Education in the time of AI: 6 shifts the world needs to make

9 min read

Education & Career Trends: June 8, 2023
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS

AI has developed at the speed of light, evolving from niche applications restricted to the very few to widely accessible powerful tools like Chat GPT today. 

Two weeks ago, I wrote about recent advancements in generative AI, as exemplified by Chat GPT, Dall-E, Midjourney, etc., and their potential to unleash progress for humanity at a scale never before seen. In this article, I’ll spend some time exploring one sector in particular that has been plagued with uncertainty and disruption since the birth of AI. The Education industry.

The earliest successful AI program was written in 1951 by Christopher Strachey, later director of the Programming Research Group at the University of Oxford. For 4 decades after that initial breakthrough, AI largely remained the subject of academic research papers, inaccessible to most. Then in 1997, the world took notice when Deep Blue by IBM became the first computer to beat a chess grandmaster using AI.

Since that point, AI has developed at the speed of light, evolving from niche applications restricted to the very few to widely accessible powerful tools like Chat GPT today. 

When it comes to education specifically, there have been two major inflection points with respect to AI:

The first major inflection point:

The first inflection point happened in 1998 with the advent of powerful AI-driven search engines like Google. Until that point, the only way a student could learn was from the head of a teacher or from books in a physical library. Information, therefore, was scarce and controlled by the powerful few: professors, teachers, and educational institutions. You had to pay expensive fees to gain access to this ‘information kingdom’. Google and other search engines broke the monopoly on information that existed. All of a sudden, a child in rural Africa could access more information than someone who had done a PhD at Oxford a decade before. Students could teach themselves using technology, for free. All they needed was a smartphone and a data connection.

The second major inflection point:

While search engines radically democratised access to the world’s vast trove of knowledge, they simply listed thousands of links with information on a certain topic. They did not synthesise or analyse that information and did not generate anything creative or novel. Until generative AI like Chat GPT.

Today, generative AI can provide both information and insights, synthesis, and creativity. It can generate poetry, write music, answer questions like a human being, write essays, and put thoughts together into a cohesive narrative. It can think critically and has some semblance of justice. These incredible functionalities are mind-boggling for educators worldwide and therefore appear threatening. But they do not have to be.

If you are an educator or run the learning and development function in a corporate setting, there are 6 shifts I believe we need to make to continue to develop human potential in these times of AI:

1. Original thought will now be more important than ever

Using natural language processing, Chat GPT scours the internet to find existing ideas and content and then puts them together in accordance with existing patterns it has seen. Therefore, in the time of AI, schools and corporations need to learn how to teach critical thinking skills more than ever. Those who can form unconventional, bold ideas or create new patterns, will be those we consider ‘educated’. Daring to challenge the status quo will differentiate leaders from their followers.

The central question every school or corporation should be asking now is 

How do I teach people to think for themselves? How do I create a culture where people feel safe enough to share unconventional or unpopular ideas? How are you driving your students or staff to think from ‘first principles’?

2. Asking the right questions will become more important than knowing the right answers

For centuries, education has been about finding (or remembering) the right answers. I remember memorizing times tables and the spelling of words and being rewarded for knowing the formulas for various chemicals in chemistry class. With AI tools today that can provide intelligent-sounding answers, we need to get better at teaching students how to ask good questions. The more we learn how to ask the right questions,  the more valuable the answers we get from AI systems, and the more useful insights we will have as humans. 

How can you redesign your teaching and learning to reward the asking of questions instead of the memorisation of answers? 

“The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.” Claude Levi-Strauss

3. We need to move from “just in case” education to “just in time” learning

Today, most education focuses on filling our minds with all sorts of facts and figures just in case we ever need to use them. However, the reality is that we quickly forget those facts and figures, and the world is changing so quickly that they become irrelevant, even when we remember them. ‘Just in time’ education is not about memorising facts and figures. Instead, the end goal is to ‘‘learn how to learn’ and to ‘learn how to solve problems’.

Chat GPT then just becomes a tool in our learning arsenal. 

In a world where facts are ever more abundant, what are you doing to teach general problem-solving skillsHow are you enabling your staff or your students to see themselves as lifelong learners who constantly update their knowledge without being prompted? 

4. Application of learning to the real world will become more important than theory

Research from various cognitive experts has shown that the most effective ways to acquire skills are as follows: 10% from traditional classroom learning; 20% from ‘developmental relationships’ (interactions with peers, mentors, and coaches); and 70% from real-world experience. Simply put, we learn best by doing. So while Chat GPT can make the 10% more efficient, it can’t replace the 20% (human relationships) or the 70% (real-world experience). 

So the best educational institutions and corporate learning environments will be those that focus on creating space for debates, peer-to-peer learning, structured mentorship and coaching, and most importantly, real-world, hands-on learning by doing. The most impressive talent in the future will not be those who test well- it will be those who go into the real world and apply their learning. This is what our learning model at African Leadership University has been based on since we founded it in 2013, and we find that it develops people far better than traditional methods. It is also ‘ChatGPT-proof’.

No AI can replace human relationships or real-world applications.

What are you doing to get your students or staff out of the classroom and into the real world? How are you throwing young professionals into the deep end so they grow by stumbling, picking themselves up and learning from their actual successes or failures?

5. The ability to integrate silos will become more crucial

AI is brilliant at creating tools to perform very specific functions. For example, AI tools exist to create art, music, or essays. AI machine vision can detect skin cancer, create a 3D map of a room, etc. Soon there will be millions of tools that can optimise every little thing we can think of.  But the world does not work in silos. The most brilliant solutions are often found at the intersection of different disciplines. Therefore, humans with architectural/design thinking will be more important than ever. As will the ability to integrate different functionalities to achieve a desired outcome. Those who know the pros and cons of various tools, and who understand how they fit together will be prized. The ability to integrate systems, and optimise components to function together will be more necessary.

The good news is that this will create a whole new set of jobs in technology that do not require intense levels of coding. ChatGPT and other tools will write code for various functions. But humans will need to architect the various functions into a greater whole. 

How are you helping your people to see the bigger picture and connect the dots? How are you teaching systems thinking in your school or company?

6. ‘Why’ will matter more than ‘what’’

In the past, many people went to school or took a corporate training program without understanding the higher purpose of their education. But in today’s world where a lot of the ‘what’ is being figured out by AI, the why is becoming more crucial. Let’s face it, the world’s problems are not going away. If anything, they are getting worse. We face climate change, poverty, infrastructural challenges, pandemics, the destruction of our environment, gender and racial injustice, energy challenges, food insecurity, and the prospect of another world war. The list goes on and on. AI by itself cannot solve these problems. So now, more than ever, people need to have a reason to want to solve problems and a reason to learn.

I believe that educational institutions today, therefore, need to see their role as igniting a ‘fire’ in young people, to get them to care about the world’s problems and see its great opportunities for progress. Schools should create environments that inspire students to find their purpose because they now have highly efficient tools that can enable them to follow that purpose. But only if they have one. If we can do this, then we will unleash an unstoppable army of problem solvers with powerful weapons that can change the world. 

What are you doing to get your students or employees to ‘give a damn’ about global problems? How are you reinforcing the higher purpose that AI tools can be used to solve? How do you light a fire to make a difference in a person? That is now your job.

Education has always been a powerful lever for driving rapid progress in humanity. By adapting these 6 shifts (and others we can think of), every teacher, corporate executive, education ministry, school and university need not fear AI. In fact, by leaning into AI, we can define a golden age of education that will unleash yet another wave of human-driven progress in the world.

Have you checked out yesterday’s blog yet?

How to Increase Self-Motivation

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article mentioned above are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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