Universities, schools and education providers have growing concerns about the effects of the free AI software ChatGPT. Students now have the ability to generate detailed essays on any topic that can beat industry-standard plagiarism software, and many education providers are worried that this could undermine the value of degrees, qualifications and other certifications.

In this article, we examine the risks and opportunities ChatGPT has for education providers and look at what the future holds for AI and the elearning industry.

ChatGPT explained

Launched in November 2022, ChatGPT is a product created by OpenAI, a research laboratory set up by wealthy investors, including Elon Musk. 

According to OpenAI, their mission is to “ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity”. ChatGPT can be used for free by anyone after they’ve set up an account and is a text generation software that responds to prompts. 

As a demonstration, we input the prompt “write a list of US presidents of the 20th century”. An accurate list was written for us in just 20 seconds. As a more complicated prompt, we gave ChatGPT the prompt “write a 2000-word essay on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and the impact he had on the US civil rights movement”. After just one minute, an accurate, lengthy and well-written essay was produced.

With those examples in mind, it’s clear that ChatGPT is a hugely powerful tool that could have large ramifications for educational institutions that rely on essay submissions as an assessment tool.

What issues is ChatGPT causing for education providers?

ChatGPT has been causing concern in schools, universities and among education providers at large. Shortly after its release, schools in Western Australia, and a third of British Russell Group universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, banned students from using the software.

A lecturer from Deakin University in Victoria, Australia, spoke to The Guardian about her concerns that over one-fifth of assessments were found to have used ChatGPT, demonstrating the immediate impact that the AI tool is having on education providers. 

Meanwhile, the ability to submit essays as a form of assessment was revoked at University College London after it was feared that students could submit AI generated work that would get around plagiarism detection software.

As AI gets smarter, education providers at all levels have legitimate concerns that tried-and-tested forms of assessment, such as essays, could be completely undermined. Valuable marking time could also be taken up by looking for indications of AI involvement rather than purely focusing on the quality of the work.

Does ChatGPT open up any opportunities for education providers?

Although ChatGPT brings up some challenges for education providers, it could also open up some exciting opportunities. We listed AI’s role in education as one of our education technology and learning trends to look out for in 2023, and for good reason. For teachers and students alike, there are lots of practical applications that can be used to boost engagement and improve learning outcomes. 

Universities in South Australia have already accepted that ChatGPT could offer benefits to learning and should be embraced, citing it as a useful tool to improve literacy and help learners that have been held back by their struggles with English writing. As AI becomes an ever-increasing part of our lives, other benefits and applications for ChatGPT could be considered by universities and education providers.

Helping students to understand writing styles and tone of voice

Users can instruct ChatGPT to rewrite any passage of text in a certain tone of voice. This could emulate an author’s signature writing style, invoke the speaking style of a famous politician or even write a passage written in the phonetic style of a distinctive accent. 

Although these applications can be seen as a little silly, asking ChatGPT to rewrite pieces of text in different tones of voice can be an effective way to demonstrate to students how they can adjust their writing style to different audiences.

For younger students that struggle to write in standard English, ChatGPT can transform their writing and help them to easily spot the elements of their writing they need to change in order to write in a professional and academic manner.

Helping students for present and explain concepts

Not every discipline or field of education requires strong English language and writing skills, but despite that fact, many learning environments require students to present and explain concepts using exemplary language and advanced English skills. 

Although ChatGPT should only be reinterpreting information that students have researched and collected themselves, using ChatGPT to turn detailed notes into an easy-to-understand speech or explainer removes the unfair bias the educational system can have towards those that have an advanced understanding of English and writing.

A source of easy-to-comprehend information

ChatGPT can be used as a research tool, much in the same way as Google. Although it’s always worth double-checking the information it gives you, it can be relied upon to explain complicated concepts in simple terms.

Similar to how an author of a textbook would use multiple sources to write a clear and understandable paragraph, ChatGPT can pull in many sources from the Internet and rewrite them in a succinct manner, allowing users to get fast answers to complicated questions. 

For teachers and tutors, this interactive style of questions and answers isn’t that dissimilar to the learning style of a seminar. Students can be encouraged to get access to interactive learning environments around the clock and be inquisitive through software like ChatGPT and get more compelling answers than they would through directory-style browsers such as Google.

What does the future hold for ChatGPT and education providers?

Universities and education providers are already becoming wise to the risks ChatGPT poses to academic integrity, and they’re taking steps to mitigate these risks speedily. 

Plagiarism detection software company Turnitin, used by tens of thousands of universities and schools around the world, announced a ChatGPT detection tool, which would allow education providers to accurately test whether or not a student had used the software to generate an essay. 

Despite these attempts to get ahead of ChatGPT, many universities may still find themselves one step behind. OpenAI has already announced that ChatGPT’s successor, GPT 4, is now available for paid OpenAI users. Reportedly 100 times more powerful  than its predecessor, education providers may feel defeated in their efforts to catch up with AI software.

However, rather than posing more problems for the education sector, GPT 4 aims to be a help, not a hindrance, to those who are keen to improve access to learning. OpenAI has introduced exciting applications in language translation, visual impairment tools, and now provides more considered and reasoned answers to questions. 

This upgrade is aimed at producing a better, more responsible piece of software than the previous iteration. In other words, AI is here to create more opportunities for learning, not get in the way of them.

AI and learning’s relationship has had a rapid evolution, and there are likely to be more twists and turns to come. 

Keeping up with the latest developments may be nail-biting for education providers, but ultimately should provide them with many exciting ideas and opportunities to advance learning and open up new channels for engagement, improving educational outcomes in the process.

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Joshua Stoneham

With an unpredictable year just gone and uncertainty on the horizon, many people are asking what the landscape of education will look like for providers and learners in 2023.

With education providers working with students to learn the skills they need to boost their pay packets and professional potential, how can learners and providers stay one step ahead of the curve? Read on to find out what trends will be making an impact on the EdTech industry in 2023.

Students signing up to a subscription model of learning

Subscription learning has been a growing trend for some time and could be a cost-effective way for students to gain regular access to education without the need for many different one-off payments. 

A study from Barclaycard found that British people spent £620 a year on subscriptions, whilst a survey from PwC found that Australian households spent $4500 a year on various subscription services. Consumers are keen to keep their subscriptions locked in, and this could be a trend that spills over into the education sector.

There are many pros to learners opting for a subscription learning model. Learners can get constant access to valuable courses without making large, up-front financial commitments. Furthermore, subscription learning suits a gamification model, which can be used to entice students to take on more courses or set up learning goals to work towards.

Greater focus on hybrid learning

As large companies buy up valuable office real estate, some have questioned whether the work-from-home trend will continue. However, with studies finding that working from home can boost wellbeing and increase productivity, it’s likely that a hybrid model may emerge as a natural compromise. 

This trend could also be reflected when it comes to the education sector. For employees receiving in-work training, having a balance between in-person and online learning could be the ideal mix going forward. 

Providers looking to entice learners to enrol in their courses may find that a blended approach can appeal to those who want to get the best benefits from both in-person and online learning.

Providers using AI to their advantage

ChatGPT caused an uproar in 2023 when it was revealed that students were relying on it to write AI-generated essays that were indistinguishable from ones written by real people. However, rather than becoming an enemy of education providers, AI tools like this could have a positive impact. 

Most notably, ChatGPT is a great shortcut for teachers who are short on time. A teacher interviewed by Education Week described how they could generate multiple examples of paragraphs written in different tones using ChatGPT in order to show students how to vary their writing depending on the audience and intent. 

Meanwhile, FE News pointed out how neurodivergent students can use ChatGPT to reword or rearticulate questions or texts to make them easier to understand. This is ideal for providers who use online learning, as it can act as a constant answer to questions or solve any confusion around tasks for distance learners who might not have 24/7 access to a teacher or tutor.

AI can also be used to auto-generate closed captions, which can help students engage and understand content in an online setting. With a variety of new note-taking AIs hitting the market, both learners and teachers can quickly search for specific information in seconds out of an hour-long lecture or learning session. 

The main takeaway when it comes to AI is that it’s a fast-growing area that will affect every industry and business, and education is no exception to that rule. For providers who want to stay ahead of the curve, understanding how they can use AI to their advantage is vital.

Learning based on delivering positive career outcomes and inflation-busting pay rises

Although countries like Australia may dodge a recession, large nations like the US and the UK are predicted to have economic downturns in 2023. This means that students might look to education as a way to boost their salaries in a cost of living crisis, with learning giving them a chance to step up to higher salaries or new, higher-paying jobs in the next 12 months. 

Learners in the UK will be looking to give their employers more reasons to boost their pay in order to keep up with their salaries in the face of huge drops in real wage growth, whilst those looking to take advantage of record numbers of vacancies will want to give their CVs a boost in order to find the most lucrative work possible.

Worldwide rises in inflation mean that providers around the globe will need to show learners how they can help them access inflation-busting wage rises and job roles and give learners a clear idea of the job outcomes they can expect from courses. Putting a focus on practical, effective courses that are focused on specific career outcomes might be music to the ears of learners in and out of work.

Providers who want to make the most out of the next 12 months and engage learners in new and interesting ways have plenty of ways to do it.

Keeping an eye on the trends set out in this article can help you to be one step ahead of the biggest learning trends and connect with more learners in 2023.

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Joshua Stoneham
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