Algorithms for Success: Trend-Spotting for the Future

In an industry defined by rapid developments in technology and theory it can sometimes be a challenge to spot the next great success stories in amongst the hype. The ONLINE EDUCA news service spoke with an international authority on technological trends and intelligent infrastructure, Ayesha Khanna, to find out her views on the future of learning ahead of her OEB 2012 keynote speech.


By Alicia Mitchell


Khanna is the founder and director of the Hybrid Reality Institute, a research and advisory think tank that specialises in data intelligence, geopolitics and technology trends. She is also the author of several books and is currently working towards a PhD in Information Systems and Innovation at the London School of Economics.


Khanna’s aspirations for her own children give an insight into the educational landscape she hopes will emerge in the coming years. Rather than following the traditional paths of secondary and university education, she hopes they will be “free to create their own learning path” and goes on to describe the student of the future as “a lifelong learner who is constantly educating himself/herself”.


This movement towards self-directed learning has significant implications, both for the opportunities open to students and for the hitherto sanctified position of educational institutions. However, a total upending of educational structures as they have existed for centuries is no mean feat. Khanna points to three trends that she predicts will “change the face of education”: mobile literacy, e-vocational education and algorithmic and robotic teachers.


Mobile literacy is something that is already causing a division of prospects and opportunity. Writing for the EDUCAUSE Review, David Parry defines mobile literacy as a signifier of “what it means to be knowledgeable and educated in our culture”[i], and points to mobile literacy education as a fundamental responsibility of educators today.


E-Vocational education is a rapidly growing sector. With exciting advances in remote learning, such as remote laboratories that enable students to control complex laboratory equipment via an Internet connection and a web cam, students can gain access to otherwise prohibitively expensive or specialised equipment and facilities. Vocational courses that were previously accessible to a limited number of students are now open to participants across the world.


24-hour access to e-vocational resources could also make training in many sectors more economical: fewer teachers and support staff are required as students are guided by remote programmes, and labs do not have to be as heavily staffed. In addition, blended learning frees up the time of teaching staff to focus on practical skills while e-learning resources contribute theory.


When it comes to accreditation, Khanna suggests that universities need to “learn to use artificial intelligence tools that will likely come to the market within five years, to provide education that changes with the skill level of the student”. Algorithmic assessment and robotic teaching are potential directions for e-learning in the future. With current developments in algorithmic educational theory, could it be possible to offer online courses that automatically adjust themselves to suit the individual needs of each student? The idea of automated yet personalised teaching is certainly attractive.


Similar techniques could be used to provide accreditation to students, or replace our traditional system of certificates and qualifications altogether. Khanna envisions a point at which accreditation could be entirely superseded by algorithmic scores, “mined from all a person’s activities within a ubiquitous computing environment”. She says that these scores could potentially asses a candidate’s skills, influence, leadership potential and specific suitability for a project or team, drawing data from the thorough integration of information processing into our everyday lives.


Although we have handed over control of many aspects of our lives to algorithms, most notably in the financial industries, will we be comfortable with totally a-human teaching? And what could become of all that data drawn from every aspect of our lives? Khanna says she is deeply concerned by the privacy issues new technologies raise. “Technology”, she notes, “is a double-edged sword, and we must always be vigilant of what we lose as we increase its presence in our lives.”



Ayesha Khanna will give her keynote speech Technology as a Friend and Foe: Mastering Education to Succeed in the 21st Century, during OEB 2012’s academic plenary session Learning Futures: Over the Horizon on Friday, November 30th, 09:30 – 11:00. From 11:45 – 13:15, participants will also have the chance to discuss Khanna’s ideas with her in more detail at the session Meet with Ayesha Khanna.




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