As the summer turns to fall, at campuses around the country, the academic season shifts from internships and faculty teaching preparations to a beehive of classroom activity. AI and Education in the Age of Super-Learning.
This year feels different. With the acceleration of generative AI (GenAI), and tools like Bard, ChatGPT, and Claude, making the rounds, high emotions are doing the rounds amongst students, staff, and faculty, as well.
I share many of these – anxiety about what this means for the classroom and fear for what this means for humanity, but above all, I feel excitement about the technology’s potential to transform how we learn, especially in the context of business education. With all the advances in technology we have seen over the past two decades, GenAI unlocks unparalleled potential for business students, and all of us, to become Super-Learners.
How to be a Super Learner?
The pursuit of knowledge begins with asking the “right” questions. The first question is rarely the right question, so our process is iterative: initial questions help us discover new information, equipping us to ask better questions along our journey. This is a self-driven approach that places the burden on us to ask the right questions.
While the rise of Internet search engines enabled us to quickly ask questions and receive answers, GenAI further simplifies the entire process of asking questions and discovering information. The fact that GenAI directly responds to the literal prompts provided makes it much more personalized than search engine-based discovery. This reduces our burden of coming up with the right questions as we can chart our path of Q&A, in the manner we prefer, and at the speed we feel comfortable.
Furthermore, with GenAI our ability to transfer learning is also compounded. For example, GenAI is not only excellent at translating human languages (i.e., English to Spanish) and programming languages (i.e., Python to C++), but also transforming human languages to computer languages (i.e., English to Python or R).
The emergence of GenAI has created a transformative shift in how we learn and the scale at which we can learn.
Super Learning in a Business Education
The proliferation of new technologies like GenAI has an immediate ripple effect on business education. The rise of Data Science, Business Analytics, and AI programs across the world is perhaps the most conspicuous indicator of macro-level adaptations. However, on a smaller level, there are subtle yet tremendous changes to how business students and faculty are applying cognitive, interpersonal, and teaching skills.
For business students, the emergence of GenAI requires developing specific cognitive as well as interpersonal, and social skills. GenAI is a fantastic assistant at generating ideas but learning the critical thinking skills to distill these ideas and make a decision is now even more important. Cognitive skills also include data and technology literacy that enables a better understanding of AI technology and how we can leverage it.
Interpersonal and social skills – also cast as leadership and teamwork – have always been a critical component of business success and business education. Successful development of these skills requires empathy, and GenAI has great potential to assist students. For instance, using role-playing prompts with GenAI can help us take some steps toward understanding the perspectives of those with different views. Prompts such as “explain something to me as an [expert in engineering/marketing/strategy, or a child]” are another great way to enhance such cross-disciplinary empathy.
I am excited to see how GenAI enhances and facilitates the development of these skills across business courses, which often feature team-based learning components.
At the USC Marshall School of Business, I’ve also been fascinated by how different instructors are leveraging GenAI to enhance their teaching in very different ways. One professor uses transcripts of their class recordings paired with customized prompts to enable their students to do Q&A directly with lectures. Another instructor elevated a class assignment by having students build an entire marketing campaign including social media images and videos.
GenAI’s impact on the higher education ecosystem goes beyond injecting new coursework; it’s actively and positively changing the social behaviors and pedagogical structure of business education.
GenAI in the Business World
While there are fears of GenAI entirely replacing the human workforce, it seems the greatest impact on our productivity relies on how people and AI work together.
Business leaders will face uncharted territory of difficult decisions, especially with the many underlying ethical issues of AI. For example, AI models are trained on inputted data to generate new content, implying any biases in underlying data will be reflected in the output. AI image generators have been shown to amplify racial and gender biases.
How can leaders be mindful of potential biases and work toward correcting them? There are no easy answers here, but there’s a clear urgency for business education to equip future business leaders with the know-how to work toward a future with answers to these challenges.
The emergence of GenAI has forever revolutionized how we learn. We undoubtedly will face surprising and unknown challenges as technology continues to advance, yet I’m most excited to see the new frontiers of business education and a new generation of students ready to lead us forward.