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ALT Blog Post: Artificial Intelligence – Hype or Reality?

A post by Richard Price, Learning Technologist, NHS and Health Education England.

We are living in an age of unprecedented change. The ‘fourth industrial revolution’ is having a profound impact on the way we live our lives and is changing the way our society views education, work and leisure time. New technologies are emerging around us at pace and disrupting traditional industries, from companies such as Monzo and Tide shaking the foundations of the high street banks, to Spotify and Deezer challenging the mighty record labels. Education is surely not exempt from this disruption?

At the heart of this technological and societal revolution is artificial intelligence (AI). Movie producers often predict a dystopian future run by malevolent robots, as in I, Robot or the Terminator, but more pragmatic thinkers predict AI will transform our daily lives for the better, reduce the burden of work and increase our leisure time. The truth about AI is likely to be somewhat more mundane but nonetheless, just as disruptive and transformative. Whatever your views on AI, it is impossible to ignore and we are likely benefiting from it already without even realising it.

Consider your daily commute: your calendar wakes you up early this morning as your normal route to work is congested, so you need to set off earlier. Your map app provides alternative directions adapted to the traffic conditions so you can make your meeting on time. Your music app knows you are likely to be stressed so suggests a relaxing playlist to calm you down. You purchase your morning coffee via an app and based on your past habits, the app recommends a pastry to complement your choice of drink!

All these experiences use a weak AI algorithm to learn and predict your behaviour and enhance your experiences. Imagine the possibilities of using this technology in education and training to adapt the learning experience for the individual.

Artificial Intelligence is fast becoming the latest buzzword, with it nearing the top of the Gartner Hype cycle. At Health Education England (HEE), we decided to experiment with some AI tools to see how they could improve learning outcomes of individuals working in health and care and to see if the hype matches the reality.


Our first AI experiment uses a tool developed by Filtered (an example of the interface is shown above) which assesses an individual’s digital capabilities against the HEE digital capability framework and then makes recommendations on the most appropriate resources to support that learner’s need. The learner interacts with a chat bot interface to perform the assessment and an AI-curated list of resources is presented to the learner in priority order of their learning need. Health and care learners are being introduced to the tool at the moment, and the study will conclude at the end of December when the preliminary results will be presented.

The second AI experiment assesses personality types and thinking styles of undergraduate medical and nursing students to provide learning prompts and to inform tutors about tailoring support mechanisms to an individual. The personality detection uses a tool provided by IMC, using IBM Watson to analyse input text, which is verbally produced by the learner in response to a trigger photograph (e.g. an image of a sunset over a beach). We are working with the Leeds Institute for Medical Education on this pilot which also concludes at the end of December.

These studies will provide valuable research into the power of AI in education and training, and while the results are yet to be published, I feel sure that this is only the start of our AI journey at Health Education England and across education and training.

I will be running a workshop to discuss the impact of AI in education and demonstrating the tools we’re using to personalise and adapt the learner experience at The Association for Learning Technology Annual Conference, which takes place 11 – 13 September in Manchester, United Kingdom.

Richard Price, Learning Technologist, NHS and Health Education England,

For ALT’s 25th Annual Conference we will bring together different critical perspectives in Learning Technology from across our community that will examine the challenges ahead and question the shape of things to come. For more details, visit the conference website 

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member

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