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ASU a partner in advancing online adult learner education


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August 04, 2021

Arizona State University will be a partner in a new National Science Foundation Artificial Intelligence Research Institute focused on adult learning in online education.

The NSF announced a $20 million investment to establish the AI Institute for Adult Learning in Online Education (ALOE) in which ASU will take part. Led by the Georgia Research Alliance, the institute will be a collaborative effort to transform adult learning in STEM fields through the use of artificial intelligence.

EdPlus at ASU has been at the forefront of education technology. Focused on the design and scalable delivery of digital teaching and learning models, ASU is well-positioned to share critical research and provide insight on digital education developments.

The EdPlus Action Lab, through the study of impact and efficacy of ASU’s educational offerings, is helping improve digital education, and Action Lab Research Scientist Elle Yuan Wang will be an invaluable contributor to the ALOE Institute.

Wang will serve as senior personnel and lead research projects on social and emotional learning assessments in AI-based online learning environments.

“Joining an interdisciplinary team of world-class experts in AI and adult learning, I’m particularly excited about opportunities to develop AI agents to support productive human-to-human social interactions in large-scale online learning environments,” she said.

Since joining EdPlus at ASU, Wang has led multiple action-driven research projects to unpack complex challenges facing today’s undergraduate degree-seeking adult learners and has helped design corresponding interventions and support to improve learner success.

Online learning has empowered adult learners to upskill – keeping pace with an ever-changing work environment. For others, it’s been a form of education that has allowed them to make a career change. To meet the changing workforce demands, developing and maintaining skilled workers will require improving online education and workforce training for adults.

To address this challenge, researchers will focus on building new AI techniques and developing new models of lifelong learning and evaluate their effectiveness. To that end, ALOE aims to enhance the quality of online education and lifelong learning and ensuring online learning is scalable, accessible, affordable and built for student success.

“The ALOE Institute will iteratively develop and evaluate new AI techniques for making online education for adult learning in STEM disciplines more efficient and effective, making it comparable to that of traditional residential learning in STEM,” Wang said. “We will engage online adult learning at scale, reaching millions of adult learners in this five-year project.” 

While at ASU, she has proposed an innovative framework that incorporates three non-academic dimensions – social and emotional attributes, career obligations, as well as family responsibilities. These dimensions are used to analyze the diversity of potential completers (students) so that personalized and efficient support can be designed and delivered to students, especially those who are becoming the new majority, non-traditional students.

With her research background in post-secondary digital education, Wang will lead research at the ALOE Institute with extensive knowledge of digital education, adult learning and increasing student success outcomes.

The ALOE Institute will be headquartered at the Georgia Institute of Technology and partners include Boeing, Drexel University, Georgia State University, Harvard University, IBM, IMS Global, Technical College System of Georgia, University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Wiley.

The ALOE Institute is part of a $220 million investment in 11 new NSF institutes, spanning seven research areas in AI: human-AI interaction and collaboration; AI for advances in optimization; AI and advanced cyberinfrastructure; AI in computer and network systems; AI in dynamic systems, AI-augmented learning; and AI-driven innovation in agriculture and the food system.

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