The AI Advantage: Boosting Student Engagement in Self-paced Learning through AI


Today’s higher education students are increasingly digitally savvy, accustomed to technology being woven into every facet of their lives. It’s no wonder they expect the same from their learning experiences. Traditional classroom models, while still vital, are no longer the only avenue for knowledge acquisition. The rise of self-paced e-learning courses post-Covid is a testament to this shift, enabling students to learn according to their own schedules and at their own pace. But how can we ensure these learning experiences remain engaging, personalized, and effective? The answer lies in Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

AI is not just a shiny tech buzzword. It’s a powerful tool that’s reshaping our approach to education, especially in the realm of self-paced learning. AI empowers educators to provide students with tailored learning paths, immersive experiences, and real-time feedback—elements that boost engagement and facilitate deeper learning. 

AI brings immersion to self-paced learning. AI can transform static course materials into dynamic, interactive content. Imagine a history course where students interact with AI-based chatbots posing as historical figures or a literature course where AI-generated scenarios allow students to delve deeper into a novel’s context. These immersive experiences boost engagement and can make learning more memorable and fun. 

Another key advantage of AI in self-paced learning is real-time feedback. Traditional forms of feedback can be delayed and may not target the specific areas where a student is struggling. With AI, students receive immediate, constructive feedback based on their responses and interactions, promoting understanding and continuous improvement. AI can even provide feedback on open-text answers, guiding students towards more comprehensive and thoughtful responses. 

This can be an advantage for instructors. In today’s fast-paced academic environment, instructors are often hard-pressed for time to provide comprehensive feedback to each student. Particularly in larger classes, it can be challenging to engage students in deeper, meaningful ways that support their learning progress. As a result, educators frequently resort to multiple-choice quizzes, which, while quick to mark and straightforward to implement, often fall short in assessing critical thinking, creativity, and comprehension. This is particularly true in executive education, where the objective is not merely to pass on theoretical knowledge, but to impart practical, industry-oriented skills that will be applied in real-world scenarios. 

The lack of scalability in executive education and other higher-ed programs is a significant barrier. With a rapidly growing student population and a broader range of course offerings, maintaining a high standard of personalized learning becomes a daunting task. However, this is where AI can make a significant difference. 

AI’s potential to revolutionize the education space goes beyond merely enhancing student engagement. It’s about transforming the educational landscape to allow for greater scalability and more authentic assessment methods, without imposing an overwhelming workload on educators or requiring costly new platforms. 

In the world of self-paced learning, AI-driven technologies can augment the role of instructors by providing real-time, nuanced feedback that goes beyond simple right-or-wrong answers. AI systems can be programmed to evaluate a student’s response on various parameters, providing feedback on not just the correctness of an answer, but the depth of understanding, logical reasoning, and even creativity. In this way, AI can help to make assessments more authentic, relevant, and indicative of a student’s grasp of the subject matter. 

What’s more, these AI solutions can be integrated into existing learning management systems (LMS), making them easily accessible to higher-ed institutes and instructors. As such, educational institutions do not need to invest heavily in new platforms or drastically alter their established teaching methods. Instead, AI can be seamlessly woven into the existing framework, enhancing and elevating the learning experience without imposing significant additional costs or learning curves for educators. 

In a nutshell, AI not only empowers educators to better manage their time but also enables them to provide a richer, more personalized learning experience for their students. As we navigate the future of higher education, the key lies in leveraging AI to break down scalability barriers, enhance assessment authenticity, and ultimately, equip students with the skills they need for success in the real world. 

However, the incorporation of AI in self-paced learning isn’t without its challenges. Questions of data privacy, technical requirements, and the potential loss of the human touch in education often surface. But we must view AI as a tool that complements, rather than replaces, traditional teaching methods. While AI can provide tailored learning experiences and immediate feedback, educators continue to play a crucial role in providing context, fostering critical thinking, and nurturing a supportive learning environment. 

Incorporating AI into self-paced learning is about striking the right balance. In the Stanford and MIT study referenced here, Stanford and MIT study: A.I. boosted worker productivity by 14%, worker productivity saw a significant boost thanks to AI integration. Similarly, in the educational realm, integrating AI into self-paced learning can help students take more ownership of their learning journey, boosting engagement, comprehension, and ultimately, academic success. 

One of the most common questions we get asked from faculty is about student’s use of ChatGPT to answer questions. We couple that with worries about AI assessing these submissions. Unless the skill being learned and taught is writing, using AI to put your thoughts together can be viewed as another skill, like using autocorrect. I think this forces us, in a good way, to think about the inherent value of assessments. Providing a knowledge check or formative opportunities, even with AI’s help on both sides, provides mental and logistical space for authentic assessments and genuine learning opportunities. It is an interesting and compelling question—and we must let the technology nudge us to find the best ways to prepare our students for that future, with all the tools at their disposal, and ours. 

The future of higher education is undoubtedly intertwined with AI. As we look ahead, the challenge lies not in whether we should use AI, but how we can harness its potential to enhance the educational journey of every student. With AI, we have the opportunity to make self-paced learning more than just a convenient alternative to traditional classrooms—it can be a personalized, engaging, and highly effective learning journey. 

Garima Gupta, the founder and CEO of Artha Learning Inc., has about 18 years of experience in the fields of learning and development, training, digital marketing, content creation, education, and software engineering. She holds an MEd in adult education, a bachelor’s in engineering, and is a distinguished Certified Training & Development Professional (CTDP). Leading her Canadian-based team, Garima consistently delivers award-winning e-learning and blended learning solutions to a diverse clientele. As a recognized thought leader in the digital learning space, she has spoken at numerous conferences throughout North America, sharing her expertise on tools, technology, and the importance of building continuous innovation, effectiveness, and efficiencies within the eLearning industry. In her free time, Garima is dedicated to giving back to her community by volunteering with the local chapter for L&D professionals, mentoring new immigrants, and teaching a graduate diploma in eLearning design and development at a public college. 

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