AI chatbot to 'change education for ever', CEO says at Davos

Coursera chief executive says ChatGPT heralds next step in interactive teaching and learning

The OpenAI website on a laptop. If asked, ChatGPT can create essays, poems and coding. Bloomberg
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Teachers and students will discover by June that learning “will never be the same again” as people are increasingly using the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT, according to the chief executive of one of the world’s largest providers of online education.

ChatGPT is able to process large amounts of text and shares that information such as summarising it or explaining it “in a conversational way. The dialogue format makes it possible … to answer follow-up questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises and reject inappropriate requests”, according to its creators, OpenAI.

If asked, it can create essays, poems and coding. Source material can be provided by a user or the technology uses available resources from the internet.

“Any part of education where the assessment of what you know is based on writing a response is going to be changed immediately,” Jeff Maggioncalda, chief executive of Coursera, told The National in Davos, during the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting.

ChatGPT had a million users in its first week in December and a visit to the site on Monday evening said it was at capacity, meaning a user would have to wait their turn to get on it.

“Once this went out to the public, and journalists started doing it, and teachers started doing it, students started cheating with it. They are like, this is amazing,” said Mr Maggioncalda.

“We have just woke up [to its impact]. It happened like November 30, when ChatGPT came out … Before ChatGPT, these models existed, they were not as good. … you could only interact via a software application programming interface. So, engineers were doing it,” he said.

“By the end of 2023, I think we are going to look back and say, that is what this year was about,” Mr Maggioncalda said.

The opportunity from AI for online education is to improve the experience of students. The next big phase for online education will be interactive learning, especially where the practice of soft skills is concerned, he said.

AI could act as a private tutor, he said.

The technology will impact Coursera in three ways, he said.

“Number one, is the ability to generate content that is much more efficient. It could be original content, but more likely, what we are seeing is generating derivative content,” he said.

“So, if you have a one-hour course, make it 20 minutes. If you have a video, show me the five most important moments of the video. If you have a transcript of a video, generate multiple choice questions from that transcript.

“There is also the ability for individuals to interact, sort of back and forth, [with] a chat bot that is trained to kind of answer questions if you get stuck. And, of course, if you don't understand the concept, [you can say] 'tell me more about that'. So, it is almost like a personal tutor.

“And then one of the things that you can see from here that is going impact education, including Coursera, is academic integrity, which is the ability to cheat.”

New York schools have banned access to ChatGPT on its computers in response to plagiarism concerns, for example.

Also, such technology could also make education more equitable, he said.

“Language will become less of a barrier in terms of creating inequality between people,” he said. “Writing — not thinking, but writing — will also be eliminated. If you are not a great writer but you have good thoughts, it will help you put your good thoughts into clear writing.”

Coursera had 113 million registered learners worldwide as of September 30. More than 275 university and industry partners offer courses and credentials, including bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Employers also use Coursera to help develop staff skills.

Its most popular course in the UAE last year was “Foundations: Data, Data Everywhere”, provided by Google. Also in the top ten were “The Science of Well-being” by Yale University and “Learning How to Learn” by Deep Teaching Solutions.

“Gulf countries are really thinking a lot about education, and about how to build a sustainable economy and workforce that will be durable well beyond the time when oil was the main thing [driving their economies],” Mr Maggioncalda said.

Last year, Coursera announced partnerships with Saudi Arabia’s Al Faisal University, Jordan University of Science and Technology and the UAE's Khalifa University.

Updated: January 18, 2023, 6:56 AM