Robots: Learning companions for our children

Imagine a class of children,
each with an assistant: a robot that provides individualized learning support. What you see could be the classroom of the future. Robots and machine learning are becoming
more and more common everywhere, including in education. But many of us don’t understand
what machine learning is all about. Let’s take a closer look. Machine learning enables a computer,
such as a robot, to learn. Each time it interacts with a human,
it collects information that helps it do better the next time. The robot’s learning process is not very
different from that of a human: In both cases, a goal is set, and progress is made through trial and error. This is called reinforcement learning. Think of a child who wants to learn to ride
a bike, trying time and time again. Each success in this process
releases dopamine in the brain. This brain chemical plays a crucial role
in reward and motivational behaviour in humans. Thus, success encourages further effort –
until the child is able to stay on the bike. Now let’s say a robot’s goal is to teach
the child to add 2 plus 2. It tries different approaches and discovers
which one works best for this individual child. The robot, of course, does not experience
a dopamine release. Instead, it learns by selecting data, picking
successful strategies and discarding unsuccessful ones. The robot, too, is learning. Can we expect to see robots in the classroom
soon? At the moment robots still have many limitations. As technology progresses, however, robots
may become increasingly common. This would allow for more personalized instruction
tailored to very diverse needs. Robots in the classroom aren’t meant to
replace teachers – but they will eventually give teachers more time
to work with students one-on-one.

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