AI as a Force for Good Pedagogy

Chuck Linsmeier · October 25, 2023

Chuck Linsmeier blog post

As long as I’ve been with Macmillan Learning, our company has been anchored by its belief in the transformative power of learning. This commitment and the responsibility derived from it lives in our mission: "Inspiring what’s possible for every learner." From general education courses throughout the higher education curriculum to the expanding reach of Advanced Placement® courses in high schools and the development of enterprise technology solutions that promote student engagement and success, our mission drives us to discover the individual learner in any product or service we provide.

We are also at an inflection point with AI, as the educational environment and opportunities to support learning are changing rapidly. The emergence of Generative AI, among other AI-based programs, has the power to amplify our mission and help us do what we do best better than ever. Both inside and outside the classroom, AI has the potential to reinforce some of the most important pedagogical strategies. And at the same time, it challenges many long-held assumptions.

Our Compass is Good Pedagogy

Central to our ethos are evidence-based teaching practices. These instructional practices, which have been rigorously vetted and validated through empirical research, are the foundational pillars that dictate the creation and refinement of our tools. These practices provide a framework that reaches beyond the origins of our work as a textbook publisher to the learning company that we have become and, used ethically and effectively, AI can serve to reinforce, strengthen, and advance use of those practices.

Over time, the influence on the overall education experience and impact that Macmillan Learning has had on student success has grown. Gone are the days where students received a printed textbook and our work was done. Now our products offer students multimodal experiences that help incite their curiosity, motivation, and engagement. In particular, we see personalized learning turning an important corner; new technologies advanced by AI can help make the educational experience even more meaningful, relevant, and transferable.

These new technologies can help realize the long sought-after goal to advance skills and competencies in students that are demonstrable, repeatable, and applicable to the novel situations they will encounter over their lifetimes. In this work, we help to enrich and foster a learning environment that supports and advances learning, but which also brings comfort, belonging, and compassion to the educational environment for each learner. Today, our responsibility to each learner is to create an educational experience in which we inform, inspire, enrich, and help each student understand themselves in the arc of their educational journey. Together, the outcomes are students who know their learning, love their learning, do their learning, and become their learning.

Pedagogy is the Heart of Any AI Implementation

As with any tool, efficacy depends on how it’s designed and used. The litmus test for any AI application in education is this: does it augment learning and advance human endeavors or does it act only as a sufficient substitute? We believe that the greatest benefits are realized for students when AI serves to augment the learning process in ways that retain its humanity and foster learning that is applied and transferable. The real power of AI lies not in its advanced algorithms and LLMs, but in its thoughtful implementation.

Our obligation to the success of classrooms drives our work everyday and frames our decisions as we integrate AI and new technologies into our work, products, and educational services. In practical terms, this means supporting the different ways that learning takes place and supporting them differently than we have in the past.

Learning begins with the learner, not the educational tools we create. It means challenging our pedagogical intent by viewing it through the lens of a first generation college student experiencing campus life for the first time; a student commuting between job and an online class who searches the course catalog for the skills and know-how they will need at their next employer. We ask questions about assessments and how they could impact a student who throughout their life has experienced socioeconomic barriers that question if they belong in the college environment at all. We believe that it's in the moments of grappling with complex problems that the most good can be fostered, not to make learning easy but to make it meaningful in every respect to every learner.

The Nexus of Outcome-Driven Education and AI

As we think about the best uses of AI, we consider the important aspects of pedagogy and how they relate to the human experience of education and together they inform Macmillan Learning’s mission. This is where everything changes -- from how we assess learning to helping students hone their metacognitive skills. It is revealed in the way learners discover themselves that education truly can be transformative.

Accomplishing these goals requires continual improvement and new strategies. While traditional tests and formative assessments may not be as effective in an AI world, it doesn’t mean that assessments don't have a place. Maybe, as our CEO Susan Winslow said, we were placing too much value on the multiple choice question all along. Continuous evaluation and feedback during the learning process can offer invaluable insights into students’ understanding of material and AI can be an effective, though imperfect, resource in that effort: queries about a confusing topic need not wait for office hours nor require the student to stumble through articles from a browser search; persistent engagement with AI can not only be a positive pedagogical practice but can help the student practice skills that will transfer outside the classroom, build confidence, and help them envision new possibilities and their potential within them.

Instead of students just absorbing information, AI-driven tools can further enable the shift to active participation, change the way educators design project-based learning, and captivate learners with personalized challenges and real-time feedback creating a learning experience that is uniquely their own. Additionally, AI can aid in fostering metacognitive skills, advance students’ own thinking about thinking, and help students become more self-aware and strategic in their approach to their education, reduce anxiety, and increase their self-assurance.

All of these possibilities are only as real as the care we put into making them safe, reliable, ethical, and unbiased. All the trapdoors and stumbling blocks remain; no system will drive them out entirely. Measured approaches need to produce measurable results; good intentions and optimism won’t win the day on their own.

At Macmillan Learning, we prioritize good pedagogy and evidence-based teaching practices as the framework to make these important decisions. As we navigate this AI-influenced pedagogical landscape, we won’t lose sight of our belief that technology is most beneficial when it complements, not substitutes, the human touch in education. While AI is not the destination, it can be a rather helpful companion on the path to learning.