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AI, curriculum development and personalized learning

Nhi Nguyen
Rebecca LeBoeuf
Rebecca LeBoeuf
July 1, 2024
Table of Contents

In this article, we look at how AI can be useful in optimizing curriculum development, from design to the classroom. We’re looking to address the following questions:

  • How can AI help with curriculum development?
  • What are the pros and cons of using AI for personalized learning?
  • What’s the value of using AI to foster a connected learning community?
  • What is the role of the instructor in implementing AI in the classroom?
Explore best practices to integrate AI into policies, curriculum design, and assessment practices.
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AI and curriculum development

As every instructional designer knows, curriculum development is a complex process with many moving parts. AI tools can help. They’re no substitute for the knowledge and experience of human curriculum designers. Instead, designers can use them to streamline the process.

In fact, many instructional designers are already using generative AI tools to help with their work. Dr. Philippa Hardman conducted interviews with 150 instructional designers and discovered how they are using AI to support various aspects of their work:

  • Design. “More and more, instructional designers appear to be using AI as a ‘thought partner’ in the design part of the process.”
  • Idea generation. Instructional designers are “using AI to generate a range of ideas and suggestions for course topics, learning activities, and content formats based on initial input instructions about learners and goals.”
  • Creativity. “Designers are also using AI to assist in creative thinking and ‘thinking outside the box’ by providing unexpected perspectives or by combining concepts from different domains, leading to the use of innovative instructional strategies and creation of innovative materials.”
  • Content generation and refinement. Designers are creating videos, drafting documents such as rubrics and course descriptions, and generating quizzes with AI. They’re using AI to sharpen learning objectives and also saving a lot of time by using AI to generate course maps.

Clearly then AI is not supplanting the role of instructional designers. It’s more of a partner in certain steps of the process, as an aid to creativity and a valuable way to save time.

AI for personalized learning: Opportunities and challenges

Personalized learning (one-to-one) can be more impactful than traditional learning environments (one-to-many). Only through direct contact can an instructor come to understand their students’ strengths and where they need improvement.

This approach also strengthens a student’s sense of autonomy. With the right guidance, it empowers students to examine their development in an individualized way, as opposed to merely fulfilling learning objectives, however important.

Read more: How to create personalized learning spaces

Many educators question the role of AI in personalized learning. It can seem like another layer of technology between them and their students. So what is the place of AI in personalized learning? What are the advantages and drawbacks?

The pros:

  • Individualized learning. AI can instantly tailor the educational content to the specific needs and learning styles of the student.
  • Individualized feedback. AI can generate instant feedback tailored to each student's work and performance.
  • Engagement. The incredible flexibility of AI allows for the incorporation of interactive elements and multimedia content.
  • Scalability and accessibility. AI tools can automate many processes for faculty, with a considerable savings of time. The tools also make it easier to create accessible study materials for students.

The cons:

  • Privacy. Students must be trained to not reveal sensitive data or personal information.
  • Bias and fairness. Inadvertent bias may have been baked into the AI model during the training process. Bias can also show up in prompts.
  • Overdependence on technology. Students inhibit the full development of their own skills, such as writing or data analysis, when they rely too much on technology.
  • Lack of human touch. Teaching is an art. Good human instructors bring empathy, creativity, and intuition to the classroom.

The role of feedback in personalized learning

With personalized learning, feedback is an essential part of the process. Timely, consistent feedback from instructors and peers is a crucial way to guide students on an individualized educational journey. Unfortunately, it can also be time-consuming, especially in a large student cohort.

One way AI can help is by providing instant feedback on the technical aspects of student writing, such as grammar, spelling, citation, and style, allowing instructors more time to address higher-level skills like argumentation and content.

There is a caveat. Although receiving instantaneous feedback on writing can be advantageous for learning, it’s less helpful when that feedback is merely an autocorrection. Grammarly is great, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to a deeper understanding of the writing process.

In contrast, FeedbackFruits Automated Feedback is an AI tool that generates instant, personalized feedback. We developed the tool in collaboration with Erasmus University Rotterdam and Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, so users can be confident in its pedagogical usefulness.

With Automated Feedback, instructors provides instructions for the writing assignment and decides on the feedback criteria or technical writing aspects that need to be checked (e.g. grammar, vocabulary, citation, etc.). When students upload their drafts, they can then receive instant feedback on these criteria. The tool thus acts as a personalized writing coach, while freeing up the instructor for a deeper discussion about the content.

Screenshot Automated Feedback generates instant, formative feedback on students’ writing
Automated Feedback generates instant, formative feedback on students’ writing

Automated Feedback generates instant, formative feedback on students’ writing

In a similar vein, the Automated Feedback Coach uses generative AI to help students sharpen the feedback they provide, suggesting ways they can be more specific or employ a more appropriate tone. It’s another way of receiving instantaneous feedback that prompts critical thinking, rather than quick, basic improvements.

Read more on how institutions used our AI tools to enhance the feedback quality:

Screenshot: Automated Feedback Coach provides students with tips and suggestions on delivering quality feedback
Automated Feedback Coach provides students with tips and suggestions on delivering quality feedback

Automated Feedback Coach provides students with tips and suggestions on delivering quality feedback

For more ideas on using AI to facilitate personalized feedback, see this article. And for more details on personalized learning, see our article on creating personalized learning spaces and personalized learning in hybrid classrooms.)

Instructors’ role

Whether we’re discussing AI for personalized or social learning, the instructor is paramount. Instructors do need a clear AI policy for their classes that reflects the institution’s policy, their pedagogical goals, and their individual teaching style. (Lance Eaton of the AI + Education = Simplified newsletter has created a useful google doc with examples of AI policies for syllabuses.)

Beyond that, there is no hard and fast rule about when and how much to use AI in the classroom, only the understanding that students need guidance in using the technology as it becomes a part of their daily lives and that it is a valid aid in developing creativity and critical thinking skills. AI literacy skills will also be necessary for many career paths, so instructors will be helping to prepare students for the workplace as well.

Dr. John FitzGibbon, Associate Director for Digital Learning Innovation of Boston College advises educators to first explore the technology:

“Use it in your work, test it with course content, discuss it with disciplinary colleagues.” By exploring the technology and familiarizing themselves with its strengths and weaknesses, instructors will be better able to exploit AI as a pedagogical tool and to help students navigate ethical issues.

Finally, when using AI in the classroom, we suggest instructors keep two broad goals in mind: first, of course, is its use as a pedagogical tool. Second is its incredible potential to save time. AI can reduce teacher workload in a number of ways, freeing instructors up to focus on what really matters—the rewarding personal interactions with their students.

Read more: AI Is Becoming an Integral Part of the Instructional Design Process

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