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What is the future role of teachers in the age of AI?

By Soffos Team
October 7, 2020

“Digital disruption” has, arguably, been the buzzword of the decade for organizations spanning all sectors. And yet, the traditional way of doing things has largely remained intact: we have not significantly rewritten the rules, methods or expectations of day-to-day life.   

That is, until the Covid-19 pandemic struck. As individuals, businesses and governments alike continue to adapt to the “new normal,” we are on the verge of a global technological shift.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for thinking that digital disruption is now truly upon us is the realization on the part of many individuals themselves.

In general, most professionals have maintained that they could not carry out their normal responsibilities without face-to-face interactions; doctors harboured concerns about the implausibility of treating patients online, while teachers insisted that students could not learn effectively unless they were taught within the confines of a classroom. 

Fast-forward just a few months, and these fallacies have largely been proven questionable at best.

If we take education as a prime example, online learning has quickly become the norm, with students and teachers alike realizing the immense potential of digital solutions to close the gaps exposed by the pandemic.

Technology will continue to make inroads into the education space. The question now is, what role will teachers play in the new digital age?

AI will assist, not replace, teachers

Artificial intelligence (AI) lies at the heart of this movement towards a digital future. It is the technology that powers many of the online tools in use today, whether that is distance learning solutions employed by schools and universities while disruptions continue, or educational apps that are enabling students of all ages to pick up new skills remotely. 

There remains a great deal of scepticism surrounding the influence of AI in this arena, with many teachers naturally concerned that it will render their jobs redundant. However, AI is not the imposing and disruptive monster that some fear.

The increasing adoption of AI-fuelled software solutions will no doubt have a transformative impact on the sector; that much we cannot deny. Given its unparalleled ability to harness and analyse huge swathes of data, it is naturally placed to overtake repetitive, time-consuming and resource-intensive tasks. Beyond this, machine learning (ML) capabilities mean that AI software can learn from itself and continuously improve the quality of its output.

This is to say that, rather than replacing teachers, AI will in fact serve to augment the work of human educators. Sophisticated software will automate tasks like grading assignments and creating lesson plans, allowing teachers to divert their energy towards their primary role: delivering valuable knowledge to their students.

Intelligent tech solutions may well take over some labour-intensive responsibilities (to the relief of many teachers!), but they cannot truly replace human creativity or empathy. These two characteristics will always be vital for nurturing the development of students.

What will teaching look like in 2040?

The benefits of AI in education are vast, and we are already seeing clear examples of this. Importantly, the advantages fall on both sides of the table: learners now have access to round-the-clock, personalized knowledge, while teachers are able to improve the learning processes.

As AI is integrated more fully into the curriculum, a day in the life of a teacher a decade or two down the line will be a far cry from what it is today.

For one, advanced technologies will enable teachers to better spot and understand gaps in students’ knowledge. AI-powered learning platforms can already identify in real-time when students choose incorrect answers to a question, before notifying teachers of these problem areas. In turn, educators are able to shift their attention to these topics, rather than covering subjects which students already have a good handle on.

By extension, granular insights into subjects that students struggle with, as well as a clear indication of the format in which they learn best, will translate into the creation of more effective curricula. AI solutions can automatically accumulate educational materials that best match the students’ needs, and customize a ready-made and effective learning plan for the teacher to deliver.  

Another benefit is the potential for enhanced engagement – a bonus that teachers will no doubt appreciate. Learning platforms integrated with modern technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can help involve students more closely in the learning process and make it immeasurably more interactive.

Going forward, we must remember that AI solutions are not lone operators: human educators will lean on education technology (edtech) to deliver the best teaching possible to cohorts of students. Now is the time to ensure that professionals can keep up with the fast rate of innovation and leverage AI to their best advantage.

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