WGU and CMU Partner to Develop AI-Enabled Career Guidance Technology

October 16, 2018

National Science Foundation awards universities $700,000 grant to kick off 3-year research project

SALT LAKE CITY — (October 15, 2018) The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Western Governors University’s Center for Applied Learning Science (CALS) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) a grant to support a project partnership designed to help students navigate the increasingly complex employment landscape. The $700,000 grant will be awarded to the two institutions over three years.

Bringing together leaders in human-computer interaction, machine learning, AI, and education, the project partnership strives to forge acceptable and effective paths toward career growth, community connection, and wellbeing within a constantly changing career landscape. Data-driven learning about the student experience will inform the development of “Intelligent Coaching Agents,” trained to guide students to practical resources, including human career coaches and peers, in order to lead them to decisions that ultimately improve their chances for success.

“WGU is one of the nation's largest online universities, serving a population of working individuals seeking career transitions in the face of a dramatically changing career landscape,” said Dr. Carolyn Rosé, Professor of Language Technologies and Human-Computer Interaction at CMU. "We’re building a sociotechnical solution that can have a real-world impact on decision making. This partnership offers the opportunity for tremendous impact with populations who need the support most.”

The aim of the project is to make career guidance more readily available to students by augmenting human effort with AI-enabled insight into data from past students who completed WGU degree programs. It builds on a foundation in computational modeling informed by theories of human behavior, embodied within a novel paradigm of Socially-Sensitive Reinforcement Learning (SSRL). Ultimately, the goal is to enhance, not replace, the support students receive from career counselors and fellow students. 

“WGU is thrilled to be working in partnership with the team at Carnegie Mellon. Their track record for creating new paradigms that leverage technology to advance human learning aligns perfectly with WGU’s mission and model,” said Jason Levin, Executive Director of CALS at WGU Labs. “We have the opportunity to design a scientifically sound, data-driven model that improves the student experience and, most importantly, outcomes.”

The project is designed to facilitate transition of the research directly into practice at large scale through deployment to WGU students. While the project will be housed inside WGU systems, the resulting innovations have the potential to transform how technology is used to deliver career guidance within institutions of higher education, as well as in a workplace setting.

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