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Do we need AI in educational software?
There is no frontier between some courseware that would be intelligent and some
that would not. AI-based courseware is not intrinsically better than other kind of
courseware. The purpose of this paper is precisely to explain that some types of
techniques are useful for some kind of learning activities. Namely, knowledgebased systems enable to interact about intermediate steps in the solution, to
provide explanations, make diagnosis and so forth. These techniques are not useful
for any kind of learning. We roughly discriminate three categories of goals and
1. Goal : Automating skills
Systems: Drill and practice
When the goal is to automate elementary skills, the key factor to success is to
provide immediate and accurate feed-back. Standard computing techniques can
be used to develop systems in which the learner practices these skills and
progressively compiles the associated knowledge.
Goal: Acquiring declarative knowledge
Systems: Frame-based systems
When the goal is to acquire declarative knowledge, traditional frame-based
courseware can be very efficient. A frame-based courseware is a scenario made
of frames. Each frame includes some piece of information and some activity, in
general a question, a few expected answers and specific feed-back.
Goal: Acquiring complex problem solving skills
Systems: Learning environments
When the goal is to acquire complex problem solving skills, the key activity is
that the learner integrates the various sub-skills by solving realistic problems.
A learning environment is generally an open problem situation in which the
learner explores the consequences of her actions, namely by observing the
system reactions (the system generally includes some kind of simulation). We
refer to intelligent learning environments when the learner interacts with some
agents about the knowledge she uses in the solution.
If we get back to the travel agent problem, we can find these different types of
learning. Some technical skills (computing rates, taking time zones into account,
...) can be practised through series of exercises (drill and practice). The
terminology specific to this job could be presented, illustrated and tested by a
standard frame-base courseware. Traditionally, the trainee would acquire this basic
knowledge during her initial training, by reading books or following a course.
Then, she would be asked to put progressively this knowledge into practice.
Therefore, she would start working in an office with an experienced worker. This