Monica Ares

Artificial intelligence and extended reality can create new ways of learning that are more engaging, personalised and human-centric. By using these technologies, we can solve some of the biggest challenges in education  

We are on the brink of a new era for both technology and education. At the forefront of this revolution is a convergence of AI and XR, causing a merger of the digital and physical world and offering us an entirely new set of tools. Through this combination, the Imperial IDEA Lab is pioneering future-focused solutions set to revolutionize global education and shape a future where technology and human potential unlock entirely new forms and dimensions of learning.  

The evolution of learning: a historical perspective 

In the space of one human lifetime, computers have gone from basic, simple machines to having the ability to analyse complex systems and predict outcomes.

Most of these technologies, however, have been largely passive, obediently doing what we instructed them to. Historically, the ways we teach and learn have mirrored this relationship, with rote memorisation and standardised testing being the norm. No one believed that was the best way to learn – it didn’t do much to foster skills such as creativity, critical thinking or collaboration – but we didn’t have the tools to make learning engaging at scale.  

By using the power of these technologies, we can transform education from a passive, one-size-fits-all system to an active, customised and engaging one

Most of us can recall our favorite “aha moments” and the person, place or experience that inspired us and made us curious enough that we still remember them  today.

The problem is that most of us only have a handful of these moments, making them the exception and not the norm. By not prioritising these true learning moments, we have inherited an education system that is critically flawed: it's a system that makes jobs susceptible to automation and leads to uninspired and disengaged educators and learners.  

AI and XR as the ultimate tools for human potential 

If we stay this course, prioritising a one-directional flow of content and information, we will be shaping our students to be like robots – but now the robots are here, we can turn education’s focus onto being human.

This means focusing on what  humans are actually good at, like awareness, higher-order thinking and decision making. Technology can then be used to complement these skills, by handling tasks that are tedious, time consuming, or beyond our capabilities. 

What sets us apart from machines is our ability to feel curiosity, to imagine, and even our capacity to get frustrated when we can’t get it right in hopes of finding a better solution. This is what gives us the freedom to explore and innovate.  

As humans, however, we are limited, and need to rely on the symbiotic relationship with technology and machines to help us to solve problems we have been unsuccessful at solving on our own.

No one believed that was the best way to learn [...] but we didn’t have the tools to make learning engaging at scale

We are starting to see this triangular partnership being used to build safer vehicles, cure diseases and tackle the climate crisis. In the same way that this hybrid combination will help us solve humanitarian and health issues, it can also help us solve some of the biggest challenges we face with education today.  

The Imperial IDEA Lab is at the cutting edge of this work. By using the power of these technologies, we can transform education from a passive, one-size-fits-all system to an active, customised and engaging one. We can also unlock new dimensions of learning, where we can explore virtual worlds, manipulate digital objects, and interact with intelligent agents.

In my next article, I will dive deeper into the practical applications of AI and XR in learning and showcase some of the innovative projects and experiments we are working on at the Imperial IDEA Lab, and introduce you to the learning continuum. 

Monica Ares

About Monica Arés

Executive Director of Imperial IDEA Lab
Since 2023, Monica Arés has been the Executive Director of the Imperial Innovation, Digital Education & Analytics (IDEA Lab). She is a leading expert in immersive technology, using it to empower people to learn, connect and create in ways they never could before.

As the former Head of Immersive Learning at Meta, and a pioneering leader on Interactive Learning Labs at Amazon, she has extensive industry experience in developing innovative products, programmes and content to make learning more powerful and accessible.

Monthly newsletter

Receive the latest articles from Imperial College Business School's academics