Designing AI for Human Connection in Online Learning

By Cooper Raterink, Daniel Kharitinov, Zoe Weinberg, Jennifer Aaker
2020 | Case No. ETH29 | Length 7 pgs.
2012 was dubbed the “Year of the MOOC” (Massive Open Online Course), but this mode of online learning has not really caught on. Why not? Student surveys show that these online learning platforms seem to be lacking in community, support, and academic quality. This is unfortunate, because MOOCs offer an inexpensive alternative to the traditional forms of higher education crippling college-goers today with student debt. This case looks to one advantage that online learning has over in-person education — the ability to analyze and respond to large amounts of student/teacher data using artificial intelligence (AI) technology — to address its gaps. We draw on insights from interviews with industry experts to design an AI-based tool for online learning platforms. This tool aims to enhance online learners’ sense of purpose, autonomy, and excellence by fostering meaningful collaboration. After describing the design of such a solution as well as its promises and pitfalls, we cite the COVID-19 pandemic as even more reason to invest in the research and development of innovative ways to connect with others online, whether they are other learners or friends and family.

Learning Objective

Students who read and discuss this case will:

  • 1) grapple with the differences between in-person and online education
  • 2) consider how AI might play a role in addressing the weaknesses of online education
  • 3) understand and critique a potential AI tool designed in response to this challenge
  • 4) debate the differences between human connection and human engagement online
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