IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Why we should take artificial intelligence in education more seriously

13 April 2016

In a world where digital tools support virtually every part of our lives, why is it that the full power of such tools has yet to be unleashed to those who might benefit most - educators and learners?

Artificial intelligence in education

In the latest of its series of publications concerning digital learning, 'Intelligence Unleashed: An Argument for AI in Education', Pearson, in collaboration with the UCL Knowledge Lab, maps out how artificial intelligence in education (AIEd) can be used to create learning tools that are more efficient, flexible and inclusive than those currently available; tools that will help learners prepare for an economy that is swiftly being reshaped by digital technologies.  

The paper addresses a number of important and provocative questions, including:

  • How can teachers and learners benefit from AIEd right now?
  • How might learner outcomes be improved by AIEd in the very near future?
  • How can AIEd contribute to systemic challenges facing the education sector at large?

The authors, led by Professor Rose Luckin of the UCL Knowledge Lab, highlight existing and emergent technology that could be leveraged to address some of the most intractable issues in education, including achievement gaps. For example, technology available today could be applied to support student learning at a scale previously unimaginable by providing one-on-one tutoring to every student, in every subject. Existing technologies also have the capacity to provide intelligent support to learners working in a group, and to create authentic virtual learning environments where students have the right support, at the right time, to tackle real-life problems and puzzles.  

Pushing the boundaries of practice and theory, the paper considers a future where teaching and learning is supported by the thoughtful application of AIEd. Imagine lifelong learning companions powered by AI that can accompany and support individual learners throughout their studies - in and beyond school - or new forms of assessment that measure learning while it is taking place, shaping the learning experience in real time.

Ultimately, the tools of AIEd help respond to the new innovation imperative in education - the need, in a jobs market re-shaped by technology, to help learners achieve at higher levels, and in a wider set of skills, than any education system has managed to date. However, that vision isn't possible without deliberate efforts to elevate the conversation about AIEd.

" "AI is already impacting education. To fully benefit from what AIEd has to offer, we must involve teachers, parents and learners to ensure that AIEd tools are grounded in learning, and that they deliver what is genuinely needed. We call for a radical change in the way that AIEd is currently funded, to break away from the today's siloed and inefficient environment. It is our hope that this work will spark a positive and proactive debate."

- Rose Luckin, Professor of Learner Centred Design from the UCL Knowledge Lab.

In their recommendations, the authors hone in on three critical forces that must be managed as the future of AIEd emerges:

  • Involving teachers, students and parents in co-designing new tools so that AIEd addresses real needs of the classroom and other learning environments
  • Embedding proven pedagogical techniques in the design of new AIEd-powered edtech products
  • Creating smart demand for commercial grade AIEd products that work.

Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Adviser at Pearson, said, "There is no doubt that AI will significantly influence what we teach and learn, as well as how we do it. The challenge is to ensure that it truly supports teachers, learners, and their parents. Many important decisions will need to be made as these technologies develop, mature, and scale; this paper offers some concrete options that will allow us to realize the potential of AIEd at the system level."

This paper is published as part of the Open Ideas at Pearson series. The series features some of the best minds in education - from teachers and technologists, to researchers and big thinkers - to bring their ideas and insights to a wider audience. Future pieces on digital learning will feature topics including adaptive learning and how we can build efficacy into learning technologies.


  • Student interacting with FractionsLab, supported by the AI implemented in the award-winning italk2learn project.