Instructional AI: Advancing Education’s Capacities

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

February 20, 2024

Like virtually every other type of modern technology, the usage of ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI) has triggered great fear, effusive elation, and almost all emotions in between. However, also like other modern technology, AI’s bona fide impact on society is not fully understood as so many of its capabilities – real and potential – have yet to be explored. Despite the challenge of not knowing whether its threats are actual or imagined, AI is making inroads into many cultural and societal venues, including that of higher education. How is it in use today? How might it be used tomorrow? And is its presence in the classroom a boon or a bust for modern learners?


AI as a Ubiquitous Tool

Most people already interact with AI, even if they don’t know that’s the programming they’re accessing. The digital resource drives virtually all of today’s smart devices, using intuitive and insightful strategies to facilitate a myriad of services all through a single portal.

Mapping programs steer users through the physical world, offering directions, time-to-destination, traffic notices, and even restaurant and entertainment suggestions.

The name (a noun) of today’s most popular search engine is now also a verb, and many people use it to describe how they found their latest new gadget or problem solution.

Even customer service ‘providers’ are more AI today than they are human. The now ubiquitous ‘chatbot’ – literally a ro’bot’ that ‘chats’ with people – responds to most online inquiries and is often the only ‘human’ resource consumers have contact with when looking for answers to their concerns.

It’s most likely that even those who fear AI and its potential threats use the resource as a regular part of their typical day.

And that exposure to and use of AI – and its closely related cousin, machine learning – isn’t diminishing either. The technology has the capacity to improve itself, and many cutting-edge computer programs in use today are programmed to enhance their own internal functioning. The potential values offered by these ‘smart machines’ make them increasingly desirable as business assets, so investments in AI are growing at a notable rate.

‘Healthcare tech’ uses AI to capture data, generate reports, connect medical teams, and inform patients. ‘Telehealth,’ the delivery of medical advice over an internet connection, is becoming the most popular method for connecting with healthcare professionals. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of telehealth appointments rose from 5 million in 2020 to over 53 million in 2022.

‘Smart assistants,’ such as Siri and Alexa, now monitor home and office systems to modulate room temperature, lighting, door access, and more. In 2022, more than 120 million American adults were using these assistants at least once a month.

The use of digital payment portals is also on the rise. Most of today’s banks use AI technology to interact with all their customers, both individuals and businesses. The tech facilitates 24-hour access, online deposits, withdrawals, and other services and maintains monitoring capacities over billions of dollars of financial and other assets.

Analysis of how AI technology is growing as a fundamental corporate asset shows that it is also quickly becoming foundational to numerous existing and emerging industries. Many of these industries – and the countless companies that make them up – are embracing the AI opportunity in the post-COVID era to revise their economic foundation and that of their community.


Instructional AI in the Spotlight

Clearly, AI has been successfully embedded in both personal and corporate daily activities for some time, so it’s not surprising that many industries, including the education sector, have also adopted the technology into their daily activities. In schools, AI programs and applications are typically identified as ‘Instructional’ AI, and those, too, have been around for several years. Their uses span the gamut of educational functions:

In some cases, the tech is used to track student activities. A well-programmed AI service can track attendance, test scores, course availability, and other data-rich nuances of the learner’s experience to inform school admins about their progress and facilitate fine-tuning of their overall educational adventure.

AI is also proving to be extremely valuable in streamlining educational resources to meet the needs of each individual student. Data collected reveals where those learners are experiencing challenges and where those challenges are originating. Sometimes, it shows that the person needs additional support; other times, it demonstrates that the school has missed the mark for serving this particular person or class of people.

Perhaps the most common implementation of AI in educational processes, however, is its use in instructional design. The designers of programs, courses, and the classes that those comprise are constantly improving their resources to better meet student needs, with the goal of enhancing the learner’s absorption of the content to achieve ultimate success in their chosen subject matter. AI tools give these ‘education architects’ the capacity to deliver a deeply personalized course content that responds to the individual learner’s past performance, learning pace, and preferences. Further, in addition to structuring the course in a format more compatible with the students’ preferences, AI also facilitates adaptations to the system in real time. Data collected as the course unfolds informs the programming, which can then modify modules or lesson plans accordingly.

AI also offers an asset that’s already well-favored in the community: its gaming capacity. Game-based learning opportunities that are enhanced by AI can provide more individualized and flexible learning opportunities for virtually all students, which can also increase their likelihood of persisting to graduation and then finding the job and career that best suits their needs.


The use of AI as a learning tool is growing as more higher education institutions adopt it to service their myriad of programs and workflows. For students, the digital asset is proving to be an invaluable addition to their education, so long as they use it with integrity. For the higher education sector in general, AI also offers the opportunity to develop whole new avenues of courses and careers to meet the burgeoning demand for skilled AI technicians. At least at this first glance, AI is performing exceptionally well for the education community.


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