Note — Aug 11, 2019

China Has Started a Grand Experiment in AI Education. It Could Reshape How the World Learns

Quite the overstatement in the title but a good article on “AI” in education. In China “tens of millions of students now use some form of AI to learn” so it’s written around the visions of two Chinese ed-tech companies, how they function, what they’ve done, and some of the more general theory of learning as it applies to those visions. In my opinion the second model, Alo7’s, is a lot more interesting, sadly most of the article is about Squirrel.

Even if you’re not particularly “into” learning in this form, have a read considering it alongside the future work, hybrid / centaur supplementation of human intelligence, and in a framing around coaching. In Sentiers at Work, a recurring theme I featured was the idea of managers within companies enabling their team members and being there as coaches. Here teachers can be seen as coaches too, where a significant part of the learning happens individually through AI systems, accompanied by teachers, and where both aspects are important.

If on the other hand you are interested in ed-tech, then you absolutely have to dive into the work of Audrey Watters who critiques the field extremely thoroughly and pertinently.

Experts worry about the direction this rush to AI in education is taking. At best, they say, AI can help teachers foster their students’ interests and strengths. At worst, it could further entrench a global trend toward standardized learning and testing, leaving the next generation ill prepared to adapt in a rapidly changing world of work. […]

Every educational expert I spoke to for this story began by making the same point: to understand how AI could improve teaching and learning, you need to think about how it is reshaping the nature of work. […]

[Jutta Treviranus, OCAD] “We need students to understand their own learning. We need them to determine what they want to learn, and we need them to learn to learn,” Treviranus says. “Squirrel AI doesn’t address those things at all. It only makes it more efficient to bring all of the students to the same standardized place.” […]

[Pan Pengkai, Alo7] “Innovation comes from difference,” he says. “That’s exactly what China lacks. If you are able to speak multiple languages, you are able to talk to different people; you are able to communicate different ideas.” […]

Knowledge that can be exercised through adaptive learning, like vocabulary words, is practiced at home through the app. So are skills like pronunciation, which can be refined through speech-recognition algorithms. But anything requiring creativity, like writing and conversation, is learned in the classroom. The teacher’s contribution is vital.