ChatGPT and the Future of Education: Learner-Centered Approaches Leading the Way

Voices from the Field   25 January 2023
By Dr. Sonn Sam, Big Picture Learning


The future design of education cannot exist without a balance of human experience and technology.

Sonn Sam
National Director of Partnerships at Big Picture Learning

“Hey ChatGPT, write me an essay on five innovations that changed the course of humanity.” Instantaneously, ChatGPT curated the wheel, electricity, the printing press, the internet, and the steam engine. Not bad. Interesting that it didn’t name artificial intelligence (AI) as one of them. Maybe it didn’t want to come off too self-absorbed? Maybe it couldn’t? Or maybe it’s too soon? 

But, in its release, I am realizing that the “too soon” is happening now.

ChatGPT (Generative Pre-Trained Transformer) version 3 was released on November 30, 2022. It wasn’t until December 16, 2022, when I listened to “Did artificial intelligence get too smart?” on The New York Times’ The Daily that I realized where we were as a technologically advancing society. 

And, to be honest, I still don’t know where we are. My mind couldn’t process what I was hearing. To show its capability, host Michael Barbaro asked ChatGPT to write a short story on love. It did so in less than a second. Then, Michael’s guest Kevin Rose, tech columnist, asked ChatGPT to rewrite the first paragraph in Shakespearian dialect. Again, it did so instantaneously. Kevin then asked it to rewrite that same paragraph in the style of a 1940’s mobster who is annoyed that it’s raining. It was delivered again. 

What the heck am I hearing? As opposed to Siri, Alexa, or Google, which scours the internet and gives you the most popular content, ChatGPT analyzes and synthesizes a large body of information and then creates new content with it. Yes, the hours and days it can take humans to research and write, are now done in mere nanoseconds. But, before we all lose our minds, ChatGPT openly admits that accuracy and appropriateness are still looming concerns. 

So, what does this mean for educators? Well, search #ChatGPT on your social media of choice and see the spectrum of reactions. Excitement and fear are common reactions to most disruptive innovations, and ChatGPT is proving no different. One predominant concern from educators is academic integrity as ChatGPT can generate essays for any user pretty easily. And as usual, young people are not waiting for permission from adults. Eric Wang, VP of AI for TurnItIn, confidently states that they will be able to catch cheaters within the year. 

Stephen Marche, author of  “The College Essay is Dead” in the Atlantic, speaks of the death of essay writing and expounds on the larger conflict between humanists and technologists. There’s no better example than the explosive expansion of STEM in schools and the decline of humanities over the last 3 decades. This really speaks to the backdrop of how fast technology has been moving and how slow we’ve been to respond (or even unwilling). For our future, he declares ChatGPT will force both sides to reconcile their differences. Engineers need “the philosophy of language, sociology, history, and ethics…” And, humanists will need to “understand natural-language processing because it is the future of language…” An imbalance that is proving to be too costly is the rationale for Marche’s advocacy for humanists’ and technologists’ unity and collaboration.

The concerns about the future of academic integrity, the death of an outdated measure of knowledge, and the battle between humanists and technologists seem like failing plots for a very bad Marvel comic, but it is not a joking matter.


I believe that education at its core is about self-love, curiosity, experiences, creativity, relationships, perspective, problem-solving, community, continual improvement, and a fight for liberation.

Sonn Sam
National Director of Partnerships at Big Picture Learning

It should not be trivialized into a cat-and-mouse game but should be a bigger call for education and educators alike. As technology will undoubtedly continue to evolve rapidly, our challenge should always be centered on providing the highest quality, equitable education to all young people. Although technology has proven to be a reliable tool to help us pursue this goal, technology alone is not the answer. Marche quoted Steve Jobs saying, “A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So, they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” In other words, the future design of education cannot exist without a balance of human experience and technology. 

So, as the pendulum swings between humanists and technologists, technological disruptions becoming more common, and academic integrity continuing to be in question, what can educators do to bring continued balance to their practice? Here are a few solutions you can leverage:

One Student at a Time/Personalization: The days of the same content being covered over the same time period with the same group of students on the same scope and sequence are gone. Advancements in educational tech tools are allowing learners to construct and customize their own learning experiences in real-time. Learners can develop individual/personalized learning plans that leverage their strengths, while also exploring interests and curiosities. Learning targets can be pre-determined, tracked, assessed, and modified as needed by learners. They can also analyze their own learning data and design support systems/strategies for their growth areas. In other words, the learner is the curriculum, and learning is driven by agency, choice, and empowerment. When learners are exploring their passions with the support they need, why would learners want to cheat themselves?

Relationships: “Children don’t learn from people they don’t like” was once famously said by Rita Pierson during her now-viral TED Talk, which has been viewed over 14 million times. The attraction could be because of Pierson’s experience, humor, and authenticity, but also from the undeniable fact in this brief statement. Relationships have always mattered, but now more than ever. Learners thrive when they know their educators care deeply, know them well, and push for their overall success. In a time where ChatGPT is pushing the boundaries of academic integrity, relationships could be a deterrent for learners not to engage in such activities. Inversely, when educators know their students well, they can easily identify inauthentic student work and approach it with a focus on accountability, care, and growth. The common denominator here is the strength and authenticity of relationships. And, when relationships are strong, why would learners try to cheat someone who cares about them and their success?

Real World Learning: You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would disagree with learners’ needing to know how to speak, write, and read well or work well with numbers. Ask any working adult, and you will get a mouthful of other skills needed for success which have been mostly captured in the category of “21st-century learning skills.” One of the most effective ways of supporting learners to develop all of these skills and more is through authentic real-world experiences; yet, those remain elusive within the conventional school structure.  Experiences that go beyond the boundaries of the classroom or school and integrate learners in professional environments, engaging them in authentic work while being mentored by professional experts. The genuine commitment and partnership between school and community ensure every learner leaves school not only academically prepared but also career prepared and ready to lead in their community. All this is to say that if learners are the curriculum, then the community is the school. Depending on the setting, especially rural, opportunities will vary, but real-life and virtual experiences are plenty anywhere and waiting to be tapped. Transformative learning experiences can be had through internships, externships, apprenticeships, community service, service learning, leaving-to-learn expeditions, dual enrollment, and more. Program infrastructures (hours/days, requirements/logistics) can be fluid and adapted to meet the needs of local realities. If learners are preparing for their future career(s), engaged in meaningful work guided by their interests, and mentored by professional experts who are expanding their social capital, why would they cheat themselves?

Competency-Based Education: The internet has proven that content can be accessed anywhere and anytime with a device and WiFi connection. ChatGPT is analyzing and synthesizing large swaths of content to generate new content/products instantaneously. Lock-step and singularly isolated content standards that have been driving what learners should know and be able to do for the past century can now be replaced in mere seconds. What this means is that the one size fits all approach in education is truly obsolete. Instead of content standards, an ecosystem that allows learners to apply what they know through new forms and situational contexts is needed — a system where academic, industry, and social-emotional competencies/skills provide a learning framework for learners to curate, moderate, and evaluate their learning. Learning is measured by demonstrations of mastery versus hours spent in a classroom (Aurora Institute). This system is fundamentally anchored in placing students at the center of their learning. And if this system is built on the learner, again, why would they cheat themselves? 

Authentic Assessments: Deeper learning is not only about the acquisition of new knowledge but also the application of it. More precisely, it’s not only about knowing what you know but also about how well you can apply or teach what you know. Authentic assessments leverage the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is creation. In a new world where simply knowing can be easily curated for learners, learners demonstrating, applying, or teaching what they know will be critical. Authentic assessments should align with student interest, challenge students to create something new, be multi-dimensional/interdisciplinary, extend beyond the classroom/school, have real-world implications, connect to experts in the field/topic, and be evaluated by different audiences. Assessments need to mean more than simply a grade. Learners’ work must be deeply personal and have a real impact on the world. Most importantly, it is an intentional opportunity for learners to reflect on their learning. The focus is not only on the product but also on the process of learning and how they will take what they learned and apply it to their future learning experiences. When learners can truly see how their work is contributing to society and how they are progressing as learners, why would they cheat themselves?

Truthfully, do any of us really know what implications ChatGPT will have on education? No. 

But, what we do know is it is expediting an outdated, educational mainstream learning measure alarmingly fast. As many worry about academic dishonesty, it not only gives merit to an old system but pulls us away from a larger question/opportunity at hand. What are the measures that truly matter in our evolving ecosystem of learning? For me, it will be those that put learners at the center of their learning, like the ones outlined above. 

Will it be hard for ChatGPT to replace learning in these new systems? Yes. Is ChatGPT the reason why I am writing this? No. There are many reasons why I dove into this rabbit hole, and I admit that ChatGPT was the impetus. In reflecting on this, there are a multitude of reasons that pull at me. 

As a dad, I worry about how this will impact my children. As an educational practitioner, coach, and enthusiast, I wonder about the implications for our field. As a human, I am scared after reading Marche’s point of our collective fight — or should I say partnership for harmony between humanists and technologists. 

However, in my disarray of emotions, I am centered on knowing a few things. I believe in the brilliance, genius, and potential of ALL young people. I believe that education is everyone’s business. I believe that as a community we can build schools that put young people at the center of their lives and learning. I believe that education, at its core, is about self-love, curiosity, experiences, creativity, relationships, perspective, problem-solving, community, continual improvement, and a fight for liberation. All of these will not be replaced by technology, but I do believe that technology plays a role in educating and preparing the next generation for the new opportunities and challenges ahead. And, as technology will inevitably disrupt, I believe that placing our learners in the center is the most humane thing we can do.

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