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AI: What Will It Mean for American Education Tomorrow?

AI: What Will It Mean for American Education Tomorrow?


Last month, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued a report about the potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on education.

Authored by Dirk Van Damme, Head of the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, the report begins by mentioning the collapse of the financial system in 2008, the pandemic, and climate change. It also states that the most disruptive change in the 21st century will be AI.

Mr. Van Damme writes that the world is starting to discover the promises of AI-driven learning management tools and adaptive courseware while our classrooms are slowly turning into smart learning platforms.

One point that Mr. Van Damme emphasizes is that “It makes no sense to design education systems that educate learners to do what computers and robots can do infinitely better.” What students will need to learn at school will be informed by what makes humans truly human.

Our ingenuity, according to Mr. Van Damme, “is not a magical trick but results from the interaction between complex cognitive processing of prior knowledge, well-developed character qualities, and sophisticated values.” AI will contribute to our ingenuity by overcoming the barriers of processing information so that our human cognitive and non-cognitive processes can become stronger. As a result, the added human value becomes more effective.

Contemporary schooling has ignored much of the social-emotional domain in its coursework. Mr. Van Damme writes that this domain must receive more attention in the AI-enhanced world. Nurses, for instance, are an excellent example of a profession where the social-emotional skills that contribute to a patient’s recovery are difficult to train a robot to do.

The same need for social-emotional skills is true in education. When schools closed physically due to the pandemic, the physical and emotional presence of the teacher diminished substantially, resulting in students not learning as well. While the most experienced and capable students are able to learn from AI-supported educational resources, struggling students are less able to learn without the support of a real teacher.

Beyond social and emotional additions to the educational curriculum, Mr. Van Damme argues that ethical and esthetical domains will require adequate training and education to develop. Training improvements in manual dexterity will be important for jobs requiring manual intervention that is not routine.

Mr. Van Damme concludes by writing that evidence of the benefits of AI today is everywhere. For example, the vaccines developed to combat COVID-19 would not have been possible without the computers that decoded the genomic sequences of the virus and the possible vaccine combinations to effectively inhibit it. In order to take advantage of this technology, we need to prepare students for a world far more different than the one at the end of the 20th century.

I agree with Mr. Van Damme. If it takes a short piece by him published in the OECD to call attention to the vast changes that we need in our education curriculum, so be it. But the difficulty of implementing or overhauling our education system is complex.

In his recently published book, Human Work, Jamie Merisotis provides more specific and prescriptive recommendations for what education needs to do to prepare workers for the future. I reviewed Human Work when it was published last fall.

Mr. Merisotis wrote that the educational system needs to solve three problems related to preparing individuals for future work. These problems are: 1) more people need higher level learning, 2) we don’t do a good job developing skills that human work requires, and 3) we don’t know what graduates have learned.

Human Work also pointed out (and as I noted in part 2 of my review) that policymakers need to scrap funding approaches that treat education and training as separate activities performed by separate systems.

Michelle Weise’s book, Long Life Learning, pointed out the need for a framework that prepares workers for jobs in a future where AI has supplanted many former jobs. She provides a detailed framework as one way in which education, training, and work can and should collaborate. I wrote about Ms. Weise’s book and suggested that educators read it to prepare their graduates for a future workplace.

The U.S. (and presumably other countries) poured a lot of money into colleges, universities, and public education through multiple COVID-19 funding bills. I think it’s safe to say that an equal amount of funding (or more) will be necessary to prepare students for an AI-enabled world.

Mr. Merisotis wrote that workers need to own their learning in the same way that people need to own their health. While most of the traditional providers of K-20 education are slowly coming around to the need to solve the three problems needed to prepare students for future work, savvy institutions and companies in the education, training, and edtech field will provide solutions to savvy workers.

Those workers left behind will be those who are less able to afford to be left behind. America’s educators and policymakers need to embrace the need for change now. There’s too much evidence to continue to ignore it.

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


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