosé (Carnegie Mellon University) and W. Lewis Johnson, Alelo

At the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, 1.6 billion students worldwide were affected by school closures. These closures revealed startling disparities in access to learning. Nearly 830 million learners did not have access to a computer. More than 40 per cent had no Internet access at home. And many students who do have digital access struggle in the new online learning environment. Many students disengage and lose motivation. Many feel isolated and alone.

What can we do to help learners succeed in the COVID-19 context? And how can artificial intelligence (AI) help them overcome the challenges that they are likely to face?

AI is being incorporated into learning environments that adaptively motivate and engage learners and can operate at scale. Technologies and methods that were originally developed for use in the classroom and in public spaces such as museums are now being adapted for use at home. These technologies can help learners who have fallen behind during COVID-19 lockdown and now need help catching up.

Cloud-based computing and smartphones are already broadening access to AI-enabled technologies in the home, as illustrated by products such as Enskill English from Alelo. Students can access Enskill English on their smartphones. They practice on their own and get feedback, and then use popular messaging apps such as WhatsApp to demonstrate progress to their teachers. Enskill English is being used in a number of countries around the world, particularly in Latin America.

The RoboTutor project has demonstrated that AI-driven learning can work for learners with no prior exposure to digital technology. RoboTutor is an open-source Android tablet app that enables children ages 7-10 with little or no access to schools to learn basic reading, writing, and arithmetic without requiring adult assistance. It was one of five $1M Finalists in the $15M Global Learning XPRIZE competition to address the acute shortage of teachers in developing countries.     

Finally, AI technologies have been developed that support collaboration among learners. Learners working together online collaborate with an AI partner designed to increase supportiveness and facilitate collaborative exchange between the learners. These technologies are now being adapted to encourage social distancing and at the same time encourage collaborative engagement.

Alelo is hosting a webinar on how AI can support learning during COVID-19 and beyond, in which we will discuss these issues in greater depth. Then on July 8 Dr. Johnson will lead a panel at the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education on the role of AI in helping teachers and students cope with COVID-19.

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