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Tech & Innovation
MAY 24, 2019

The Standard Package or a Personal Touch? Education in the Digital & AI Era

By Aditya Prakash
iStock photo/z_wei

The history of education is long and winding, reflecting the influence of great thinkers and societal revolutions.

In ancient Greece, education was an important part of identity and social status. Children could learn through a variety of options: public schools, private tutors, educated slaves, or unpaid teachers in informal venues. With so many options, education could be attained through a somewhat personalized approach.

In Europe, until about the 19th century, learning was a matter of apprenticeships. While highly personalized, this form of education limited the literacy of the overall population. Then, toward the end of the Industrial Revolution, education (in a limited form) became compulsory. The way we learn has continued to adapt, becoming standardized to meet the majority needs of a growing global population and achieve higher productivity.

So where does that leave us in the digital era?

Looking at educational standardization vs. personalization, how do we determine the best fit for both the student and society? One might argue that standardization is better for students due to lower costs that allow for the development of multiple skills. Others might disagree, claiming personalized education provides higher quality and the mastery of a specialized skill. With the new technology available to us as a society, perhaps we can at last uncover the perfect solution.

“As an educator, I would like for education to be personalized and adaptable,” says Mr. Suzuki, director of GAiMERi, an AI Research Division of GLOBIS. This is what GLOBIS is currently trying to do with management education leveraging AI.” The goal is to use technology to make management education personalized and accessible to students not only within Japan, but throughout the world. Computers and the internet have ushered in an era of adaptive learning and massive open online courses (MOOCs), among other innovations, that bring this goal within reach.”

Are MOOCs the Answer?

MOOCs have value in that they provide choices, mobility, and affordability. Anyone can access education whenever they want to. Does this mean MOOCs are a personalized education solution?

“It’s a step forward,” Mr. Suzuki says, “but still there is a lot of room for improvement. One of the main issues [with MOOCs] is that all students study from the same sources, and usually, there is no strong feedback system. So, I would not be comfortable classifying MOOCs as personalized education.”

He has a point: how could education be personalized without an effective interactive system? As for studying from the same sources, this raises an interesting question. Even at an institution, students study from the same materials as their classmates. Perhaps the difference is student-teacher interaction—the teach-learn-assess cycle that embodies the lecturer’s responsibility to enrich the educational experience.

Feedback is critical because it allows for reflection, which is how newly acquired knowledge really starts crystallizing within. In a traditional classroom, the student-to-instructor ratio is reasonable enough for an instructor to comment on each student’s response and progress.

At this time, MOOCs cannot provide in-depth feedback by the very virtue of their model, which utilizes scale to reach massive audiences. The drawbacks haven’t gone unnoticed, of course. Systems such as peer-to-peer review, forums, and auto-grading from quizzes have been introduced to address these. While these are steps in the right direction, they have their own set of challenges: a novice judging another novice may get an answer wrong; an auto-corrected quiz can tell you what you got wrong, but not where you went wrong in your thinking process. Essentially, as it is now, MOOC feedback leaves something to be desired.

The Adaptive Alternative

Adaptive education, says Mr. Suzuki, might be the closest thing we have to a truly personalized education. He recalls Knewton as an example—a famous learning platform that prides itself on its adaptive technology. However, GLOBIS uncovered one of the platform’s shortcomings when it comes to management education.

“Most adoptive platforms are designed around quantitative subjects, like math. However, as qualitative subjects go, the platform usually relies on multiple-choice questions. If you answer correctly, you move on to the next question with higher difficulty. If your answer is wrong, you will be given a different question with similar or lower difficulty. The results you get depend on the history of your answers.”

Such tests usually provide a breakdown of the answer patterns, which allows the instructor to both gauge the current position and better finetune the teaching materials. The GMAT exam is a prime example of these tests. Mr. Suzuki explains that, while this may be the best model on the market right now, GLOBIS chose to go a different way.

Why? Because management students are required to generate answers using sentences, not by filling in bubbles.

“With multiple choice questions, the choices are all given. All you must do is choose. That’s very different from our case method style.”

What’s Next?

“GAiMERi started with the intention of using technology to grade reports submitted by GLOBIS students,” explains Mr. Suzuki. “We wanted to see if AI could deal with the GLOBIS short-answer style. Now the vision has expanded to making management education more personalized and adaptable.”

There’s no denying that personalized education through technology is a major trend, but it seems the technology element isn’t quite there yet. But, embodying the entrepreneurial spirit, GLOBIS is up for the challenge. With standardization, you get reach; with personalization, you get engagement. This seems to be the perfect recipe for creating something we are all familiar with in the digital era: disruptive innovation.