February 9, 2023

Deconstructing ChatGPT on the Future of Continuing Education

Released on Nov. 30, ChatGPT and GPT-3.5 were publicly unveiled by OpenAI—a leader in generative artificial intelligence. I wondered what this release might mean for the future of continuing higher education. Of course, nothing had yet been written about the potential of this just-released version, so I asked ChatGPT to write a short poem about it. In just three seconds, far faster than I could have typed the words, the poem was complete on my screen:

In 2022, AI has come to play
A crucial role in education today
It helps us learn in new and novel ways
And opens up a world of endless possibilities

With AI by our side, we can go further
And learn more than we ever thought we could
It helps us to explore and discover
And to unlock the secrets of the world

Gone are the days of rote memorization
Now, we can learn at our own pace
With AI as our guide, our education
Is more personalized and full of grace

So let us embrace this new technology
And let it lead us to a brighter future
Where education is always within reach
And knowledge is ours to discover.

Let’s deconstruct the poem and look closely at what ChatGPT has referenced.

AI has come to play a crucial role in education today; It helps us learn in new and novel ways. Yes! Because of AI, we are coming to offer new forms of pedagogy. Heutagogy will take great leaps forward. As PowerSchool explains, “Heutagogy, otherwise known as self-determined learning, is a student-centered instructional strategy. It emphasizes the development of autonomy, capacity, and capability. The goal of heutagogy? To teach lifelong learning.” That, of course, is at the core of continuing education. Our role in higher education shifts in the case of heutagogy, from codifying and providing knowledge to supporting the lifelong goals of learners to direct their own learning.

Clearly, as the poem puts it, this opens up a world of endless possibilities. With those possibilities come the challenges of how we, as educators, can best support and facilitate the “autonomy, capacity, and capability” of learners. These advancements, and those surely to come in the months and years ahead, will enable AI to serve as a viable learning assistant—providing research, new concepts and stimulating creativity among the learner-user.

The second verse notes that AI enables us to explore and discover. And to unlock the secrets of the world. This certainly is true, because GPT continuously browses the internet to update and expand its knowledge base with new information, associations and creative solutions to pressing problems. Generative AI refers to unsupervised and semisupervised machine learning algorithms that enable computers to use existing content like text, audio and video files, images, and even code to create new possible content.

The third verse triggers associations with key emerging advances. The end to days of rote memorization foreshadows the emergence of such technologies as Neuralink, the implant that is under development to link brains wirelessly to human computers, providing a sort of embedded virtual memory. Elon Musk, the owner of the company, suggests that human trials are expected to come as early as 2023. This technology promises brain access to the internet as seamlessly as if it were part of the human memory. The third verse goes further, noting that now, we can learn at our own pace; With AI as our guide, our education; Is more personalized and full of grace. This is a clear reference to self-paced adaptive learning. In this approach, learners are already guided to mastery of learning objectives through computer-driven assessments that prescribe specific resources to overcome misunderstandings and incomplete learning in each module of the class. In this way learners are presented personalized, adaptive and customized paths to ensure optimal learning.

In the final verse, the poem suggests that in sum, this technology will lead us to a brighter future; Where education is always within reach: And knowledge is ours to discover. In this verse, we are told by ChatGPT that its underlying technology will enable universal access that will be in reach for the masses. This is a bright and attainable future for lifelong continuing learning.

OpenAI, in the 3.5 version, has also gone to significant effort to protect the system from providing harmful, hateful, violent and other unintended content to users:

ChatGPT also refuses to answer many potentially harmful questions (related to topics such as hate speech, violent content, or how to build a bomb) because the answers would go against its “programming and purpose.” OpenAI achieved this through both a special prompt it prepends to all input and by using a technique called Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback (RLHF), which can fine-tune an AI model based on how humans rate its generated responses.

Of course, there are also hiccups and other biases that come with the current version, which will need to be refined over time. However, the early response by academics who have tested ChatGPT is generally amazement at the speed, quality and depth of insight. Bloomberg assembled some responses from a variety of early users: “A new chatbot created by artificial intelligence non-profit OpenAI Inc. has taken the internet by storm, as users speculated on its ability to replace everything from playwrights to college essays.” Responses included those who said ChatGPT could pass their class and this marks the end of the take-home 1,000-word essay.

I encourage readers to try out ChatGPT themselves. Simply go to https://chat.openai.com.

Envision how this technology will enable you to refine and extend learning opportunities for your students. Who at your institution is preparing to implement GPT to enhance services, research and learning?