Tuesday, August 18, 2020

AI for Learning. So what's this book about?

 So what is the book about?

This is, to my knowledge the first general book about how AI can be used for learning and by that I mean the whole gamut of education and training. It is not a technical book on AI. It is designed for the many people who teach, lecture, instruct or train, also those involved in the administration, delivery, even policy  around online learning, even the merely curious. It is essentially a practical book about using AI for learning, with real examples of real teaching and learning in real organizations with real learners.

AI changes everything. It changes how we work, shop, travel, entertain ourselves, socialize, deal with finance and healthcare. When online, AI mediates almost everything – Google, Google Scholar, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Amazon, Netflix. It would be bizarre to imagine that AI will have no role to play in learning – it already has. 

Both informally and formally, AI is now embedded in many of the tools real learners use for online learning – we search for knowledge using AI (Google, Google Scholar), we search for practical knowledge using AI (YouTube), Duolingo for languages, and CPD is becoming common on social media, almost all mediated by AI. It is everywhere, just largely invisible. This book is partly about the role of AI in informal learning but it is largely about its existing and potential role in formal learning – in schools, Universities and the workplace. AI changes the world, so it changes why we learn, what we learn and how we learn.

It looks at how smart AI can be, and is, used for both teaching and learning. For teachers it can reduce workload and complement what they do, helping them teach more effectively. For learners it can accelerate learning right across the learning journey from learning engagement, support, feedback, creation of content, curation, adaption, personalization and assessment, AI provides smart solutions to make people smarter. 


So how did we get here? Well AI didn’t spring from nowhere. It has a 2500 year pedigree. What matters is where we are today - somewhere quite remarkable. AI is ‘the’ technology of the age. The most valuable tech companies in the world have AI as their core, strategic technology. As it lies behind much of what see online, it literally supports the global web, driving use through personalization. Surprisingly, AI does this as an IDIOT SAVANT, profoundly stupid compared to humans, nowhere near the capabilities of a real teacher, but profoundly smart on specific tasks. Curiously, it can provide wonderfully effective techniques , such as adaptive feedback, on a scale impossible by humans, but doesn’t ‘know’ anything. It is ‘competence without comprehension’ but competence gets us a long way!

AI and teachers

In the book we first look at AI from the teacher or trainer’s perspective, showing that it is not a replacement, but valuable aid, to teaching. Robot teachers are beside the point, a bit like having robot drivers in self-driving cars. The dialectic between AI and teaching shows that there will be a synthesis and increased efficacy in teaching when its benefits are realized. Similarly for learners. AI is not a threat, it is a powerful teaching and learning tool.

AI is the new UI

AI underlies most interfaces online by mediating what you actually see on the screen. More recently it has provided voice interfaces, both text to speech and speech to text. This is important in learning, as most teaching is, in practice, delivered by voice. Then there is the wonderful world of chatbots, the return of the Socratic method, with real success in engagement, support and learning. There’s lots of real examples of how these new interfaces and, in particular, dialogue will expand online learning.

AI creates content

A surprising development has been the use of AI to create of online content. Tools like WildFire have been creating online content in minutes not months with high-retention learning – using AI to semantically interpret answers and get away from the traditional MCQs. AI can also enhance video, which suffers from being a transitory medium in terms of memory like a shooting star leaving a trail of forgetting behind it, towards powerful, high-retention learning experiences. New adaptive learning platforms are proving to be powerful, personalizing learning on scale , delivering entire degrees. AI pushes organisations towards being serious learning organisations by producing and using data to improve performance, not only of the AI systems themselves but also teachers and learners. Models such as GTP-3 are producing content that is indistinguishable, when tested, from human output. This shows that there is far more to AI than at first meets the AI!

AI and learning analytics

Learning is not an event, it is a process. Data describes, analyses, predicts and can prescribe process. Data types, the need for cleaning data, the practical issues around its use in learning and its use in learning analytics along with personalized and adaptive learning shows how AI can educate and train everyone uniquely. Data-driven approaches can also deliver push techniques, such as nudge learning and spaced-practice, embodying potent pedagogic practice. New ecosystems of learning such as Learning eXperience Platforms and Learning Record Stores move us towards more dynamic forms of teaching and learning. Sentiment analysis, using AI to interpret subjective emotions in learning is also covered. AI in this sense, is the rocket with data as its fuel. We explore how you can move towards a more data-driven approach to learning in the book.

AI in assessment

Then there’s assessment, which is being made easier and enhanced by AI. From student identification to the delivery of assessments and forms of assessment, AI promises to free assessment from the costs and restraints of the traditional exam hall. Plagiarism checking is also discussed, as is the semantic analysis of open input in assessment and essay marking.

What next for AI in learning?

Well, there will be a significant shift in the skills needed to use AI in learning away from the traditional ‘media production’ mode and these new skills are explained in detail. More seriously, you can’t have a book on AI for learning without tacking ‘ethics’ and so bias, transparency, race, gender and dehumanisation are all examined. The good news is that AI is not as good as many ethicists think it is and not as bad as you fear. On employment, we look at something few have looked at; the effect of AI on the employment of learning professionals.

AI: the Final Frontier

Finally there a cheeky look at the final frontier. What next? There technology on how AI may accelerate learning through non-immersive and immersive, brain-based technology, as well as speculation on how this may all pan out in the future. It is literally mind-blowing.


In these times of pandemic, we have all had to adapt to online learning; teachers, learners and parents. Necessity has become the mother of invention and this book offers a look at the future, where AI technology will provide the sophistication we need to make online learning smart, responsive and up to the the future challenge of a changing world. AI is here, its use is irreversible and its role in learning inevitable. I hope the book answers any questions you may have on AI in learning, more importantly, I hope it inspires you to think about how you may use it in your organization.

Use code AHR20 here to get 20% discount and free delivery in UK and US.



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