Don’t run away from AI. Leverage it.

January 26, 2024

The party is about to get bigger and louder. Through all of the conversations around ChatGPT over the last few months, we’ve heard the doomsday prophets describe its devastating impact on the learning landscape. Now, two cousins, Bard from Google and Ernie from China’s Baidu, will enter the festivities (if Ernie can get his visa cleared).

With their arrivals, the commotion will become more raucous about the potential for academic dishonesty and the dumbing down of learners as unlimited information can now be synthesized and cobbled together through generative AI.

Thoughtful commentary has been flowing about ways to dampen the effects of these tools. Professors are bringing back blue books to require essays to be written in longhand. Cheerleaders for the humanities are rallying around a resurgence of the Socratic Method and new courses to be introduced around empathy, presentation skills and creativity. These are all helpful suggestions that would reinvigorate classrooms and corporate training events.

As someone who spends most of his time rethinking how we engage learners, changing the quality and type of content being presented will make learning more relevant. However, most of the solutions I read about are relying on faculty members or trainers themselves to do the hard work of adapting teaching to this new technology.

There is a better solution. Let’s put the onus on transforming how we learn in the age of regenerative AI on the learners themselves. Let’s force more interaction between learners and then use the data and knowledge generated by Ernie, Bard and ChatGPT to catalyze more experiential learning by doing and practicing. Let’s allow learners to lean into these technologies to sift and structure content and then create the environment for them to apply and argue about whatever these tools spit out.

Here’s an example. Our firm has been working for the last few years on creating adaptive assessments for senior leaders of companies to immerse themselves into a fictitious fact pattern to see how they use emotional intelligence, analytical skills and courage not only to design a solution to the problem, but also to build consensus around their ideas. It’s fun to watch.

These seasoned executives “play” with a case based inside or outside their industries, using current tools. They will be able to lean on Ernie to give them the probable impact on market share during high inflation. They can ask Bard to write a marketing campaign to highlight attributes of a product. They can rely on ChatGPT to synthesize the five-point plan for what makes the environment ripe for a product to be introduced.

The question then becomes: “So what?” So, what do you do with this information?

You tease it out. You reprioritize it based on your skills and insights. You make tough calls about what you should actually do because of the human impact of a decision. You question differently. You act. You practice. You learn.

We shouldn’t limit this to adult learners, however. One of the most interesting things I’ve been involved in over the last two years is teaching MBA-level Harvard Business School case studies to high school students interested in entrepreneurship. While their knowledge of accounting and strategy frameworks isn’t as developed as older students, they learn to make an argument, they learn to settle on a solution, and they learn to collaborate with each other to develop a point of view.

So, here’s what I say. Let’s welcome Bard, Ernie, ChatGPT and the others that are certain to follow into our classrooms and training rooms. Then, let’s lean on the learners to take the mishmash of content that gets produced and ask them to apply it, articulate the outcomes in new ways and argue with each other to get to better solutions than the impersonal, soulless ones that the new guests to the party create.

February 7, 2023

John Tolsma is founder and CEO of Knowledge Launch, a Knoxville-based learning and development agency serving Fortune 500 global clients. He also is a former board chair of the Webb School of Knoxville.