female face with superimposed computer code as artificial intelligence learning tool

ChatGPT and Lifelong Learning

The buzz around ChatGPT has become nearly deafening and, depending on which parts of it you tune into, it’s possible to believe artificial intelligence is on the verge of taking humanity to new heights – or exactly the opposite.

The reality is that the level of learning machines are now able to achieve – and the “intelligence” that learning produces – is going to require a lot more learning by human beings if we want to successfully navigate the uncertainties of an AI-driven future.

Fortunately, AI itself can help turbo charge human learning and ChatGPT is one of the best tools it has offered so far for the average human. So, in this article, we’ll take a look at what ChatGPT is and – with the help of ChatGPT itself – consider some ways it can support lifelong learning.

What is ChatGPT?

Let’s start with a look at what ChatGPT is and what it’s not.

Some describe it as artificial intelligence, others as a chatbot. When asked to describe itself, ChatGPT replied that it was “a large language model” that’s been “trained on a vast amount of data using deep learning techniques to understand and generate human-like language.”

But what does this mean?

Without diving too deeply into contemporary computer science, the short answer is that ChatGPT is a set of algorithms, designed by the tech company OpenAI, that analyze a large body of information. Currently, this includes everything on the internet prior to September 2021, or roughly 45 terrabytes.

By doing this, the program assembles a vast trove of information and teaches itself how to generate human-like responses to prompts it is fed. (The “G” in GPT stands for “generative.”) This is possible through a process computer scientists call machine learning , a specific kind of program that continually trains itself on new data, including the kinds of questions it receives from users. In combination with natural languge processing (NLP), machine learning can produce outputs that feel like a response from a human being.

For the average user, this means you can type in questions or ask ChatGPT to perform a specific task – like research or even writing computer code – and the program the program will respond. If the response is not quite you were looking for, you can continue to ask questions or give directions and the program will refine and update its response.

Because most users do, in fact, “chat” with ChatGPT, it is fair to call it a chat bot. That said, because of the sophistication of its machine learning and NLP underpinnings, it is much more intelligent than the chat bots any of us have encountered previously. That doesn’t mean it is perfect – there are significant shortcomings, and we’ll cover some of them shortly – but the benefits to anyone on a mission to learn are enormous.

The Benefits of ChatGPT for Lifelong Learning

Prompt for how ChatGPT can be used for lifelong learning with three responses - first three in text below.

One of the best ways to understand how ChatGPT can help lifelong learners is to consider the range of tasks and activities where it can play a role. As it turns out, generating that kind of list is exactly the sort of thing that ChatGPT can do well – and that’s exactly what I asked it to do. In the text that follows, the prompts I gave to ChatGPT are in bold, the responses are bulleted and/or in italics. Where relevant, I have hot linked text to resources on Mission to Learn.

(Note: To do this, I actually used the chat function of Jasper.ai, which is ChatGPT-based. I use Jasper because I like having a fuller set of AI tools than ChatGPT alone offers.)

Outline at least five ways in which ChatGPT could be used as a tool for lifelong learning

  • It can be used to quickly research topics with accurate and up-to-date information, allowing users to explore various subjects in more depth.
  • It can provide guidance and feedback on user projects, allowing them to refine and improve their work.
  • It can be used as a language learning tool, allowing users to improve their communication skills by conversing with an AI in the language they are practicing.
  • It can act as a study partner, helping users to build better understanding of the material they are learning through interactive dialogue.
  • It can help users develop their problem solving abilities by posing challenging questions that require creative solutions.

What are five additional ways ChatGPT might be used for lifelong learning?

  • It can be used to facilitate collaboration and discussion with others who are studying similar topics.
  • It can provide users with tailored content and recommendations based on their interests and level of knowledge.
  • It can provide personalized career guidance to help users identify potential job opportunities and develop their professional skills.
  • It can be used as a virtual tutor, allowing users to ask for guidance on difficult concepts and receive prompt feedback.
  • It can act as an accountability partner by setting reminders, providing encouragement, and tracking progress towards educational goals.

Are there any other ways that ChatGPT could be used for lifelong learning?

  • It can be used to simulate scenarios in order to prepare for real life situations, such as job interviews and public speaking engagements.
  • It can be used to monitor user performance and track progress over time.
  • It can act as a sounding board for eliciting feedback from peers and mentors on various topics related to personal development and education.
  • It can provide users with self-assessment tools to help them identify areas of strength and weaknesses in their knowledge base.
  • It can suggest new resources, books, podcasts, articles, etc., that might be helpful in the learning process.

Is that all? Surely there must be other ways that ChatGPT could be useful for lifelong learning. What are some other ways?

  • It can be used to customize study plans and strategies based on individual learning goals and preferences.
  • It can be used to generate personalized flashcard sets for review and memorization of key concepts.
  • It can offer study games or interactive challenges to practice application of knowledge and reinforce comprehension.
  • It can provide personalized resources, such as videos and podcasts, tailored to the user’s level of understanding.
  • It can suggest tracks or courses of study intended to supplement current studies with additional materials related to the topic.

Thanks. In summary, what is it that makes ChatGPT such a powerful tool for lifelong learning?

ChatGPT is a powerful tool for lifelong learning due to its ability to customize study plans, generate personalized flashcards, offer interactive challenges and review games, provide tailored resources and suggest tracks or courses of study. The AI models behind ChatGPT also allow users to practice scenarios in order to prepare for real life situations, monitor user performance, identify areas of strength and weaknesses in their knowledge base, get feedback from peers and mentors on various topics, and find new resources that can be helpful in the learning process.

Of course, like most humans, ChatGPT is thinking in terms of traditional education and training in many of the responses above when most of the power of GPT is likely to be felt in much less formal activities that support learning in the flow of life and work – with search being the main one. (Which is why Microsoft moved very rapidly to incorporate GPT into Bing.)

Even so, the responses make it clear that ChatGPT can be a very powerful tool for the average lifelong learner. So, what are the downsides?

I actually used Jasper Chat – based on ChatGPT – to generate the responses above. Try it for free.

The Downsides of ChatGPT

As powerful as it is, there are still quite a few downsides to ChatGPT. We’ll just cover some of the big ones here.

It doesn’t really know the truth

First, as Ezra Klein and Gary Marcus discuss in this recommended episode of the Ezra Klein show, GPT can’t really determine the truth of content.

More than that, ChatGPT and other forms of AI are prone to “hallucinations” – basically, giving confident but false responses that are not justified by the data it has been trained on. So, you pretty much have to use good critical thinking skills and double check the validity of the output you get when using ChatGPT – and there is no guarantee that the average user will do this.

It could perpetuate biases

Because ChatGPT cannot always determine what is true, because it was created by human beings who inevitably introduce their own biases, and because it is used by human beings who consciously or unconsciously bring their biases to it, ChatGPT is capable of creating highly biased content at scale. Again, critical thinking is, well, critical when using ChatGPT.

It could be used to spread misinformation

While clearly related to the first two items, this one deserves to be called out on its own just given how pervasive misinformation has become in recent years. ChatGPT is a powerful content production engine, and in the wrong hands, can easily be used to generate and disseminate a high volume of content specifically intended to mislead people. The situation has supposedly gotten better with the release of GPT-4, which is less likely to respond to prompts for negative content or provide non-factual responses, but it remains a significant concern.

It may increase social divides

Currently, there is a free version of ChatGPT, but OpenAI has already introduced a paid version that offers more benefits to those who can afford it. Like so many technologies, ChatGPT and other forms of AI are likely to create outsized benefits for those who are in the privileged position of receiving high quality training and getting access to the latest and best applications.  

It could negatively disrupt traditional education

While it’s clear (at least to me) that ChatGPT could be a powerful tool for learning, that’s not the same thing as saying it will be positive for traditional education. (After all, learning and education are not the same.)

Don’t get me wrong – it could be, and it’s exciting to see what companies like Khan Academy and Duolingo are starting to do with the technology. But AI seems almost certain to lead to job losses for traditional tutors, coaches, TAs, and most likely even for lead instructors over time. It will change the dynamic of formal education across all sectors – K-12, higher ed, and adult continuing education and professional development. While that’s bound to produce some positive changes, it’s far from clear whether the overall shift will be for the better.

Making the Most of ChatGPT

So, where does that leave us?

Clearly, ChatGPT and other forms of AI are here to stay, and we’ll be dealing with their impact for years to come. For lifelong learners – and, of course, you know I think that should be everyone – I’d argue there is no time to waste in getting familiar with what ChatGPT can do and starting to think about both the short and long-term implications.

Certainly, as a tool to support your learning efforts, the potential for ChatGPT is huge. We need to learn about it, and we need to learn to learn with it.

Whether you use Open AI’s ChatGPT interface or access it through other tools like Jasper.ai, I strongly encourage you to roll up your sleeves and start experimenting as soon as possible. Pick a handful of the uses for lifelong learning that ChatGPT outlined above and start trying them out as part of your own lifelong learning efforts.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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