Fri 17th February 2017 - 10:05

What is machine learning and why is it important for education?

A machine can’t think for itself, can it?

Actually, machine learning is the science of making computers act without commands. By analysing patterns in large datasets, computers can make predictions and take action on their own. Machine learning is part of the broader field of AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Machine learning already has many commercial applications, like when Amazon makes recommendations on what books you would like, or when Google tells you how long it will take to get to your appointment. 

Applications for education

K4A is an advocate of Artificial Intelligence and Big data in Open Education, which pioneers Machine Learning methods and transforms these into technologies for large scale applications in Open Education. Open Education Europa interviewed Davor Orlic, Chief Operating Officer at the Knowledge for All Foundation (K4A), about using machine learning in education.

“Machine learning is basically the field in computer science which deals with, let’s say, patterns. How can you make a machine learn by itself?” Davor said.

K4A consists of 60 labs across Europe specifically focused on machine learning. The mission of K4A is to advance research in machine learning, but “specifically machine learning for education,” according to Davor.

“With this avalanche of data derived from consumers and learners on line, the idea is sort of how to understand what is going on and develop models and predictions about learners’ behaviour, to support learning strategies,” he explained.

It may seem that the applications of machine learning are long way from being used in actual classrooms. Yet machine learning is already used to improve teaching and learning – in MOOCs.

“It would be impossible for a professor to have thousands of students without some kind of data and analytics to manage the learners,” said Davor.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out this video about how IBM is using machine learning to help teachers create more personalised learning experiences for their students. 

Image: IBM

Learn more

For (much) more information, Coursera offers a MOOC on Machine Learning, taught by Stanford Professor (and Coursera Founder) Andrew Ng.

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