Paul Johansen is Chief Technology Officer at Edmentum, the leading provider of online learning programs for educators. Paul serves on the LTI Product Steering Committee, and previously directed Deloitte’s shared services software development team. He holds degrees in Computer Science and Marketing from the University of Minnesota and an MBA from MIT. You can find Paul on LinkedIn here and on his Edmentum blog here.
Even prior to the remote and hybrid learning environment in 2020, edtech companies were leveraging AI and automation to create better learning experiences and drive positive student outcomes. Historically, the technology has handled two main functions: offloading administrative tasks for teachers, and creating more personalized learning experiences for students. Now, AI is beginning to offer strategic recommendations to teachers, too.
To achieve all of these objectives, earlier this year Edmentum launched the Edmentum Online Navigator (EON), an AI-based chatbot. EON frees up teachers by offloading administrative responsibilities like entering students into the system and setting up classes. It can also serve as a recommendation engine for teachers, suggesting activities or additional curriculum based on what a student or class needs. For example, it may suggest a full-class exercise to review a bit of material, offer additional resources for one particular student based on their learning trajectory or share insight into how other teachers within the district have been successful in this unit. The combination of greater efficiency and strategic recommendations allows teachers to spend more time with students, and ensure that time is as impactful as possible.
When Paul first entered the edtech space just over ten years ago, there were many concerns about technology replacing teachers. But this, he says, has never been the intent. In fact, he argues that the time teachers spend interacting and connecting with their students is the most important element of any education experience. AI and automation are not here to replace that time; they are here to create more of it. Edtech solutions like Edmentum are designed specifically to support teachers—to offload the more monotonous tasks, make strategic recommendations and free them to spend more time engaging with their students.
This year, school looks different than it ever has before with the rise of remote and hybrid learning. Students are learning more independently than ever, and teachers don’t have the benefit of sitting in front of a classroom of 30 students and engaging 1:1 with them throughout the day. Teachers, who Paul calls “some of the busiest people on the planet” are under increased strain this year as they adapt to a new educational normal. They almost certainly do not have time to research additional activities, or rethink their existing methods. Fortunately, this is one emerging area where AI can help.
In this environment, AI and automation have taken on increased importance. AI-powered tools like EON can serve as a recommendation engine for teachers, suggesting additional resources, activities or strategies that have been proven successful elsewhere. This creates a deeper, ever-improving learning experience for students without placing increased strain on teachers to research and execute new strategies independently. This recommendation capability can also empower teachers to be more effective on the backend; AI can suggest a new platform feature, or a new type of dashboard that can provide fresh insights, helping teachers make better use of their time and energy. As a result, more teachers, students and parents are using Edmentum’s solutions than ever before to create an optimal remote learning experience.
Paul believes that AI not only has the power to make education more effective, but also more equitable. He points to the example of embedding AI into augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) applications. This use case not only creates an even more immersive experience for students, remotely or in-person, but also breaks down financial and accessibility barriers that have long existed in education. Activities like going to the museum, or even going on a trip, have historically been relegated to a subset of students; with AI, AR and VR, these valuable learning experiences could be opened up to all students.