It’s pretty hard to escape the buzz around AI.

From healthcare, to self-driving cars and even to art, the technology promises to transform our social and working lives.

There’s been some optimism and exhilaration, but there’s also been some pessimism and fear. This is understandable, it’s hard to really predict how AI will fulfil its potential, and at what cost.

It’s becoming clear that almost every industry will be affected by AI and education is no exception.

In recent years, there has been a clear focus from the sector on how it can embrace digital technologies.

Indeed, a new survey, from Jisc and ucisa, found that 68 percent of higher education (HE) digital leaders feel the effective use of this technology is key to their digital transformation projects, and that improving the student experience is the driving force behind this.

Being in a leadership position has given me an interesting vantage point over how this digital transformation is taking shape within education.

The lay of the land is much different now than it was even five years ago, which begs the question:

What comes next?

In higher education, technologies such as AI could help to create a much more personalised learning environment, which could help to address some of the sector’s biggest challenges. Namely, falling lecture attendances, higher student expectations, and accessibility.

By maintaining a focus on personalisation, we can ensure we continue to set the highest possible standards for students. In line with this, VitalSource last year made the acquisition of Acrobatiq, a cognitive and data science-based platform, which enables personalised and adaptive learning.

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Tailoring course material

One of the most significant advantages of using adaptive learning technologies in education is the opportunity to customise the student learning experience to best suit their learning style. A one-size-fits-all approach is inadequate to the expectations and challenges facing students today and this technology offers students something more.

Of course, a degree of personalisation has been available in higher education for some time. For example, digital textbooks with interactive capabilities allow students to highlight aspects of a course the student is struggling with, allowing them to revisit and reinforce their learning.

However, adaptive learning platforms will allow this to go much further. Taught to analyse data sets, AI learning capabilities create much more complex prediction models, digesting complex data much faster, and with a higher degree of accuracy.

Through content creation or the ingestion of digital textbooks, an adaptive learning technologies tool can digest course material and help to identify learning objectives for students. In doing so, it can help students focus on areas they find most challenging.

Students can master learning objectives by interweaving multimedia learning activities with their regular study, to help reinforce or deepen learning. This is a tried and tested approach, with strong evidence to suggest personalisation is key to unlocking higher levels of student motivation, engagement, and empowerment.

An early warning system

For all students, beginning higher education can be a challenging time. Students often not only have to adjust to life away from home, but also different expectations around self-motivation and more specialist course material.

Already digital analytics tools provide lecturers with much greater oversight, identifying problem areas and providing opportunities to patch up the net some students are in danger of slipping through.

I’ve been immensely encouraged by the drive towards improving access in the higher education sector. We’ve seen strong support from central government and from institutions themselves in tackling this issue, with increased levels of funding.

Adaptive learning platforms that allow for personalised learning can help here too. They can effectively act as an early-warning system for lecturers, signalling to staff low-levels of engagement on the part of some students that might suggest an individual slipping behind their peers, or in danger of dropping off the course entirely.

These tools allow staff to intervene early, highlighting problem areas, and identifying at-risk students. AI can make a real difference when it comes to solving some of the complex challenges facing the higher education sector today.

Greater personalisation is the next step on the path towards total digital transformation for many education institutions, and it stems from a fundamental desire to innovate, inspire the students of tomorrow, and improve their learning experience.

Alice Duijser, Managing Director for EMEA, VitalSouce

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