Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Will GenAI disrupt higher education?

Here's how introducing GenAI will be a very positive disruption that will benefit the learners, who are the customers and audience for education in the first place

Published: Jun 3, 2024 03:03:34 PM IST
Updated: Jun 3, 2024 03:13:50 PM IST

Will GenAI disrupt higher education?The overall impact of GenAI on higher education will be very positive as it will help create superior learning outcomes for the learners, which is the ultimate objective of any kind of education. Image: Shutterstock

Now that GenAI is no longer the flavour of the month and is here to stay, grow and develop more use cases, it is time to stand up and take notice in full seriousness. So, what will GenAI do to the nature of jobs that exist today? We have already read a lot about how it will eliminate certain routine software development jobs as it will write efficient and error-free code. It will change the nature of several other jobs, such as content creation of all kinds, spanning video, image, audio, text, and data.

One area that has not been talked about at the same level of detail is education, in general, and higher education, in particular. Education is probably the last bastion that has not been disrupted by technology. Yes, online education has taken off, but it has not really disrupted traditional education; it has simply allowed access to an audience that traditional education was not designed to serve. The question is whether GenAI will disrupt this last bastion. My view is that it will be a very positive disruption that will benefit the learners, who are the customers and audience for education in the first place.

In today's education setting, the teacher is a fountainhead of knowledge who disseminates that knowledge to learners. The learner outcomes are a strong function of the quality of the teacher, their ability to inspire and motivate, in addition to the depth of their subject knowledge and their ability to explain. This ability to explain is a function of the teaching style and pedagogical tools used, which will work for certain learning styles but not all. This means some learners whose learning style is aligned with the teacher's teaching style will learn the most effectively, whereas other learners' learning will be compromised. With whatever limitations it has, this role of the teacher will likely not be disrupted in primary education and possibly secondary education because of the younger age and maturity of the learners, who need the hand-holding and the push from the teacher. Higher education is, however, a different ball game where the learner is older and more mature and not as strongly dependent on the push provided by the teacher. Higher education is, therefore, a strong candidate for being disrupted by GenAI.

So, how will this disruption in higher education play out? How will it benefit the learners? How will it impact the teachers? The driver of this disruption will be the development of very specialised Large Language Models (LLMs) built from carefully curated high-quality content. Currently, learners are taught the fundamentals in the class by the teacher, who prescribes a textbook and a set of reference books, plus additional reading to supplement their learning. The textbook, reference books, and reading materials approach is fundamentally inefficient as learners have to rummage through a lot of material to find precisely what they are looking for. This is further complicated because what the learner is looking for will vary from learner to learner, so a standard mechanism of finding what they want is not possible.

Now, how does an LLM help? The specialised LLM for that subject replaces textbooks, reference books, and all reading materials. The LLM is trained on all this content and more—the best in class available anywhere in the world. These subject-specific LLMs will become the fountainhead of knowledge instead of the teacher. Depending on what exactly a learner is looking for, they will provide a customised prompt to the LLM, which will provide a customised answer obtained efficiently from the vast ocean of subject-specific content on which the LLM has been trained. This will support a broad cross-section of learning styles since the learners can customise their prompts based on their learning needs and have multiple follow-up prompts. What will the teacher's role be? The teacher's role will be to create curiosity and motivation in the learner by exposing them to the type of problems they can solve and the big questions they can answer with the knowledge of the subject being learned. The teacher will not teach the fundamentals of the subject in the class. The teacher will seed the curiosity for learning in the learners, based on which they will interact with the LLM through a series of customised prompts to address their curiosity and hunger to learn efficiently. The same subject-specific LLM will work for all learners of that specific subject. What will differ across learners is what prompts they use along with their follow-up prompts, which will be a function of their learning requirements and learning styles. After the session with the LLM, the learners will return to the class for peer discussion and learning facilitated by the teacher. This is the classic flipped classroom model, the holy grail of optimising learning outcomes and driving learning efficiencies.

Also read: Generative AI in the classroom: Next edtech evolution


Should the teacher feel threatened by this mode of learning? The teacher will definitely get pushed out of their comfort zone but should not feel threatened. The teacher should, instead, feel empowered with their ability to get tremendous leverage in the learning outcomes they can create for the learners way beyond the scope of their own knowledge on the subject. The teacher will become the ultimate learning facilitator as they will guide the learners in their individual learning journeys that could differ across a group of learners. It will lead to mass customisation of learning outcomes for learners, with the same teacher guiding the learning process for this entire cohort of learners.

It appears, therefore, that the overall impact of GenAI on higher education will be very positive as it will help create superior learning outcomes for the learners, which is the ultimate objective of any kind of education. Higher education learners, being older and more mature, will be able to derive maximum benefit from the flipped classroom model made possible by LLMs and facilitated by teachers. Teachers, as learning facilitators, will be able to create a better impact on learning outcomes than what they do now, where they are primarily limited to disseminating the knowledge they possess.

*Author is Dr Himadri Das, Director General, International Management Institute New Delhi (IMI New Delhi)

[This article was published with permission from <a href="https://www.imi.edu/" target="_blank">International Management Institute.</a>]