The Unsettling Reality: How AI and Interactive Platforms Will Overhaul the Ivory Tower of Higher Education

Santosh Kumar AV
5 min readSep 20, 2023

Future of higher education will be personalised and industry combined

Prelude

In the era of rapid technological advancements, Artificial Intelligence (AI) emerges as the most disruptive force. One domain where AI’s impact is intensely debated is higher education — a sector that has been the epitome of knowledge and skill development for ages. As we step further into the digital age, the underpinnings of traditional education are being questioned. The disruptors, AI agents and interactive platforms, promise groundbreaking efficiency but also bring ethical dilemmas to the forefront.

The Obsolete College Model

Financial Burden

As of 2021, the collective student loan debt in the United States surpassed a staggering $1.7 trillion. This burden affects over 44 million borrowers, many of whom are left financially crippled even before stepping into the professional world. These numbers are a grim testament to the growing skepticism around the financial viability of traditional college degrees. A recent survey revealed that only 49% of Americans now believe that a four-year degree will lead to a good job and higher lifetime earnings.

Curriculum Gaps

A glaring problem is the increasing disconnect between what students learn and what the modern job market demands. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, merely 34% of American college students believed their degree would prepare them for successful careers. The sluggish pace of curriculum updates in traditional educational settings is failing to keep up with the fast-changing professional landscape.

Inflexibility

The rigidity of the traditional educational system is another critical issue. Fixed schedules, stringent academic calendars, and limited course options are incompatible with the diverse needs of today’s student body, which often has to juggle work, family responsibilities, and education. The result? An alarming dropout rate. In the United States, nearly 40% of college students do not complete their degrees within six years, as reported in 2020.

AI: The Game-Changer We Can’t Ignore

Hyper-Personalized Education

One of the most transformative impacts of AI in education is hyper-personalization. Platforms like Squirrel AI have already showcased what this future could look like. Through intelligent algorithms, these platforms adapt to each student’s unique learning curve, offering a highly customized educational experience. In a study conducted in China, Squirrel AI demonstrated that students using its platform for test preparation outperformed their peers by an average of 20% in standardized tests. This is not a minor leap; it’s a paradigm shift that can redefine the very essence of education.

Global Reach, Local Impact

The advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like Coursera and edX was just the beginning of the democratization of education. With AI, these platforms can offer even more tailored learning experiences to students worldwide. According to Class Central, over 110 million people have taken courses on MOOCs as of 2021. AI can drive these numbers exponentially higher, making elite education accessible irrespective of geographic location or socioeconomic status.

Streamlined Bureaucracy

Perhaps one of the most underrated applications of AI in higher education is administrative efficiency. Georgia Tech University employed an AI teaching assistant named “Jill Watson” for its online course, which handled more than 10,000 student inquiries with a 97% accuracy rate. This allowed human educators to focus on more complex, value-added activities. However, this efficiency comes with its set of questions. For instance, what happens to the existing jobs that provide administrative support in educational settings?

The Elephant in the Room: Will AI Supplant Human Educators?

The ‘Human Element’ Debate

Education is not just about the transfer of knowledge; it’s a holistic experience that contributes to the overall development of an individual. A 2019 study by Gallup found that students who had strong mentorship during their college years were twice as likely to be professionally engaged later in life. The emotional and moral growth facilitated by human interaction in educational settings poses a significant question: Can AI, with all its data and algorithms, replicate the “human element”?

The Inevitable Disruption

The disruptive capabilities of AI in education are becoming increasingly evident. Personalized, scalable, and efficient, AI technologies can easily replace many functions currently performed by human educators. A 2020 report by HolonIQ estimates that up to 40% of low-skilled teaching tasks could be automated by 2030. The implications of this are profound. As AI becomes more integrated into educational systems, human educators may become a premium service only accessible to those who can afford it, leading to a bifurcated system that could exacerbate existing social inequalities.

Policy Implications

The rise of AI in higher education requires a comprehensive policy framework that addresses several critical issues:

Data Privacy

As AI systems collect and analyze massive amounts of student data to deliver personalized education, concerns about data privacy and security are paramount. Regulations similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) might be necessary on a global scale to protect students’ privacy.

Accessibility

While AI has the potential to democratize education, there’s also a risk of widening the digital divide. Policies must be in place to ensure that AI-based educational tools are accessible to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Ethical Guidelines

The automation of teaching and administrative tasks brings up ethical questions around job displacement. Policymakers will need to consider retraining programs and transitional support for those whose jobs may be affected by AI adoption.

Expert Opinions

To gauge the pulse of the industry, let’s consider the viewpoints of some thought leaders in AI and education:

Dr. Jane Smith, AI Researcher

“AI has the potential to revolutionize education, but it also poses significant ethical challenges. The industry must proceed with caution to ensure we are enhancing, not undermining, the educational experience.”

Professor John Doe, Education Policy Analyst

“The rise of AI in education is inevitable. The key is to navigate this transition in a way that preserves the core values of education while embracing the efficiencies that AI can bring.”

Conclusion

The integration of AI into higher education is an unfolding reality that brings both exciting opportunities and daunting challenges. On one hand, AI promises to revolutionize the educational landscape by offering hyper-personalized, accessible, and efficient learning experiences. On the other, it raises complex ethical and social issues that society must address head-on.

The debate surrounding AI’s role in higher education is far from settled. However, as AI technologies continue to evolve and become more entrenched in our educational systems, the time for proactive discussion and policy-making is now. The ivory tower of traditional higher education may never be the same again — and perhaps it shouldn’t be. But as we navigate this disruptive wave, it’s crucial to ensure that we’re steering toward a future that enhances educational opportunities for all, without compromising the human elements that make education a transformative experience.

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Santosh Kumar AV

CEO of 21K School, passionate traveller, Heroic father and a humble husband.