IPMA International Project Management Association
15 June 2020 / 10:00

‘Made by AI’ PM education model: Promises and pitfalls

‘Made by AI’ may have sounded like an idea from outer space a few years back, but not any longer. The growing use of artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled technologies is making the ‘AI made’ brand a reality. If anything, COVID-19 crisis has further emphasized the importance of technologies like AI for business and social life continuity, as AI promises to offer a lot to ensure that continuity.

Among the many challenges faced by organizations and governments during the COVID-19 crisis, ensuring educational continuity and preventing loss of time of students remained a top priority focus. Not surprisingly, educational institutions across the globe used a myriad of technologies to overcome restrictions on face-to-face (f2f) delivery and provided education using assorted online platforms. The large-scale transition of education from f2f to technology-enabled delivery has opened up opportunities for developing new education models that benefit from the use of sophisticated technologies to ensure educational continuity in time of, both, calm and crisis.

Project management (PM) education is no exception to the desire for a rethink about the ways of delivery to ensure educational continuity and educational resilience in the aftermath of COVID-19 crisis. Then the question is how PM education could be remodelled or redesigned by leveraging upon the available technologies to provide robust and quality education in time of calm and crisis. Obviously, there could be several ways in which this can be achieved. Given the potential use of AI for education (UNESCO, 2019) and the projections that digitalization will be the key to recovery efforts in post-covid-19 world (Baig et al., 2020), here we propose a new model of PM education i.e. ‘Made by AI’ PM education model.

The proposed AI-powered PM educational model is inspired by novel phenomena-based learning approach (PhenoBL) used in Finland, which is a multi-disciplinary instructional approach focused on making students learn about “phenomena that cross subject boundaries” (Drew, 2020).

Using PhenoBL approach as a framework, the proposed PM education model envisages that AI machines will be responsible for (1) the design and development of curricula, (2) conducting interaction sessions with prospective students to understand their career aspirations, (3) proposing a selection of courses and training from a basket of courses to students based on the philosophy of PhenoBL approach, (4) working with students to finalize a specific educational intervention tailored to their career and learning needs leading to the achievement of a degree or some sort of certification, and (5) mentoring students throughout the learning process.

Having laid the conceptual boundaries of the AI-powered PM educational model, the immediate question that comes to our mind is: whether it is possible to implement the proposed education model and what are the pros and cons of adopting such a model. With an aim to answer the question, below we look at some of the promises and pitfalls of adopting the proposed model. Needless to mention that the listed items are neither exhaustive nor conclusive, but certainly will help understand some of the relevant issues in adoption of the proposed AI-powered PM education model.

Promises of proposed AI-powered PM education model

  1. ‘You get what you need’ model of PM education
    The biggest benefit of the proposed AI-powered education model is its tailored education delivery characteristics. The model enables understanding perspective learners’ needs and tailoring an educational intervention based on the identified needs. Backed up by the advancements in deep learning (DL) and natural language processing (NLP) technologies, AI machines can interact with the perspective students to gather an understanding of their needs and then propose a tailored educational solution.

    As the proposed model follows PhenoBL philosophy, so it is expected that students will acquire multi-disciplinary knowledge, skills and education that will not only help them excel in their careers but will also help PM profession grow with well-rounded crop of PM graduates. For instance, in the proposed AI-powered PM education model, someone with interest in IT project management could end up learning courses in statistics and mathematics, programing, IT PM, general PM and communication management. The provision of a well-rounded knowledge tailored to one’s career needs is the big plus of the proposed system.

  1. Facilitate crowd-teaching
    The COVID-19 crisis has well and truly highlighted the undeniable benefits of social media and other internet-based technologies in keeping the wheel of life moving. The time is, therefore, ripe to leverage upon such benefits in a more tangible manner and crowd teaching is an area that promises lots of potentials.

    The proposed AI-powered PM education model will facilitate tapping into crowd-teaching capabilities and collective intelligence through engagement of PM practitioners, educationists, volunteers, and people with assorted knowledge at a global scale. The use of AI machines will help process large amount of data of available teachers, their experience, education and other useful profile information to match interests of knowledge seekers and knowledge providers more effectively and make crowd-teaching happen smoothly. The diversity in teaching afforded by the proposed system will help learners learn knowledge from different perspectives.

  1. AI mentors in business
    Another benefit of proposed PM education model is that AI machines can serve as mentors to help keep students on track in their learning journey. AI mentors can provide objective, transparent advice and guidance to learners about their learning needs, knowledge and skills gap, and career path. For instance, FLEXA – an AI mentor, is being used to tailor learning experience to the needs of students (van der Bel, 2018). The example is just the tip of the iceberg of capabilities AI can offer to education systems. Therefore, the proposed AI-powered PM education model leverages upon these capabilities to provide enhanced learning experience and career outcomes to individual students.
  1. Help define knowledge pathway
    The proposed AI-powered PM education system will help perspective students by defining their knowledge pathway in an objective and transparent manner. Using predictive and analytical capabilities, the AI system will be able to generate various best-case scenario options for the students to help them choose the option that they deem is fit to their career aspirations. It will instill confidence among the perspective students that they have chosen the path that is aligned with their aspirations and based on objective analysis of intelligent devices, which will also expected to motivate them to excel in their careers.

    Given the path is defined by the AI devices, it will also help to re-analyse the path at any point in time based on changed circumstances of the students and thus will help people take full advantage of the capabilities of AI devices.

  1. Knowledge seekers will be more comfortable in discussing their needs
    The increased interaction with technological systems has changed the way people behave. People, in particular young generation, are comfortable with technologies and working with the technologies to perform many different chores. Given such a tendency, one of the benefits of proposed AI-powered PM education model is that it provides an opportunity to perspective students to interact with AI devices and express their needs in a comfortable setting. It will remove the barriers that may otherwise be present (in some cases) when students meet face-to-face with people, which will ultimately help students excel in their careers.
  1. Lessons learned through data collection can help improve system performance
    One of the benefits of the proposed system is that the data collected by the system on an ongoing basis can be used for training the AI devices to further improve their performance in terms of predictions, curriculum development, guidance provision and mentoring of the students.

Pitfalls of adopting proposed AI-powered PM education model

  1. Costly till it becomes mainstream
    Despite the huge advancements in AI technologies, a lot more needs to be done to make the systems operationally cost-effective. Therefore, one of the obvious challenges to adopt the proposed AI-powered PM education model will be the cost of adoption, implementation and operational maintenance. Till the AI technologies evolve and become less costly, costs may outweigh the benefits creating hurdles in mainstream use of the proposed AI-powered PM education model.
  1. Availability of educators to deliver tailored interventions
    Since the proposed AI-powered PM education model propagates tailored education delivery, so securing availability of educators according to the needs of students may be a significant challenge. Though, the proposed system envisages use of crowd-teaching for courses delivery, but if the variety of courses offered by the system is too large then availability of educators could prove to be an impediment to the adoption of the system. Quality of teaching is another issue that needs to considered when sourcing educators using crowd-teaching approach.
  1. ‘Trust is a must’ counts
    Till AI become mainstream, perspective students may not trust AI devices. On the other hand, if the work done by AI devices is checked by human, it may dilute the benefits of objective approach taken by AI as humans may look at the things in a subjective manner. Also, there are known concerns about the algorithms used by AI devices. Unless, the processes run by the algorithms and data used by the AI devices in making their decisions and performance of tasks are not clear to people, the trust issue could be crippling and hinder the adoption of proposed AI-powered PM education model.
  1. Emotional connection – the missing link
    While people have become very comfortable in interacting with technologies, it can never replace the emotional connection and bond that human-to-human interaction produces. So, there will be cases where students are unable to emotionally connect with the AI device leading to less optimal use of the proposed model.
  1. Technology and related support services still at early stages of developments
    One of the obvious pitfalls of the proposed model is that technology and support services are still at their early stages of developments. This is despite the fact that huge strides have been made in development of AI technology. It may render the adoption of the proposed model less welcome.

Concluding thoughts:
The covid-19 crisis has created assorted challenges as well as opportunities to redesign and rethink the way of living, business management and governance. The effects on education continuity and its viability to offer quality knowledge in time of crisis have made people rethink about how to deliver education in a sustained manner.

Given the advancements in AI and associated technologies, we have proposed a new model of PM education that empowers students to seek the best possible knowledge which is not only aligned to their career aspiration but also one which gives them an opportunity to get the best out of their time and money investments. Good thing is that the proposed system is expected to work equally best in times of calm and crisis. Thus, above we have examined some of the promises and pitfalls of the proposed model to help guide further discourse on the viability of the system.

Baig, A., Hall, B., Jenkins, P., Lamarre, E., & McCarthy, B. (2020) The COVID-19 recovery will be digital: A plan for the first 90 days, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-digital/our-insights/the-covid-19-recovery-will-be-digital-a-plan-for-the-first-90-days
Drew, C. (2020). What is Finland’s Phenomenon-based Learning approach? https://www.teachermagazine.com.au/articles/what-is-finlands-phenomenon-based-learning-approach
UNESCO, (2019). Artificial Intelligence for Education, https://mgiep.unesco.org/article/artificial-intelligence-for-education
van der Bel, M. (2018). Teaching how to learn: Can AI mentors change education? https://news.microsoft.com/europe/features/teaching-how-to-learn-can-ai-mentors-change-education/

Authored by:
Professor Jiwat Ram
© 2020 Jiwat Ram, All Rights Reserved.


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Author of this post

Jiwat is a Professor in Project Management. He has considerable experience of working internationally in diverse cultures and business environments.

Jiwat actively contributes to project management community. His work has been published in top scientific journals as well as industry outlets.