In Brief
  • Thomas Frey of the DaVinci Institute predicts that, within 14 years, learning from robots will be commonplace.
  • Online learning could provide low cost, tailor-made educational resources to any student with internet access.

Teacher Bots

Today, those looking for a non-traditional education have limited access to online classrooms, especially ones that are for-credit and affordable. But Thomas Frey predicts that, within 14 years, learning from robots will be entirely commonplace — even for children.

Credit: i21 Education, inc.
Credit: i21 Education, inc.

Frey is a futurist who began as an engineer at IBM and went on to found the DaVinci Institute, a networking firm and think tank for technical innovation to bring about a brighter future. Frey gives lectures and interviews on strategies for progress to high-profile audiences at places like NASA, the New York Times, and various Fortune 500 companies. He told Business Insider that he sees a future where innovators will enhance and improve the current landscape of online education.

“I’ve been predicting that by 2030 the largest company on the internet is going to be an education-based company that we haven’t heard of yet,” Frey said in the interview.

Frey claims that, in order for students to learn through an advanced online course, we must construct an educational program that learns its students’ individual proclivities and preferred learning strategies.

“It learns what your interests are, your reference points” Frey said. “And it figures out how to teach you in a faster and faster way over time.”

Equitable Education

Regardless of the effectiveness of online learning platforms, there is still an inherent societal distrust of robots, especially within sectors like education. In fact, in a recent survey by the European Commission, it was found that 30 to 34 percent of people thought that robots should be entirely banned from education. But Frey doesn’t go so far as to argue education bots will replace traditional schooling outright. Also, as technology progresses, it is possible that these fears and opinions will change.

If Frey is correct about the future of online education, it could propel many to levels of education they could not otherwise achieve. Students around the world have limited access to public education, quality one-on-one help from a teacher, and advancement beyond their assigned grade or classes. However,  many of these students are gaining access to computers and the internet. A vastly improved online education system could provide the opportunity and resources underprivileged students need to fulfill their educational aspirations.

So, while robot teachers might sound a little scary for some, they could allow for more affordable and accessible education around the world. No longer would students have to live in districts with certain levels of wealth just to receive decent education. No longer would students be constantly overwhelmed or, conversely, bored by lessons that advance too quickly or too slowly. Perhaps, instead of taking our children’s jobs, robots could prepare them for a career they would love.