The nature of education has always shifted alongside advancements in technology. As a new era dawns, wariness and skepticism often flourishes in its wake—and this is more true than ever in the current time of AI expansion. With so much change on the horizon, what can we do to prepare the world of education for artificial intelligence? It’s certainly true that AI will alter the educational landscape in unprecedented ways, and at rapid speeds at that. Still, as educators the world over will attest to, knowledge is power. Understanding AI fully is surely the best method for ensuring it enhances—rather than impedes—students in their pursuit of learning.
What is AI?
Before we can go any further, we need to define what AI is. Artificial intelligence is an umbrella term used for any piece of technology or machinery that simulates human intelligence, typically in the form of computer systems. This ranges from simple, everyday technologies (such as autocorrect or Google Maps) to more powerful machine learning tools and language models such as ChatGPT. This latter technology really exploded onto the scene in 2023 and is arguably the cause of the most recent wave of AI anxiety.
Anyone who has read, researched, or used ChatGPT will understand where this worry comes from. OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, has already reached dizzying heights with their increasingly powerful versions of the ChatGPT chatbots. Add to this the global race to dominate the AI market and it’s easy to understand why many experts have signed an open letter calling for a pause in AI development. But one thing is for certain: With or without a pause, AI will become a bigger part of all our lives in the next few years.
A new learning ethos for teachers and students
In the education sector, alarm bells are going off surrounding students potentially supplanting their academic efforts with research and essays produced by AI. Given the complexity involved in telling whether text is original work or AI generated, some have called for the removal of AI in an educational context altogether. But resistance may be futile. What’s called for, instead, is a new philosophy of learning.
Inevitably, all new technologies find their way to the classroom. From calculators to computers, attempting to prevent integration of prevalent real-world progress rarely goes to plan. So the question then becomes: How can we utilize it? For a long time, educational institutions have relied on assessment styles that focus on memory and comprehension. Given that an AI-powered future means immediate and extensive access to information at any given moment, for education to be effective, students must be able to do more than merely retain knowledge.
The importance of uniquely human skills
This goes to the very core of education itself and the question of why we learn in the first place: Is it out of obligation and necessity, or desire and curiosity? In an AI-powered world, we’ll have to face the fact that humans will never compete with AI when it comes to data retention—but we outshine in uniquely human areas such as reasoning, questioning, and imagination. Indeed, these human skills should be the focus of new learning fueled by creativity and critical thinking.
Using AI responsibly as a student
While this adaptive learning will be essential for future-proofing the skills of students, there should still be limits on AI usage. Just as education now allows for both open- and closed-book exams, there will be instances in which students must prove they’re capable of working independently without the aid of AI. With education that prioritizes the desire to learn, rather than the obligation, this boundary should naturally be respected.
Assignments and essays are a good example of this. AI may enable students to do more expansive research and bridge the gap between areas of study for a new frontier of interdisciplinary study. Still, relying on AI beyond the planning stages of an assignment will prevent a student from developing their own reasoning skills. While writing may not be an area of interest long-term, independent analysis and self-expression are universally important skills—and ones that can only be refined through practices such as essay writing.
The prospect of writing college admission essays fills students with a sense of dread every year. Of course, there’s a lot of anxiety attached to such an exercise, but it’s also an important opportunity for self-expression and reflection. No AI bot can know a student better than a student knows themselves, and while machine learning tools might be able to help with planning or clarity of expression, being able to connect to and demonstrate personal ability will always be necessary, even in this new technological era.
The benefits of AI in education
Now that we’ve covered the need to maintain certain boundaries with AI in a learning context, we can move onto the many potential benefits. Perhaps what’s most exciting is allowing for more bespoke and agile learning practices. The education world has begun to take note of how rigid curriculums can put neurodiverse students at a disadvantage. These traditional teaching structures rely on a one-size-fits-all approach to education, and many individuals slip through the net. AI tools can help address adjustments in learning models for each student and their individual needs. AI learns more about an individual user over time; in this way, it can identify where a student might struggle—and the type of learning they may prefer or benefit from the most.
Not a replacement for teachers
It’s important to note that AI is not a replacement for educators. On the contrary, you can think of it as an incredibly powerful personal tutor working with a student individually while the educator is responsible for the overall class. Ultimately, while AI can be agile in presenting different methods for learning, it cannot reason or empathize. An educator who can tune in to their students’ emotional and developmental health is far too important. But AI could save educators time by taking over time-consuming duties such as grading or lesson planning, leaving them free to focus on the crucial emotional and creative aspects of teaching.
Skills for an AI future
We don’t fully understand all the ways in which AI might develop, so where should students and educators meet this new future? It’s important to understand that AI is not a replacement for human intelligence but intended to augment education and the workplace. We should view it as an opportunity to refocus our attention on what really matters while removing the need to focus on tedious work or knowledge retention. Creativity, critical thinking, and empathy will be the evergreen skills of the future. While oceans of data are available via AI, students must learn to identify what it is they want to access and the right prompts to find information to interpret it.
That’s not to mention that AI is not infallible. It can (and does) replicate human bias and misunderstand information due to its own limitations, lack of context, or subjective experience. Educators who equip students with a flair for creative originality, an awareness of biases, and critical-thinking skills will empower them to achieve their fullest potential.
What AI symbolizes is not an end to the educational sphere as we know it but the extension of learning into a lifelong pursuit that focuses on the very best of human ability. The future will shift focus away from the retention of knowledge to the ongoing pursuit of wisdom. But for that to be true, a new learning ethos must come along with it.
Need help getting ahead of the robots by developing invaluable skills? Start learning with Our Best Advice on Building Important Skills as a Student