Skip to content

Does ChatGPT Help Students Learn Better?

  • Sean 

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become an increasing part of our daily lives, making a significant impact on education, but does ChatGPT help students learn?

It is crucial to explore whether ChatGPT truly helps or hinders learning. It’s first important to understand what ChatGPT is and its “intelligence”. However, ultimately the answer to this question will come down to either passively or actively using ChatGPT.

I will go into these different uses of ChatGPT, as well as suggest some best practices for students when using the tool. Here are the key points summed up.

Key Takeaways

  1. ChatGPT offers valuable assistance in learning tasks, with the potential to transform education.
  2. ChatGPT operates on probability and lacks true understanding, so active engagement is crucial.
  3. Enhance learning by using ChatGPT actively using, active reading, Active recall, and Inquiry-based learning.
  4. Avoid passive uses of ChatGPT to prevent learning hindrance, skill decay, and academic dishonesty.
  5. Effectiveness hinges on responsible usage; best practices can unlock the potential of this AI tool for better educational experiences.

Now I’ll get into some more detail here and describe what ChatGPT is and how students should be using it so that it helps with learning, rather than hurting it.

What is ChatGPT?

The OpenAI website displays a button inviting users to try ChatGPT, a powerful AI language model designed to revolutionize the way we learn and communicate.

ChatGPT, or Conversational Generative Pre-trained Transformer, is an advanced AI language model developed by OpenAI, which employs the powerful GPT model.

It is designed to understand and generate human-like text in a conversational manner, offering assistance in various tasks such as answering questions, providing recommendations, and composing written content.

Over time, these language models have evolved through multiple iterations. It’s funny to look back, I remember writing a university essay on GPT-2 and its capabilities as an AI model only a few years ago. AI has come so far since I wrote that paper.

These earlier versions like GPT-2 laid the groundwork for natural language understanding, while GPT-3 significantly expanded the model’s capacity, enabling more complex and nuanced responses.

The current state-of-the-art GPT-4 iteration offers even greater comprehension and adaptability, allowing for more accurate responses and even the ability to use visual and audio information.

These advancements in ChatGPT have led to its widespread adoption across a multitude of applications, revolutionizing how humans interact with AI-driven technologies.

How Smart is ChatGPT?

One important question to ask is, is ChatGPT even smart enough to teach other people information? The answer here seems to be a definite yes.

ChatGPT is actually pretty intelligent these days, especially after the release of GPT-4. For example, It used to be in the bottom 10% of test takers on the bar exam but now it’s moved into the top 10%.

However, it’s also important to note that ChatGPT isn’t truly “intelligent” in the way we are. There is a thought experiment called the Chinese room that shows what I am describing perfectly.

In the experiment, there is a person in a closed room who does not understand Chinese. The person is given a set of rules in English that tell them how to manipulate Chinese symbols that are passed to them through a slot in the door.

The person follows these rules and produces responses in Chinese that are passed back through the slot. From the outside, it appears as though the person in the room understands Chinese, but in reality, they are just following a set of rules without any true understanding of the language.[2]

what you can take away from this is that ChatGPT is responding based on the probability of what token needs to come next, it’s not actually reasoning about anything. However, it looks intelligent, and for most people that will be good enough.

Let’s discuss whether using this tool has the potential to help students learn.

Does ChatGPT Help Students Learn Better?

A manikin head featuring hand-drawn brain regions, illustrating the different areas responsible for various cognitive functions and neural processes.

Overall, whether using ChatGPT is beneficial is going to largely depend on how you use it. If you use it in an active way it’s definitely better for learning outcomes.

However, if you use it passively there is arguably no learning benefit to using ChatGPT. This is what it really comes down to, it’s about using ChatGPT in an active way.

Using ChatGPT Actively

There are three very broad ways that ChatGPT can be used actively. These are active reading, using ChatGPT as an active recall tool, and inquiry-based learning.

1. Active reading

One way to use ChatGPT in an active way would be by critically evaluating its replies. Arguably there are learning benefits to this. However, it’s very easy to slip into passive reading here. You need to really focus on what ChatGPT outputs because it sounds so believable and responds so confidently.

But this is also why using active reading with ChatGPT can be beneficial. Because it’s so believable you have to ask yourself all the time “is that true?”, “Does that really make sense?” etc. But there are arguably even better ways to use ChatGPT as a way to benefit learning in education.

2. Active recall techniques

You can also use ChatGPT to study and learn using active recall, there are so many ways to do this. I have an entire article about using ChatGPT to study and learn new information that discusses many of these in more depth if you are curious.

Here’s a very quick overview including some of the basic ways to use ChatGPT for active learning.

I think that using ChatGPT as a way to quickly generate quizzes and questions is arguably the best way to learn using this tool. This is because self-testing has already been shown to be one of the most effective learning techniques when it comes to delayed testing, this is the type of testing you get in an educational setting.

However, beyond active recall and reading techniques, there is a last type of active learning that deserves attention.

3. Inquiry-based learning

This last type of ChatGPT use case is probably one of my favorites because I think it has the most potential. You can very effectively use ChatGPT as an inquiry-based learning tool.

This is actually quite a complex topic, so I’ll be brief.

ChatGPT can facilitate Inquiry-based learning by supporting learners as they actively explore, investigate, and engage in knowledge construction. Here’s how ChatGPT can help with Inquiry-based learning.

You can pick a topic, or maybe a textbook chapter outline, and ask ChatGPT questions about the material. For instance, if the topic was mitosis you could start off with a question like “what is mitosis?” and then follow up with another question like “why is mitosis important?”.

You can keep asking questions like this to ChatGPT, using the textbook outline as inspiration, and build up an understanding of the material based purely on these questions.

Now, when you read the actual material yourself, you will already have this curiosity-based understanding of it and it will be very easy to read. You can also catch up on any of the details you missed.

Using ChatGPT Passivley

Now it’s time for the flipside of using ChatGPT as a learning tool.

You might develop this reflex of just going straight to ChatGPT in the same way that you can check for the answer in the back of the book in a textbook. The issue with this comes down to cognitive load, which basically means mental effort.

Cognitive load is one of the key steps when it comes to learning or acquiring a new skill. Cognitive load is uncomfortable and as your competency increases, so does your cognitive load.[1]

For example, if a student is given a complex problem to solve, this may increase their cognitive load and lead to deeper engagement with the material, ultimately improving their learning. On the other hand, if the task is too complex or requires too much mental effort, the student may become overwhelmed and unable to learn effectively.

The issue is that ChatGPT can effectively sidestep this requirement for deeper engagement if it is used in the wrong way. You are basically skipping the “thinking part” of learning.

Here are some passive ways that you should NOT use ChatGPT

  • Writing your essays for you
  • Writing your assignments
  • Creating your mindmaps
  • Taking your notes

These are essentially different ways that ChatGPT can be used to think for you. The result of this will be what is called skill decay. This is basically the principle of using it or losing it.

If you stop writing your own assignments and essays for long enough you will get worse at doing them on your own. This is only really a problem if you use ChatGPT in an unproductive way.

Sidednote: Also I shoudln’t really need to specify this, but beyond it being bad for your own long-term learning submiting ChatGPT’s work as your own will definitely be considered academic dishonestly. This will land you in some pretty hot water.

However, the important thing to note is that, on the whole, there are far more positive uses of ChatGPT for learning and education than negative ones. There is serious potential in this tool for learning that should not be overlooked.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can ChatGPT help students learn better?

Yes, when used actively, ChatGPT can enhance learning outcomes. Effective methods include active reading, active recall techniques, and inquiry-based learning.

How can educators and students make the most out of ChatGPT?

By adopting best practices and using ChatGPT actively, students and educators can harness its potential to create a more interactive, engaging, and effective educational experience.

What are the potential drawbacks of using ChatGPT in education?

Using ChatGPT passively, such as allowing it to complete assignments or take notes, can hinder learning and lead to skill decay. Additionally, submitting ChatGPT-generated work as your own can result in academic dishonesty.