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CAEL Pathways Blog

Demystifying Generative AI to Bridge Education-Employer Ecosystems

On April 11, I was honored to moderate “AI Horizons: Transforming Adult Learning and Workforce Development in the Digital Age,” the first of CAEL’s national webinar series on Generative AI (GAI) which was followed by a lively community hour on April 15. During both events, I reflected on CAEL’s mission and theory of change and was reminded of how critical our members’ voices are to any discussion of this ubiquitous technology. This post highlights interesting features from both events.

As a primer, MIT's definition of GAI is quite instructive: GAI is an artificially intelligent system capable of generating content, be it text, images, video, sound, or other data based on human input prompts and available data. These systems learn from their inputs and the vast array of information at their disposal through the internet. In this sense, GAI learning is only as effective as the humans who generate the prompts and the data to which the systems have access.

As we celebrate 50 years of addressing the needs of adult learners and advocating for policies and practices that support lifelong learning and workforce development, CAEL is especially interested in understanding how GAI can remove barriers to adult learning as

 “…our systemic impact is the result of the strategic integration of our individual and partner outcomes. Because adult learners and workers are pivotal to equitable economic mobility, our work naturally expands to stakeholders and programs focused on regional and national education-employment ecosystems (from CAEL’s theory of change). 

To begin discussing how GAI is impacting the education-employment ecosystem we created our first webinar around the simple premise that, while much of the early discussion surrounding higher education and GAI focused on scaling up AI research, adapting teaching methods, and detecting/preventing student plagiarism in the face of tools such as ChatGPT and Bard (now Gemini), our focus needs to be how educators should work with employers to better prepare students for the new GAI-shaped workplace. The upskilling imperative, therefore, is clear.

 Our first webinar addressed three questions:   

  • What is GAI’s impact on returning adult and post-traditional students? 
  • What is GAI’s impact on career counseling and other vital student services? 
  • How do we address preexisting digital inequities?  

Fortunately for all of us, our panel not only addressed these questions, but gave us all more upon which to ponder. Two themes emerged from both events: aligning learning and work in a GAI-informed context and higher education’s responsibility to consider the current and forecasted workplace changes as a result of GAI. 

Dr. Krystal Rawls, director of the Workforce Integration Network at CAEL member campus California State University, Dominguez Hills, spoke in detail about the necessity of employer-educator collaboration in the service of returning adult learners. As she noted, the rapid adoption of GAI in industries like health care, finance, and manufacturing underscores the necessity of employer-educator partnerships. 

Dr. Patrick Dempsey, director of the Office of Digital Teaching and Learning at Loyola University (Maryland), built upon this theme by stressing a holistic approach to student development, both in and out of the classroom. This was underscored by John Earnshaw, managing director of STRATA9, who emphasized upskilling would be critical for many returning adult students given the rapidly changing technological landscape.

As I considered panelists’ answers to these questions in the webinar and the lively discussions they generated at the community hour, I could not help but revert to my academic roots as a philosopher of science and technology by noting the American pragmatist and educational theorist John Dewey reminded us that technology of any kind is a means to an end. It is a tool. 

GAI is just that: a tool. To a person, our panelists reminded us that, once we recognize it as a tool, we could demystify this new and disruptive technology. For example, A.J. Beechko, a practicing attorney and adjunct professor of law at California State University, San Bernardino, noted this tool, like any other, could be used in both constructive and destructive ways often with profound legal ramifications. 

After positioning GAI as a tool, we transitioned to some of the much deeper questions about built-in bias by reinforcing that every tool and every technological artifact reflects the biases of those who designed and built it. CAEL’s theory of change is especially applicable in this context. We maintain that equity-informed systemic change can arise in the employer-educator ecosystems we support.   

According to both panelists and attendees, GAI offers us one of the greatest opportunities for employer-educator collaboration. GAI learns from our prompts and from the data it can gather through the internet. We determine those prompts and that data set. We, therefore, have the capacity to make GAI use more equitable.  

GAI use will continue to reshape the world of work and our economy, but it is not autonomous. We not only built the tool, but it learns from our inputs and prompts. Equitable economic mobility can be achieved in a GAI-assisted world only through an intentional employer-educator collaboration empowered and facilitated by the kind of open dialogue embraced by our members. We can empower adult learners and workers through these very kind of robust employer-educator dialogues. CAEL is thoroughly dedicated to such partnerships and is devoting considerable resources to nurturing robust and successful employer-educator ecosystems. 

We are also dedicated to continued dialogue as we support our members and the broader employer-educator community in their efforts to thrive in this rapidly evolving landscape. We invite CAEL members to join us for our May 22 Coffee with CAEL:  Demystifying AI: What These Tools Can Do For You (and your organizations!) (And if you're not yet a CAEL member, you can receive a 10% discount by emailing membershipservices@cael.org and mentioning this new-member discount, which is available through the end of June.) Whether you're a tech expert or just curious, this webinar will demonstrate how you can leverage GAI as a powerful tool to enhance your or your organization’s creativity, innovation, and productivity.

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