Online learning has been there for years. Yet today, eLearning technology poses a real challenge to the traditional education models with more and more schools and universities turning to artificial intelligence solutions for education. Still, many educational institutions feel skeptical about adopting online learning tools. “A lack of in-person interaction sucks all the joy out of education” and “innovations in online education are too complex to handle” are the most commonly cited barriers halting the future of online and blended learning. The good news is that artificial intelligence can help overcome these barriers and transform eLearning as we know it. To prove that, we’ve summarized key online education trends giving a look over the applications of AI for eLearning and offering a blueprint for a successful AI adoption. So, let’s waste no time and dive right in.

AI and eLearning: Top 4 trends in online education

1. Personalized learning

With artificial intelligence in eLearning systems, educators can create personalized learning pathways and provide students with tailored content following their academic performance and learning goals. An AI engine may be integrated into a school’s LMS system, turning a simple data repository into a real-life version of the Hogwarts’ sorting hat. The only difference is that it puts students into learning buckets, like visual and aural learners or loners and team players. So, students who don’t easily succeed in a standard one-size-fits-all paradigm can, for example, take a survey that would identify their learning styles, preferred educational resources, and other performance-influencing factors. And the AI engine powering the survey would draft recommendations on how to adjust the curriculum and the instructions to make the student engage. Take, for example, the i-Learn program that is currently implemented across schools in Flanders, Belgium. Flemish educators leverage AI and online education to embrace personalized learning. They’ve partnered with a tech vendor to create a portal for deploying various EdTech apps for different domains, topics, proficiency levels, and learning profiles. The portal is to be rolled out in at least 10% of the Flemish schools by September 2022.
online education trends

2. Skills-oriented learning

Educators often think that online education lacks practice. But tapping in eLearning trends, schools can implement interactive online learning with a focus on building up vital skills. AI-powered chatbots, interactive mobile apps, and virtual assistants can help students master hard and soft skills, like speaking a foreign language, diagnosing a patient, or leveling up their communication and problem-solving skills. Students who are embarrassed to speak a forein language, for example, can tame their anxiety conversing with AI-powered chatbots. The chatbots — now accessible through popular language learning apps like Duolingo — allow learners to go through life-like communicative scenarios and prepare for offline conversations. In turn, online assistants like custom-made SAMI (Social Agent Mediated Interaction) can help address a lack of social contact and emotional engagement for online students, informing them about interests and backgrounds they share with classmates. One of the hottest online education trends, Coursera-like online educational platforms are often used to enable skills-based learning. Colleges and universities, too, are increasingly adopting tech and switching to fully online degrees based on similar eLearning platforms. In such cases, AI steps in to improve student retention and keep online learners engaged. AI technology in online education can monitor how consistently a student attends online lectures and submits assignments. And if the algorithms predict a possible drop-out, they give the student a push to go forward with learning. The experience of edX, for example, proves that a timely nudge accounts for a 30% higher student retention.
future of online education

3. Automated administrative tasks

AI technology used in online education spares tutors and instructors the trouble of manually reviewing and grading assignments and monitoring students during online tests so instructors can have more time to develop quality eLearning content and interact with students. AI-powered reviewing and grading software can independently “read” and grade assignments building on the grades given by human instructors. After training, such software can bulk-check student papers with the precision of a human. Grading software has already proved its effectiveness in science, technology, engineering, and math classes, unbiasedly grading two times more assignments than a human professor during the same time. However, grading systems are more challenging to apply in social sciences and humanities. At least 21 states in the US use technology to evaluate essays, from middle school to college level, yet AI algorithms powering the adopted software remain biased. For example, using advanced words tricks algorithms into thinking an essay is well-written when in fact, it doesn’t have any substance. The algorithms have also turned out to be biased against students from different nationalities and cultures, deeming their essays as poorly written. When it comes to preventing cheating at online exams, AI-powered remote proctoring software can help. Educators may rely on proctoring solutions to automatically detect suspicious behaviors by recording students during tests via their computer’s camera or preventing students from switching browser tabs. An Educause poll suggests that 54% of institutions are already using eLearning tech for proctoring, and another 23% are considering using it. However, some educational organizations failed to weigh out the ethics of remote proctoring, which caused severe resistance from students and parents. Still, there are institutions whose approach to remote proctoring can be named a best practice. Florida State University, for example, encrypts all of the data collected by proctoring software, and it is professors, not the AI algorithms, that make the final decision on whether a student cheated or not.
trends in online education

4. Eliminating barriers

International students or students with special needs benefit from artificial intelligence eLearning tools as well. Translation tools, for instance, can accurately translate a lecture into a student’s native language. Voice recognition and speech-to-text software can transcribe lectures. And referencing tools can help students grasp complex content, say, breaking down a lengthy reading assignment into a set of simple, easily digestible, and structured pieces. Many education institutions worldwide have already adopted assistive learning technology, including the University of Massachusetts and Sheffield University. Both schools use similar speech-to-text software that transcribes live speech and makes it easier for online students to digest educational content.
future of distant and blended learning

Incorporating AI into eLearning systems: 4 steps towards success

If you’re planning to enrich your eLearning software with AI capabilities, but don’t know where to start, here’s our high-level AI adoption plan you may rely on.
  • Conduct an inventory of your eLearning technology tools and systems. Study what technology tools and software you already have to estimate the scope of work you’ll have to carry out when adopting AI for online education. Some eLearning solutions, for example, have built-in AI capabilities, which only need to be configured, and some require relatively simple customization. Other software solutions, in turn, can be enhanced via third-party or custom plugins. But occasionally, you might have to go for custom eLearning software development, giving your IT infrastructure a complete overhaul.
  • Collect your data. The key to AI’s successful performance is thorough training of AI algorithms on the large volumes of quality data. So, you’ll have to put effort into aggregating your educational data, including the information from your eLearning systems, a corporate website, social media, student surveys, and other sources. However, mind that additional data restoration and cleaning may be required to eliminate bias in many cases.
  • Elaborate on an AI use case. Identify how you can leverage AI to improve your online education process without causing critical disruption to your current operations while guaranteeing economic efficiency. Then, put down a specific use case, like task automation or curriculum personalization, mapping it to your objectives and thinking out general compliance and security factors. And if you think you lack the experience to do so, it might be better to turn to a consultant.
  • Design an AI adoption strategy. Create a high-level AI implementation strategy, putting down desired outcomes and KPIs, amending current operations to include AI, and choosing tools that will help you monitor both adoption progress and AI performance.

Final thoughts

Artificial intelligence will continue to transform online learning, making it more enjoyable and results-driven. It could also help educators transition to new, more effective educational models with an emphasis on competencies, not grades. But to maximize the benefits of AI, both educators and EdTech providers will need to balance the AI’s impact and ethics, eliminating bias and constantly improving algorithm accuracy.
Feeling inspired yet? If you think about tapping into the future of online learning and expanding your eLearning software with AI capabilities, drop us a line!