The University of 2050/Personalizing Curricula



Variations in the modern higher education system reflect the diversity of individuals and their beliefs alongside career and industry demands. Universities of 2050 will remain unique, but flexible curricula will enhance higher education across the board. Higher education institutions seek to produce well-rounded students who will succeed in competitive and dynamic environments -- a selfless mission underscored by efforts to improve university reputations. Curriculum changes cannot jeopardize these goals, so social and technological developments will be equally vital in building the new educational landscape. "Personalizing Curricula" encompasses adapting core curricula, transitioning from "majors" to "focus areas", prioritizing skills-based education, tailoring course difficulty and pace via asynchronous study, and adopting tools such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI) alongside traditional content delivery techniques. This chapter will address the role of AI in personalizing curricula, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the current system and social barriers to implementing new technology.

Historical Context


Variety Among Curricula


Unlike K-12 schools whose graduation and curriculum requirements often fall under state governments, university deans and faculty shape higher education with external pressure from students, alumni, accreditation boards, and industry professionals. In 2023, the University of Pennsylvania's College of Arts and Sciences is a case study for core-curriculum-based programs. Students in the college must take courses in Society, History & Tradition, Arts & Letters, Humanities & Social Sciences, The Living World, The Physical World, and Natural Science Across Disciplines to supplement specialized major courses.[1] The University believes an excellent education transcends degree requirements. Brown University's Open Curriculum approaches excellence differently. In 1966, Elliot Maxwell and Ira Magaziner formed the Group Independent Study Project (GISP) to reimagine Brown's curriculum with 25 students and faculty members. They suggested the complete elimination of distribution requirements and a Satisfactory/No Credit option for all courses, prioritizing student needs. A Brown University degree in 2023 consists of, at least, 30 courses,1 set of concentration requirements, and demonstrated writing competence. [2] Students may engage with topics of interest across disciplines or specialize in one. Both Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania cultivate future leaders with expertise in one or more subjects and exposure to a variety of others. AI-powered personalized curricula offer unforeseen benefits that might augment existing systems.

Existing Forms of Personalized Curricula


Personalized curricula existed in K-12 and higher education before the AI boom. Khan Academy, founded by Salman Khan in 2008, sets the standard for “personalized”. Students can take any course, in any subject, at any time, and monitor their own progress online. Khan’s goal was to “provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere”[3]. The website offers instructional videos and practice problems for math, science, computing, history, art history, economics, standardized test prep, and more at K-12 and Advanced Placement levels. The programs are supplementary to a school education, but Khan’s format can be extrapolated to an asynchronous university program. The University of Wisconsin Madison demonstrates the feasibility of self-guided learning with its Technical Project Management course for adults. The course beings with a self-assessment in 4 key competencies: strategic thinking, project execution, team management, and project leadership[4]. Each students selects a goal within one of the competencies that they would like to master. The initial assessment serves as an individual learning benchmark, and students work in teams throughout the semester with a dashboard to monitor progress. Students use the dashboards to provide feedback to each other, and faculty supplement that feedback while providing the means to apply skills and solve problems. UW-Madison’s Online Professional Master’s in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Web Map Programming extends the concept to an entire degree program. Students receive skill medals for courses they choose to complete, and medals “stack” to demonstrate expertise within a particular technology or subject to employers. AI will supplement these programs, improving the quality of feedback and streamlining dashboards to guarantee sufficient progress.

The Introduction of AI


Large language models (LLMs) are AI programs trained to recognize and generate text, and LLM products can drastically improve the efficiency of teaching and learning new material. ChatGPT, released in November 2022, sparked a boom in Chatbots that predated relevant legislation. Universities struggle to address the capacity of Chatbots to complete coursework, and the university of the future must decide not whether, but how to embrace LLMs in evaluating student performance. How can students be taught to use LLMs as a tool, without undermining their ability to grasp the basics of a new skill or concept? At the University of Virginia, students in Professor Peter Norton's Engineering Ethics and Professional Responsibility course are encouraged to utilize AI to enhance group discussions. In teams of 3 or 4, students teach and learn previously assigned books without doing the reading. Norton encourages his class to use AI or other resources to summarize the key teachings of novels, so students are exposed to the ideas of at least 3 authors a semester with added analysis by their peers. By encouraging students to "cut corners" in a beneficial way, Norton prevents AI from disrupting his goals as an educator. Following in Norton's footsteps, those who build curricula today will interact with LLMs and write AI policies, eventually harnessing AI to personalize the higher education experience. Many workplaces already embrace AI tools, and industry drives change in universities. The final years of college support a transition from student norms to professional norms, so professors should encourage their classes to lean into industry standards of conduct and technology. By 2050, Chatbots will guide students through course selection, aid students in understanding their individual learning styles, provide personalized feedback on assignments, and allow teachers to devote class time to collaborative work that is uniquely human-centric.

The Future of Education


How Artificial Intelligence (AI) Will Shape the Future


Artificial Intelligence is poised to revolutionize the basis of education, shaping a future where personalized and adaptive learning experiences are the norm. Offering solutions that promise a new era of innovation and efficiency, AI is reshaping the delivery, experience, and assessment of education in universities. Its potential lies in tailoring educational content and pace to individual needs and preferences through algorithms, enabling a more customized learning approach. Personalized learning paths will ensure that each student receives an education uniquely tailored to their specific needs. AI will also serve as a tool to identify areas where additional support is needed. AI algorithms can analyze vast amounts of data, providing insights into an individual's performance to shape learning paths that foster a deeper understanding of class material. By continuously collecting and processing student performance data, educators gain valuable knowledge to determine the pace, difficulty, and content according to each student's needs. This approach ensures a more effective and engaging learning environment that appropriately challenges students to prevent boredom and frustration.

The accessibility and inclusion of students with disabilities or diverse learning needs are imperative in education. Professors consistently emphasize their commitment to creating a fair learning environment. At the University of Virginia, the Student Disability Access Center (SDAC) assists students with learning disabilities in overcoming barriers in the classroom. The integration of AI-powered assistive technologies will revolutionize accessibility and inclusion and improve centers like SDAC. AI can offer tailored solutions to address individual challenges to remove learning barriers. For example, speech-to-text and text-to-speech software can enable students with hearing impairments or dyslexia to engage more effectively with educational content. This not only enhances content comprehension but also facilitates communication and participation in classroom discussions.

AI's impact extends beyond student experience's to enhance educators' roles as well. By automating administrative tasks like grading and attendance tracking, AI gives educators more time to encourage creativity, foster critical thinking, and focus on guiding students to the utmost potential. Additionally educators are provided with simulations driven by AI, creating interactive learning environments through real-world scenarios. Educators can use these simulations to create a deeper understanding of concepts by applying classroom-taught principles to real-life situations, fostering the development of problem-solving skills. The integration of AI in real-world simulations involves adjusting scenarios according to a student's responses, ensuring that each individual encounters personalized challenges tailored to their unique skills.

As artificial intelligence continues to advance, it has the potential to foster educational equality, providing high-quality learning experiences to global and diverse student populations. This progress maximizes the benefits of technology, shaping the future of education as a harmonious blend of human expertise, AI, and focus-area learning.

Ethical Considerations


The responsible use of AI in education is crucial for maintaining trust and safeguarding student information, considering the genuine risks individuals may unknowingly face. [5] The data used to train algorithms poses a potential risk due to outdated information, leading to algorithmic bias and discrimination that could reinforce existing educational inequalities. Achieving a system without algorithmic bias requires collaboration of the entire university community, including educators, students, and administration. Ethical considerations also extend to matters of academic integrity. The public availability to AI resources, such as ChatGPT, has led to instances where students utilized these tools to complete assignments or essays, raising concerns among professors. Introducing an approach that encourages responsible use of AI while upholding principles of authenticity is crucial to the preservation of academic integrity. While factual knowledge remains crucial, AI must evolve to implement human-centric aspects, such as passion creativity and interpersonal skills, Education is not merely about the accumulation of knowledge but also about nurturing the inherent capabilities and qualities that make us uniquely human. This approach will integrate AI as an enabler rather than a substitute for human interaction and creativity. As universities embrace the opportunities presented by AI, it becomes imperative to address the ethical challenges. This ensures that the benefits of AI are utilized responsibly, shaping a future in which education is characterized not only by intelligence but also by inclusivity and ethical principles.

Long-Term Impact


The integration of AI into university curricula has the potential to revolutionize teaching and learning, paving the way for a more student-centered approach to education. By customizing education to individual needs and learning styles, AI boosts academic performance and retention rates while deepening subject understanding through personalized reinforcement. This approach also will cultivate critical thinking skills, empowering students to take ownership of their education. Students will be prepared to be lifelong learners, equipped to thrive in a rapidly changing world. This will lead to a generation of resilient and adaptable individuals poised to make meaningful contributions to society. Over time, as AI algorithms continue to analyze vast amounts of data and refine their recommendations, personalized learning paths can adapt to the evolving needs and preferences of the students, ensuring that education remains relevant and effective.

Enduring Principles in Higher Education


Although the University of 2050 promises heightened student success, some aspects of the present learning experience will persist. Humanities are indispensable for a well rounded education, so any personalized curricula will include soft sciences. The humanities shape daily life by exposing students to critical thinking techniques and communication skills, history, culture, language and art.[6] People need humanities to socialize and live a fulfilling life, as they equip students with an ethics toolkit to make decisions they can be proud of. As philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it".

Key classroom activities that have existed for decades will also prevail in the University of 2050. Group interaction, be it through group work, projects, presentations, etc. will still consume much of the primarily skill-based 2050 education. Simple tasks such as listening to other perspectives and cooperating for a shared goal help students become active participants in their learning and develop as problem-solvers, negotiators, leaders, critical thinkers, and time managers.[7] Team activities also teach students to use their individual strengths and expertise to refine their ideas in a way that can be easily communicated with peers.

Methods of evaluation will exist in the age of AI, even within a personalized system. Some believe that exams and graded assignments will cease to exist in 2050 due to the automated nature of feedback and the wide variety of course combinations to fill an individual's curriculum. However, it will still be pertinent to demonstrate expertise in material and progress along one's path through milestones. AI will be able to provide personalized evaluations with regards to a student's learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses, challenging students to apply concepts and knowledge to the real world. One might think, if AI is automating feedback, won't other class elements such as lectures become automated, making a professor-led classroom obsolete? The short answer is no, as professors play a key role in student success. According to a study by the Azusa Pacific University in 2022, students are more likely to perform well in classes when there is a shared connection with the instructor, since professors foster a sense of mentorship and community [8]. In the University of 2050, professors will be able to dedicate more time to students and their tailored needs while AI handles administrative tasks. That time might manifest as office hours, additional lab and research experiences for undergraduates, or one-on-one meetings about academic pathway concerns and career goals. Building strong professional relationships with faculty in one's university years prepares students to navigate the complex hierarchy of the workplace.


  1. "The Purpose of the Curriculum | College of Arts & Sciences - University of Pennsylvania". Retrieved 2023-12-04.
  2. "History". Brown University. Retrieved 2023-12-04.
  3. "What is the history of Khan Academy?". Khan Academy. 2024-04-24. Retrieved 2024-04-24.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. "Personalized learning is key to meeting students' needs in higher education". Professional Degrees & Certificates. 2018-01-22. Retrieved 2024-04-24.
  5. Kamalov, Firuz; Santandreu Calonge, David; Gurrib, Ikhlaas (16 August 2023). "New Era of Artificial Intelligence in Education: Towards a Sustainable Multifaceted Revolution". MDPI.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
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  7. "Group Work | UNSW Teaching Staff Gateway". Retrieved 2023-12-05.
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