Voices of Innovation: A Q&A Series on Generative AI - Part 1

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Using technology to improve teaching and learning is in Pearson’s DNA. As the first major higher education publisher to integrate generative AI study tools into its proprietary academic content, Pearson is excited to be harnessing the power of AI to drive transformative outcomes for learners. We are focused on creating tools that combine the power of AI with trusted Pearson content to provide students with a simplified study experience that delivers on-demand and personalized support whenever and wherever they need it.

In this multi-part blog series, you’ll have a chance to hear more about AI innovations from Pearson team members, faculty, and students who have been involved with the development and rollout of Pearson’s AI-powered study tools.

For Part I, we sat down with our SVP of Product Management, David Kokorowski, to capture his insights on AI in higher education and the path forward at Pearson.

March 2023 was all about ChatGPT, and a lot has continued to occur since then. How does Pearson believe that AI has shaped the higher education landscape?

David: We anticipate the impact of AI on higher education will be both transformative and multi-faceted. The evolving landscape includes a proliferation of AI tools, many building upon the capabilities of platforms like ChatGPT, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated and targeted for specific educational tasks. Despite initial hesitations among faculty about integrating generative AI tools into their curriculum, there's a growing acceptance as early adopters demonstrate pedagogically effective applications. The fading concerns over academic integrity are notable, with AI “bans” being lifted as the educational community becomes more aware of AI's benefits and limitations. Innovative instructors are experimenting with encouraging students to use AI for authentic real-world projects, an application which can also mitigate academic dishonesty. Students, on the other hand, quickly explored AI's potential to assist with schoolwork. Recognizing generative AI's immense potential to enhance learning, we proactively started to incorporate it into our learning platforms, with a focus on maintaining quality through rigorous accuracy testing. Pearson envisions a future where both curriculum and assessment methods are fundamentally altered, and we are working hard on equipping instructors with AI tools that support better and equipping students with new AI skills that will be necessary for the modern workforce. 

There are varying sentiments about ChatGPT, however, what are some of the biggest challenges for leveraging this technology in higher ed?

David: Leveraging ChatGPT and similar generative AI technologies in higher education faces several significant challenges. Firstly, there is the issue of reliability, with AI systems sometimes generating incorrect or irrelevant information. The phenomenon known as "hallucinations," where AI produces entirely fabricated information, remains problematic even in advanced models. Constraining AI to avoid such issues can lead to "laziness," where the models become overly cautious or reluctant to provide responses, potentially stifling their utility. Faculty have concerns about academic integrity and the potential for students to use these tools as shortcuts, bypassing genuine learning processes to merely 'get the answer.' Cost and access also pose significant challenges; as these technologies are integrated into educational platforms as premium features, concerns about equitable access and affordability are intensifying. Pearson, recognizing these challenges, still believes that the opportunities outweigh the challenges. We are developing AI-powered study tools designed to support students and faculty in a controlled, integrity-conscious manner, aiming to harness the potential of AI positively while mitigating its downsides. 

What is your vision for the integration of GAI into Pearson technologies?

David: I believe the integration of Generative AI (GenAI) into its technologies is an opportunity to redefine and enhance educational experiences write large. This vision is underpinned by a commitment to ensuring that AI tools provide a superior user experience and disseminate accurate information, recognizing the importance of supporting both faculty and students effectively. Here are a few ways I see us doing this: 

  • Efficiency in Product Development: GenAI will enable Pearson to construct products more efficiently, reducing costs while increasing the value of their offerings. This approach aims to make educational resources more accessible and impactful. 
  • Scaling Excellence in Teaching: Leveraging GenAI, Pearson aspires to replicate the expertise and teaching quality of the world's best educators, making outstanding learning experiences more widely available. 
  • Enhancing Creativity: GenAI will be a catalyst for creativity within Pearson’s product and engineering teams as well as among authors and content creators, fostering innovation in educational content and delivery. 
  • Personalization: A core aspect of Pearson's vision is the use of GenAI to tailor learning experiences to individual students' needs, adapting in real-time to provide the most effective and personalized education possible. 
  • Curriculum Evolution: Recognizing the transformative potential of GenAI, Pearson is poised to lead in evolving curricula to address the skills and knowledge necessary for success in an AI-powered future, ensuring students are prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. 

In summary, our vision revolves around leveraging GenAI to revolutionize how educational content is developed, delivered, and personalized, ensuring that learners are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed for a rapidly changing world. 

How has the product management team approached GAI to enhance the learner experience?

David: Thoughtfully, carefully, and enthusiastically! In August 2023, we distinguished ourselves as the first major course materials provider to introduce GAI features, launching a beta version of AI-powered study tools in MLM and Pearson+. This innovation quickly captured the attention of our customers, evidenced by over 34,000 students utilizing these tools more than 233,000 times. This substantial engagement has enabled Pearson to collect valuable user data, facilitating ongoing enhancements to the features of these tools. 

The team's ongoing approach to integrating GAI is driven by a focus on addressing specific needs of students and instructors that GAI can uniquely solve. For instructors, GAI-powered tools like copilots are designed to increase efficiency, while for students, these tools aim to resolve common study challenges, such as getting unstuck on difficult topics. Furthermore, Pearson’s GAI initiatives are tailored to offer personalized study resources, directly responding to students' primary request for tools that make them more effective and efficient learners. Through this thoughtful, data-informed, and forward-looking strategy, Pearson's product management team is leveraging GAI to transform educational experiences, making learning more accessible, personalized, and impactful. 

 Looking ahead, what steps is Pearson taking to responsibly leverage this innovation now and in the future?

David: I am excited to say that we will be further enhancing the AI study tools and will be expanding these tools to additional products for fall 2024 classes. For our faculty, this means delivering a learning experience that they can be assured aligns with the content they are teaching. For students, this means a more personalized learning experience that they can access whenever, wherever they are studying. As we work to put these tools in the hands of as many students as possible, we’ll be focused on ways to do so affordably, and we will continue doing rigorous accuracy and bias testing. The Pearson Higher Ed teams are committed to expanding these study tools that combine the power of AI with trusted Pearson content to provide students a simplified learning experience that delivers on-demand, immediate, and personalized support to help them succeed in their course. Onward and upward!