Why AI Alone Is Not the Best Instructor

Use these neuroscience-backed strategies for lasting educational impact

AI makes it easy to generate content. Within a few seconds, you can build any type of content to share with employees. But creating content is only the first step; its value lies in the learner’s ability to understand and recall it. As AI-generated content becomes ubiquitous, leaders must determine how best to present the subject matter so that employees can remember the information later.

We can look to neuroscience for well-documented strategies that take advantage of our brains’ mechanisms to retain and bring to mind information.  The primary objective of any educational program should be to deliver the content in such a way that learners can retain it and recall it precisely when they need it. When you invest in instruction, the instructional design must enhance information retention.

Design with the end in mind

Designing for understanding is a concept introduced by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe that encourages instructors to create training with the end in mind. In our practical application of this concept with trucking fleets, we found that for a learner to remember concepts and recall them in critical situations, the instructor must first identify the essential concept or enduring understanding. The instructor must then teach the concept in multiple ways, in various formats, over many learning sessions that are significant to the learner.

To build meaningful cognitive connections with your employees, create different interaction types. You can use AI to help get words on paper, but how you shape and deliver associations with those words will help you develop those important cognitive connections. The approach aligns with the many studies in neuroscience research that discuss specific strategies that work for long-term memory, including novelty, repetition, association, and strong activation of emotional responses.

Create a purposeful educational program

Here is an illustration of how neuroscience and learning strategies can be used to create a helpful educational program.

First, identify the enduring understanding. Let’s look at distracted driving as an example.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2022, distracted driving claimed 3,308 lives. We want a driver to choose to not text and drive.   

Next, deliver experiences in short sessions, in different formats, over an extended period.

  1. Make it personal. In the first session, create a personal association to the information. Use a poll to find out what percentage of people are distracted by their phones when they drive. In the same poll, find out if they know of or have seen someone texting and driving. This invites the learners to apply the material to their own lives.
  2. Build association and activate emotions. The second session brings in other viewpoints to reframe or build on personal perspectives on the topic. Share the results in a discussion board and post questions that invite collaborative participation. For example, ask the group if they are surprised by the results. Ask why they text and drive or why they think others text and drive. Invite them to share examples of how others they know were impacted by drivers’ choices to text and drive. The goal is to build an association between the material and themselves, while activating emotional responses.
  3. Create multiple exposures to the concept. Over the next four sessions, bring in different perspectives in other formats and mediums to provide additional exposures to the concept. This uses repetition to create memory retention. You can share audio clips of someone discussing the loss of a loved one due to texting and driving. Show an example of how quickly our brains lose focus when the phone buzzes and the implications for driving. Share a video of a personal story of someone who killed someone else while texting and driving and the impact it had on them. In a parked car, conduct a demonstration of removing eyes from the road for different amounts of time.
  4. Set the challenge. In the final session, invite learners to witness a live, in-person demonstration of the impact of hitting a still object at high speeds. Ask for their commitment to putting the phone down and choosing to not text and drive. Challenge them to become involved in educating others on this important topic.

AI will always be able to generate educational content quickly, and that can be used to create meaningful learning experiences. But AI content alone does not lead to lasting authentic learning experiences. To be able to recall and retain the material, we have to tap into the human mind to build connections to the information that will stay with the learner.

Article originally published on April 16, 2024 on Inc.com.

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