Studying textbooks, watching videos, listening to lectures and other forms of passive learning are effective. But for many of us, they merely set the foundation of getting educated on something. The real “learning” often happens by applying that passive knowledge to first-hand experiences — doing real-world work with the real-world tools of the job.
This immersion is especially important for students at the tail end of their education journey who are almost ready to start their lifelong professional careers (think clinicals in the medical field and internships across virtually every other industry.)
The idea of giving students practical, first-hand experience to prepare them for the professional world is exactly why Adam Levin told me that he’s encouraging his students at MYX to use generative AI tools as they work through a digital marketing bootcamp.
MYX labels itself as a “higher education hybrid, combining online career-ready bootcamp programs with the experiential learning that comes with travel.” Levin is the organization’s co-founder, chief operating officer and head of student experience. Even before ChatGPT’s release, he was using generative AI to boost his productivity and he knew it could help his students — particularly the 10 students in the bootcamp working on real-world marketing campaigns while living in Costa Rica (and making us all jealous). Levin said he’s pushing these students to use generative AI to “create more output and not start every single thing from square one.” This includes helping them build everything from blog posts for their assigned marketing campaign to cover letters and better resumes for their personal job hunts.
Ultimately, the leader sees generative AI as something that generally everyone will eventually use to boost their productivity and creativity, particularly in marketing. So the students who are more immersed in this technology will have a competitive advantage in the job market. Not only that, MYX students are employing AI under the supervision of experienced marketing professionals who can teach them how to use the technology to create better human-driven content and help in their careers. And students are already enjoying their time with the tools.
“I'm seeing that they are applying to more jobs and are excited by the process because there's a fun element to that personalization,” Levin said.
Keep reading to hear more of Levin’s insights on how and why he’s encouraging students to use generative AI in their work.
What are your thoughts on generative AI in education at a high level?
Generative AI is the best productivity tool that we've seen since the original creation of the internet. But the first reaction from a lot of educators was, “This is the end of us all. We can't let students get their hands on AI. Otherwise, they'll never write another paper or take another quiz again.” Alternative educators who were already questioning that system said, “Good, because what was the benefit of writing that paper or taking the standardized test other than making it easier for a large system to sort a large number of students.”
There is this curve of forgetting that happens when you teach that way. I remember being an international affairs major and studying for an advanced spanish final. I crammed a lot and my vocab and grammar were incredible. But I felt the knowledge floating out of my head when I walked out the door. I didn’t have much real-world immersion. Now with MYX, we travel to Spanish-speaking countries and my Spanish is better than ever. Similarly, the more real world applications our students get, the better it is for their learning. And AI is a part of that real world now. It's not going away. So to not teach it, it’s actually a disservice to students who are really looking to enter the workforce with as many skills as they can acquire.
“The more real world applications our students get, the better it is for their learning. And AI is a part of that real world now. It's not going away.”
How are MYX students using generative AI? Are there any guidelines on how they can or cannot use these tools?
MYX was built around project-based learning curriculums. So rather than “studying for the test,” we have students do hands-on projects that eventually become a part of a portfolio they can send to employers. We found a company whose blog and LinkedIn had been dormant for about two years and they wanted to get back out into the digital world. So our students are tasked with building a campaign for them.
They’re asking, “What are their goals and KPIs? How are we going to create these posts?” They are producing a volume of work in the bootcamp and looking to get out into the professional world as fast as they can. So they're working as fast as they can. They’re ready to take on eight to 10 hour work days and be productive and you can see that just by the depth of their portfolios. Layering in generative AI tools is all in service of all those goals.
I actually find that I have to encourage the students to use the tools even more. I'll see that they get stuck on something that they haven't quite learned yet, or that they've spent too long getting a first draft of something started. And I'll ask, “Did you hop into Jasper or ChatGPT or any other tool? Why not use what's available online, because someone else out there will. And that person will have a better chance of getting the job and being successful than you if you're not going to use what's available to you.”
I'm not worried about them faking a test or anything like that. The main thing that we're trying to teach students is to understand that the tools don't actually know the information. They’re just making amazingly good guesses of what words should come next. And I often find when a student is copying and pasting something directly from a tool, it’s not perfect. And that's fine. It was meant to be a first draft to layer in a personal touch before it becomes a final product.
When did the lightbulb for you in relation to seeing how generative AI could be leveraged in education?
It was through the applications that we’re encouraging at MYX. We really focus on the career services element. So every student is having meetings to go over their resumes, their cover letter and their portfolios. We've always known that the best way to apply for jobs is to personalize your resumes to match a specific job listing and the same goes for cover letters. Now you can personalize those assets and instantly update a resume to fit a specific job description with AI. That’s sometimes a very big unknown for a student — they're not exactly sure how to tackle it. I can show them how, with just a little bit of time, they can approach this problem and apply to a lot of different jobs.
But we also teach them that if you put out a cover letter or a resume that is clearly AI-generated, you're not going to get that job. Someone's going to say, “This was a bit lazy.” But you can use AI to get a first draft done faster and save yourself an hour or two. Then, layer in your own personality to that work. You're going to be able to apply to more jobs and make more connections than someone who's not using it.
For those without a privileged background or preexisting connections, navigating the transition from college to the workforce can be particularly challenging. We try to make it easier to navigate that process and being able to use a tool like generative AI makes it so that we can work more in-depth with more students.
What would you say to educators who are hesitant to encourage their students to use generative AI tools or are considering banning them?
We position ourselves in a very alternative lane but we're not trying to be anti-traditional college because that system still serves millions of students and everyone is doing their best to help young adults transition into this world. So I caveat everything with that.
But if you're looking at a tool like this and trying to ban it, think of what you would say to someone trying to keep a calculator out of the classroom. It's going to be in everyone's pockets, just like the phone eventually was. Don’t tell students “You're not always going to have AI there to help,” because they will. It'll be something that students need to know how to use in the workforce.
At the end of the day, you have to ask whether banning AI serves your students’ best interests and their long-term goals, which is to lead a productive life and have a job that they both enjoy and earns them enough money to live that life. This goal is especially important post-Covid with so many people opting out of education because they're not seeing that connection. So if we're looking to keep as many people loving learning as possible, then you have to adapt teaching methods to what life actually looks like and the tools we actually use.