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  • Ahead in the Cloud: Lifelong Learning in the Age of AI with John Domingue of Open University

    April 11, 2023
  • John Domingue, Computer Science Professor with the Knowledge Media Institute at Open University, shares how evolving AI technology is democratizing education by allowing the customization of more than 300 courses at the largest university in the UK.

    Hosted by Chad Watt, researcher and writer with the Infosys Knowledge Institute.

    “We believe in social justice through education, and we believe in teaching at scale. We have this mission to be open to people, places, methods, and ideas.”

    “We believe in lifelong learning. So learning does not finish when you are 21 or 24. And also where you start in life shouldn't determine where you end up.”

    John’s advice to his younger self:
    “Today is the slowest that technology will progress for the rest of your life.
    Be confident, you are really going to make it.
    Take care of your network; the size and quality of your network will be really important to you. ”

    - John Domingue


  • Open University is an institution that has social justice at its center. We believe in social justice through education, and we believe in teaching at scale. We have this mission to be open to people, places, methods, and ideas.
  • One of the big problems in the early AI days was called the “knowledge acquisition bottleneck.” We were building these systems, for example, to mimic expert doctors, expert engineers, expert people in finance, and the problem was how do we get the knowledge out of their brain into the machine? So, there's a variety of psychological techniques, interviewing them, filming them while they work, et cetera. We don't need that now because all the data is out there on the web. The knowledge acquisition bottleneck is gone.
  • The word “open” in Open University means that we have no constraints on who can study with us. You do not need any qualifications. We have over 200,000 students, and I think a third of our students do not have the qualifications to study at a standard university.
  • In some of our larger courses, we have 3000 students plus looking at exactly the same materials over the same time period. We machine learn over last year's students and that provides a decision-making model for this year's students. All 4,000 OU tutors have access to this and the various signals that indicate a student hasn't been engaging and may be in danger of dropping out. Then they can target the resources accordingly.
  • The people that designed OU were real geniuses and there were a number of innovations that they created. One of them, back in the seventies, was the module team. This is a team that has academics, software engineers, graphic designers, program producers, and web designers who come together for a couple of years to make these high-quality materials.
  • OU allows instantaneous adaptation to the student context. Everyone knows you need to personalize learning. The book is the same for everyone, and the lecture to 200 people online is the same for everyone. You personalize through your local tutor. If a student is reading something online and says, "I'm sorry, I just don't get this page. I don't get this concept. Explain it to me like I'm 14 years old," he hits a button, and the new material comes out.
  • You're going to be learning in many contexts, from school, specific university, maybe at work, maybe on a MOOC, massive open online course platform, and you're going to be accumulating credentials from all of them. Where will you store them and how are you going to verify over a lifetime? A distributed ledger, a blockchain seems like an obvious choice, where you have locally controlled credentials and a place where different education institutions can sign a regional or national or international ledger.
  • Education advice: Today is the slowest that technology will progress for the rest of your life. Be confident, you are really going to make it and take care of your network. The size and quality of your network will be important to you.

Show Notes

  • 00:11

    Chad introduces himself and John.

  • 00:51

    Tell us a little bit about Open University and its mission.

  • 01:17

    You arrived at Open University in the 1980s. What was the state of the art in education technology at the time?

  • 03:12

    AI is newly democratized and experiencing very rapid adoption rates. Is that generally something you agree with and what are the implications of this new very accessible AI?

  • 04:48

    You have a machine learning system that helps you identify students at risk. Tell me a little bit about that.

  • 06:22

    How have the capabilities of OU Analyze advanced, is it better now than it was in 2012?

  • 07:44

    John explains how Open University uses AI to create and support a very large, diverse list of courses serving an equally large and diverse student population.

  • 10:19

    Sometimes generative AIs deliver incorrect information. How do you put the guardrails in place as you go through this process?

  • 12:05

    Chad and John discuss the concept of “prompt engineering.”

  • 13:01

    John describes OU’s use of distributed ledgers to document academic accreditations and certificates over time and across continents.

  • 16:06

    What's the one piece of education advice you would offer up to 18-year-old John?

About John Domingue

John Domingue

John is a Professor of Computer Science at the Knowledge Media Institute, Open University's technology research and innovation center, and the President of STI International, a semantics focused networking organization. He has published over 280 refereed articles in the areas of semantics, the web, distributed ledgers, and eLearning. His current work focuses on how a combination of blockchain, and Linked Data technologies can be used to process personal data in a decentralized, trusted manner and how this can be applied in the educational domain.

    Connect with John Domingue

  • On LinkedIn