Is AI Adoption An Imminent Threat To eLearning Platforms?
It was November 30th, 2022, and the internet was abuzz about a tool that could answer anything when prompted. It was OpenAI’s ChatGPT. In the months that followed, Bard by Google and Bing AI by Microsoft joined the AI tools race, among many others. It quickly became evident that the internet was welcoming this tech with arms wide open. ChatGPT and other AI models possess the remarkable ability to understand and engage in human-like conversations. Users can interact with them through a web browser simply by typing in commands and prompts. These versatile AI assistants can generate essays, write and explain code, teach you how to play chess, compose music, create images, and perform various other tasks.
What ChatGPT Adoption Looks Like
Let’s look at some numbers. ChatGPT acquired 1 million users within 5 days of launch, said Sam Altman, the founder of Open AI. Open AI is an AI research and deployment lab that is parent to ChatGPT. In comparison, it took Spotify 5 months and Facebook 10 months to get to the 1 million user mark. One could argue that exposure and access to the internet were limited back then, but today’s user is also more skeptical and picky. The ChatGPT website, currently in its 8th active month, attracts more than one billion monthly visitors and has approximately 100 million active users. That’s a lot of humans looking for answers and especially, learning.
The Looming Threat Of AI Over Online Learning
While AI bots were being rapidly accepted by internet users, concerns also began to emerge about how it could be damaging to eLearning platforms. That’s one question a lot of us have asked ourselves as professionals. It would be a lie to say there isn’t concern at all in the industry. If you put OpenAI’s ChatGPT to the test and ask if it could “teach blockchain principles like a 5-year-old,” or even “write a simple smart contract in Solidity,” the bot has absolutely no problem doing it.
With a few errors here and there, it quickly became a concern why learners could potentially just go to ChatGPT or Bard, rather than coming to a company that specializes in blockchain or smart contracts, for example. That’s what other eLearning platforms like Chegg, Udemy, Duolingo, and even Pearson, faced in reality.
The Aftermath Of The ChatGPT Boom On eLearning Platforms
While publishing its first quarter report just recently in May 2023, Chegg, a public EdTech out of San Francisco, raised concerns over the potential effects and risks posed to its business by AI. The company reported a 5% drop in subscribers and a decline in new-customer growth rate, saying that a significant surge in students taking more interest in ChatGPT had caused it. This uncertain news caused Chegg’s shares to plummet 50%.
However, Chegg wasn’t the only one. The news about Chegg’s shares caused Udemy stocks to go down 5%, and Pearson, the test preparatory and textbook giant, saw its shares plummet 15%. Investors had become nervous. Armed, however, with a diversified business and not reliant on just online learning, Pearson has fewer things to worry about.
Although the impact of AI disruption remains limited, it is gradually permeating the corporate sphere. As reported by the New York Post on June 13th, 2023, Chegg decided to lay off 4% of its employees. The news said, “ChatGPT represents a significant threat to Chegg’s business model, which includes a heavy focus on subscription-based homework help, textbook rentals, test prep, and other education-related resources for students. OpenAI’s chatbot offers access to much of the same information for free, with just a few keystrokes.”
How AI Bots Reign Supreme Over Current Learning Platforms
Upon doing some extensive research and feeding AI bots several prompts, here’s what we learned AI could be better at as compared to eLearning platforms.
1. Intelligent Tutoring
Online tutorials and courses don’t change according to someone’s prompts as compared to an AI bot which meticulously tailors learning experiences to individual needs. It has the benefit of generating answers in real-time to provide explanations and examples. This personalized, and even gamified, approach can enhance engagement and motivation.
2. Accessible Information
Most AI models aren’t charging users a dime. There are additional paid plans for higher speed, which aren’t mandatory at all. So what does this mean? AI bots are making online learning the easiest possible thing to access for individuals worldwide. Learners can access knowledge on various topics without limitations of time, money, and geographical boundaries.
3. Personalized Learning
AI algorithms can analyze learner data and behavior to provide personalized recommendations, adaptive assessments, and customized learning paths. This enables learners to focus on areas where they need improvement and receive personalized feedback to grasp concepts at their own pace.
What eLearning Platforms Have That AI Doesn’t
It’s not the end for eLearning platforms, though, and there’s no need to panic. We will live on. Here’s how:
1. Human Interaction And Sense Of Community
eLearning platforms powered by AI models may rely too heavily on automated interactions, potentially reducing the human element in the learning experience. We might have removed ourselves from physical classrooms, but there is still a need for human interaction, even if it’s virtual. And learning virtually, although convenient, can be a lonely process. If there’s any expectation of transformation through high-quality education, one needs to be in and feel part of a community. You can’t grow alone, you need people to foster critical thinking, social skills development, and collaboration. So whether it’s teacher-student or student-student interactions, a purely AI-driven environment can’t provide that.
2. Structure And Context
Online courses offer a structured curriculum designed by experts in the field. These experts put time, knowledge, and energy into creating organized learning experiences that follow a logical progression. AI models can do that, but only after prompting a lot of times in different ways. And that could get tiring, especially when you don’t know what answers to get out of it.
AI may also struggle with understanding the nuanced context of certain topics, leading to inaccurate or inappropriate responses. This can be especially problematic in subjects that require deep domain knowledge, where human instructors can provide a more nuanced and accurate understanding of complex concepts.
3. Expert Guidance And Certification
Online courses often include instructional materials, video lectures, and assignments created and delivered by Subject Matter Experts. These instructors bring years of expertise and real-world experience, offering valuable guidance and facilitating a deeper understanding of the course material. Moreover, courses offered by reputable institutions or platforms, often provide certificates or credentials upon successful completion. These credentials carry value and can be useful for professional and career development, or even further academic pursuits. ChatGPT can’t certify you. At least, not yet.
4. Specialized And Niche Topics
Online courses cater to a wide range of subjects and niche areas, allowing learners to explore specialized knowledge and develop specific skills. AI models may not always have the depth or coverage of such specialized topics, making online courses a more suitable option for in-depth learning.
If YouTube videos were the only way one could learn, then why would eLearning platforms be getting any enrolments at all? Yet, we see several such solutions pop up everywhere because they have domain knowledge. The same applies to AI, which is like a general SparkNotes, if you may. It’ll give you the summary, not the entire book on a subject.
How Can AI Be Used To Make eLearning Platforms Stronger?
The widespread adoption of AI does not automatically imply the end of eLearning platforms. On the contrary, AI can enhance these platforms and lead to increased effectiveness and improved learning experiences for individuals. Chegg, as mentioned earlier on, is already working on it by introducing CheggMate, which is combining AI with its extensive content library and Subject Matter Experts.
Moreover, Khan Academy’s Sal Khan unveiled Khanmigo in a recent TEDx talk. Khanmigo, much like CheggMate, is an AI-powered tutor for students and an assistant for teachers. The way this tutor works is that it doesn’t solve student answers straight up. It gives them hints, points them in the right direction, provides feedback, and assists them to get to the answer.
eLearning platforms provide the framework for educational content, Instructional Design, and learner engagement. AI, on the other hand, has the ability to enhance these platforms by introducing intelligence and personalization. But it’s important to recognize that eLearning platforms will continue to remain essential in the delivery of educational content and also help facilitate the learning process. In the larger scheme of things, as AI adoption continues to expand, eLearning platforms are expected to evolve accordingly, integrating AI technologies to optimize learning outcomes and enrich the overall educational experience. We’re already seeing it happen, and others will follow suit.