HTHT education aims to nurture cognitive capacity, creativity, and socio-emotional skills and personality in all students through an AI-assisted adaptive learning technology. This element of personalized learning through technology relieves teachers of their burden to provide content-driven knowledge through traditional lecture-style formats; instead, it allows them to guide students through innovative and interactive models such as project-based learning, and simultaneously focus on strengthening the human connection element integral to learning and development.

1. Background of HTHT Education

Global Learning Crisis

The global debate surrounding the learning crisis was spurred by the 2016 Davos World Economic Forum that brought forth the critical issue of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The forecast, that 65 percent of those entering primary school now will have jobs that are presently non-existent, was not unfathomable but still remarkably shocking. It has started to be widely recognized that, in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution—with AI taking over the highly complicated tasks that only humans had the capacity to perform thus far—teaching students to prepare for jobs that will soon disappear is gravely problematic for the future of humankind.

Subsequently, prominent reports were produced by various relevant international organizations highlighting the learning crisis, following the 2016 forum. The 2017 Learning Generation report by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (the Education Commission) warned that, if current trends continue, 825 million young people accounting for half of the world’s next generation will enter adulthood without the skills required by the labor market and society. The World Bank also, in its 2018 World Development Report (WDR), characterized the phenomenon whereby millions of children still lack the opportunity to receive quality education in spite of sustained increases in investment worldwide, to be a critical learning crisis. In this vein, the 2019 WDR: The Changing Nature of Work underscored the importance of acknowledging and harnessing this crisis to proactively incorporate innovative technology in the areas of education and health while concurrently minimizing any adverse side-effects on society.

We may have to hark back more than a century to understand the nature of the global learning crisis. The picture of a classroom accommodating 20-30, often over 60, students at different learning levels and with diverse needs, where a teacher unilaterally delivers the same standardized learning content, strikingly resembles the factories operating within a mass production system, spurred globally by the Second Industrial Revolution. The nature of the current learning crisis lies in the fact that this mass production-type learning model still persists even in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, lagging far behind the remarkable socio-economic development made.

AI-Driven Personalized Learning for All

In some parts of the world, there have been steady efforts to innovate the century-old, antiquated education model that has very apparently failed to adapt to the changing times. The most promising of these is the personalized learning approach, customized to the capacity and demand of individual students. Notably, personalized learning prior to the advent of AI was only feasible in either private schools that could afford large investments or at schools with highly dedicated and passionate teachers. Likewise, in the private education realm, personalized learning was attainable only for those students whose parents were willing to pay a high price. It is evident that personalized learning incorporating the element of high touch has not been available beyond the boundaries of elite educational institutions and a limited number of innovative schools.

However, the AI-powered Fourth Industrial Revolution has cleared the road for a mass customization system in education to take hold, just as it has done for many other socio-economic fields. AI has demonstrated its potential to foundationally revolutionize the way that society and the economy operates. AI allows for the optimized design of products and services—customized to individual character and taste—in cyberspace, and enables an accessibility and affordability made possible with mass customization through mobile devices or 3D printers. In education, holistic and personalized learning tailored to the level, capacity, and demand of individual students can become a reality with AI—completely transforming the classrooms as we still know them, the classrooms which have largely remained unchanged for more than 100 years.


2. Understanding HTHT Education: Conceptualization and Cases

The balance of High Tech and High Touch

Futurologist John Naisbitt, the author of Megatrends, insightfully asserted in the early 1980s that technological advancements should be complemented by a high touch component that will keep people healthy, creative, and energized. Indeed, educational change driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution will likely proceed in this direction of combining high touch with the high tech. Even the AI-assisted high tech learning that is expected to reap enormous educational benefits through mass customization, cannot be successful without being harmonized with the teacher-provided element of high touch.

According to the well-known learning theory and framework of educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom—commonly referred to as Bloom’s taxonomy—human learning is not simply limited to remembering and understanding; it can be nurtured to apply, analyze and evaluate what has been understood, and even to develop creative capacity in learners. In the future, the provision of learning for the purpose of remembering and understanding can largely be fulfilled by the AI-based high tech. This approach and arrangement will subsequently allow teachers to engage more proactively in providing the high touch component for students—nurturing the development of the higher order skills of applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating, as well as students’ overall socio-emotional growth.

Bloom’s Taxonomy as applied to HTHT


The Case of Arizona State University 

Arizona State University (ASU) has already implemented an approach that they term adaptive + active learning: an AI-assisted adaptive learning system combined with active learning in the form of project-based learning. 65,000 university students have participated in courses utilizing this approach, across various core subject areas including mathematics, biology, physics, and economics. When this approach was applied to basic mathematics in 2016, for instance, results demonstrated a 28 percentage point increase in completion rates even for those students who had given up on their high school mathematics courses. In the case of biology where the adaptive + active learning system was introduced the year prior in 2015, the rates of dropout and students receiving lower than a C grade declined from 20% to 1.5% and from 28% to 6%, respectively, compared to the previous semester. Similar results were evident upon adopting this approach for courses in microeconomics in 2017: the first exam scores improved as students scoring less than a C grade decreased from 38% to 11%.

These remarkable results can be attributed to the personalized learning customized to individual students. In the case of mathematics, the ALEKS platform provides optimized learning paths tailored to each individual. For students who already exhibit basic level mastery and excel in the subject, the content will advance in difficulty at a faster pace. For lower-performing students, the learning will be characterized by a more gradual progression of level increase with completely different types of questions so that students can remain engaged. In the traditional learning model where the professor delivers the same lecture, high performing students will find the content too easy and subsequently fail to be challenged—quickly losing interest. Students struggling in the subject will likewise also lose interest, stemming from the perceived difficulty of the material. Adaptive learning software such as ALEKS, however, can effectively address and overcome these foundational limitations through technology. Notably, the incorporation of adaptive learning technology, by no means, diminishes the role of professors or teachers. Teachers are relieved of their roles as lecturers, but instead, assume new roles and responsibilities. In the case of the mathematics courses at ASU, these responsibilities include that of facilitating student-led collaborative projects designed to solve real life challenges through the principles of mathematics. As the AI-assisted technology performs more of the content-related teaching, professors and teachers are naturally able to focus more of their attention on providing the high touch element through active learning experiences, as with the foregoing collaborative projects.

The Cases of Primary and Secondary Education in the US

In the United States, AI-based edtech began to be introduced by public schools in the 2010s. EdSurge, an educational technology company, estimates that edtech-provided personalized learning opportunities, tailored to the capacity and needs of individual students, have already been utilized at about 20 percent of schools in the US. Furthermore, edtech venture capital investment in the US—which was non-existent until 2008—has rapidly surged to about one billion US dollars a year by 2018, representing one-third of total global investment. Edtech investment in the US is expected to increase even further, considering that annual venture investment in health, for example, amounts to seven billion dollars. The LEAP Pilot Network of  LEAP Innovations, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization, supports individual schools wishing to utilize edtech by allowing them to experience and select the most appropriate options among diverse customized learning software.   

Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS), the school district in charge of all 175 public schools attended by 111,000 students in Baltimore County, Maryland, recently decided to introduce adaptive learning into their curriculum upon conducting countless interviews with teachers, parents, local businesses, local community leaders, and others. The decision to implement Baltimore’s Students and Teachers Access Tomorrow (STAT) initiative was first followed by the restructuring of educational curricula and large-scale training of school principals and teachers. Then, customized learning software—DreamBox for math and iReady for reading—was introduced at pilot schools starting with the lower grades, with subsequent plans to soon expand digital laptop- or tablet-based learning to all schools. In addition, the edtech companies involved in this initiative were asked to send experts to the schools and reside in the area for any necessary improvements so as to ensure an optimal adaptive learning platform. It is remarkable that BCPS—an autonomous educational organization larger than Jeju Special Self-Governing Provincial Office of Education or half of Ulsan Metropolitan Office of Education in Korea in terms of the number of students served—was able to introduce adaptive learning for all of their students in such a bold fashion.

Although efforts to support student learning with computer assistance have been made for some time in most countries, simply providing students with tablets or installing wi-fi in classrooms has been observed to bring about little effect. On the other hand, AI-powered adaptive learning is opening up boundless possibilities. With the active introduction of high-tech education, efforts are being made to combine it with high-touch education, which requires a drastic change in the role of teachers. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), a limited liability company established and owned by Facebook, is promoting high-touch high-tech learning in partnership with the Summit Public Schools participated by 330 schools with 54,000 students. Its learning program includes three types of student activity: personalized learning, mentoring, and project-based learning. The Summit Learning Platform features content that is customized to individual students’ capacity and needs, allowing them to progress at their own individual pace. Teachers at these schools also mentor 20 students for 60-90 minutes a week; their role is similar to that of homeroom teachers. Notably, however, the teacher-mentor remains consistent throughout the three years of junior high school for more meaningful—and impactful—high touch learning through sustained personal relationships. While the AI-assisted personalized, adaptive learning typically takes place in the mornings, project-based learning usually occurs in the afternoons—allowing for a design that effectively combines high-touch with high-tech education.    

The Cases of India, China, and Russia

Although introduced in the US, AI-assisted personalized education is now expanding globally. The well-known example of Mindspark in India is a case in point. Through an experimental study with a randomized control design, Professor Karthik Muralidharan of USCD and other researchers, demonstrated the positive impacts of a personalized, computer-assisted afterschool program, administered daily for 90 minutes, over a 4.5-month period. Among their sample of 619 middle school students attending public school in Delhi, India, program participants were reported to have improved their scores by 0.37 and 0.23 standard deviations in math and Hindi, respectively. Given that a score difference of 0.25-0.33 standard deviations is known to be approximately equal to one year of schooling, the results of this learning approach are immense. Rather than teaching the same lesson to all students, students are provided instruction—through the personalized, adaptive software developed on the basis of vast data on student performance—that is tailored to individual learning levels and needs, allowing for a far more effective teaching and learning experience.

Empirical research on the effects of computer-assisted learning (CAL) implemented in China and Russia also lends indirect—yet nevertheless highly relevant—credence to the potential of the HTHT approach. When Professor Yue Ma and others examined the impact of CAL with over 4,000 students in rural China, they found that, upon isolating the effects of the increase in the length of learning time and the number of assistants supporting the learning program, the pure effects of technology-based learning were shown to have little to no impact on academic achievement. Corroborating the essence of the HTHT approach, these results reveal that technology-based elements must be complemented by other non-technology based elements, including that of teacher-provided support, for learning to be effective. Research by Professor Eric Bettinger and colleagues of CAL, with approximately 6000 students in Russia, further reinforces this claim that technology alone will not suffice. Their RCT results show that a blended learning model—that incorporates both CAL and traditional, non-technology based learning—proves more optimal than either of the approaches singularly on their own.

3. Education Commission Asia’s mission to provide “High Touch High Tech for All”

In 2019, the Education Commission decided to establish an Asia Hub in Seoul. Asia is home to many countries, like Korea, that have harnessed the power of education to spur their economic growth and democracy. It is now time that Asia takes on a leadership role in igniting and propelling the global learning transformation. In response to these expectations and demands, Education Commission Asia will focus on furthering the mission of “High Touch High Tech for All” and expanding HTHT’s reach in Korea as well as globally.

In order to put into practice, research-based “High Touch High Tech for All,” Education Commission Asia underscores the following four areas of focus. First, Education Commission Asia strives to advance a vision for “High Touch High Tech for All” as a core policy that diminishes educational gaps and inequities and promotes innovation in education. Second, the organization aims to build a global platform that supports the design, experimentation, and expansion of “High Touch High Tech for All” based on rigorous research and empirical evidence. Third, it will implement projects in search of the most effective solutions adaptable to diverse contexts by bringing together various actors including education leaders and professionals; universities, schools, and other educational institutions; edtech companies; national and local governments; civil society; and development cooperation agencies for the expansion of “High Touch High Tech for All.” Fourth, Education Commission Asia will provide support for Korea’s leadership role in contributing to a global learning transformation on the basis of Korea’s accumulated experience and expertise in “High Touch High Tech for All.”

As of 2020, Education Commission Asia is designing and executing four HTHT projects. First, the HTHT Vietnam project, launched by the Education Commission, is now being implemented jointly with Education Commission Asia. Placing a high priority on human resource development, the Vietnamese government requested a pilot HTHT project focused on STEM education. The project was financially supported by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and executed in collaboration with the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training. Technical support was provided by the Adaptive Learning team of Arizona State University in the US, as well as McGraw-Hill’s ALEKS (Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces; a web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system) team, which undertook training for local teachers and consulting on HTHT learning. For this project, four junior high schools—two schools each in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City—were selected, and HTHT education was adopted in seventh grade mathematics following a training program for teachers. The impact evaluation, led by Professor Booyuel Kim and the research team of the KDI School of Public Policy and Management, examined the effect of HTHT education provided during the 2019 fall semester. The evaluation report has been submitted to the Vietnamese government for their review. 

Having successfully executed the HTHT prototype project with participation by the four Vietnamese schools, Education Commission Asia—together with the Education Commission—is now pushing forwards a feasibility study in preparation for a scale-up to 40 schools. For the financing of the project, consultations are currently ongoing with the Asian Development Bank (ADB). One option is to utilize the Korea Trust Fund established at the ADB by Korea’s Ministry of Economy and Finance, in which case, Korean edtech companies are expected to actively participate in the project.

The second is the HTHT Uruguay project. Uruguay, with their active utilization of information and communications technology (ICT), is one of the strongest countries in digital learning in Latin America. Like Vietnam, this project is designed to introduce HTHT education in Uruguay followed by an impact evaluation, with the possibility of further scale-up. It is to be financed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and implemented in collaboration with Uruguay’s Plan Ceibal whose mission is to integrate technology in education for the purpose of greater innovation and inclusion.

The third HTHT project targets Korea’s underprivileged students, including those from low-income or multicultural families and North Korean defectors. These students are in desperate need of human connection with teachers, including care and mentoring, as well as personalized learning necessitated by their often lower achievement levels and difficulty in keeping pace with other students. This research-based practical project aims to provide optimal learning opportunities to all underprivileged students by harmoniously combining AI-based edtech and human connection with teachers. To this end, Education Commission Asia plans to develop collaborative relationships with diverse public and private organizations supporting underprivileged students. Extensive collaboration will also be sought with various support programs of Offices of Education and local governments, as well as with social contribution or corporate social responsibility (CSR) teams of edtech companies.     

The fourth project is an HTHT university consortium that provides support to, and promotes mutual cooperation among, Korean universities wishing to introduce HTHT to their educational curriculum. Manuals will be developed and training and consulting services will be provided for faculty members of universities participating in the consortium. These services will range from the utilization of the Intelligent Tutoring System (ITS) by subject to the overall restructuring of the curriculum.