Innovative AI Applications for Education

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Tuesday, April 9, 2024
By Stephanie Mullins-Wiles
Illustration by iStock/elenabs
Business schools use virtual reality, extended reality, and ChatGPT to deliver content in exciting new ways—and train students for the future of work.
  • Avatars fill in for professors when students anywhere in the world have questions at any time of day.
  • Simulations and VR experiences help students learn teamwork and leadership skills under challenging conditions.
  • An AI-powered career coach analyzes a student’s career ambitions and suggests the courses and training opportunities that will provide the proper preparation.

As companies increasingly integrate artificial intelligence (AI) into their operations, it becomes more essential that business students gain a mastery of emerging technologies. Business schools are responding to the need with a range of initiatives that explore the possibilities and perils of virtual reality (VR), extended reality (XR), ChatGPT, and other digital tools.

Here, we look at six European schools that have reached beyond the constraints of traditional classrooms and created quirky ways to make AI a part of learning. They’re not only delivering content in radical new formats, but helping students perfect the skills they’ll need in tomorrow’s workplace.

The eProf Will Take Your Questions Now

At ESSEC Business School in Cergy, France, associate professor Fabrice Cavarretta wondered if AI could play a role in allowing him to share his knowledge and research. To find out, he came up with an avatar of himself that he named eProf Cavarretta.

He created it by feeding the body of his work—including various documents that ranged from practitioner articles to research papers—to a customized version of ChatGPT. He then instructed ChatGPT to answer questions in ways that are similar to how he explains concepts in his classes.

Now, students anywhere in the world can consult the avatar at any time. Learners currently taking one of his courses don’t need to raise a question in class; they can ask the avatar for clarification. Former students facing new problems or looking to refresh their knowledge can turn to the eProf whenever it’s convenient for them. Instead of querying an algorithm and receiving general answers, they can get Cavarretta’s expert perspective on any of his specific teachings or research methods.

Not only does the avatar have infinite patience, but it also allows for one-on-one interactions. Just as important, its broad scalability means Cavarretta can reach more students via avatar than he ever could on his own.

Learning Journeys on Earth, in Space

The scalability of AI is a major advantage for INSEAD Business School in Fontainebleau, France, which maintains an XR immersive learning library dedicated to management education and research. The portal allows users to access 20 VR experiences covering a range of management topics.

In one of these experiences, learners are virtually transported to a peaceful beach in Zanzibar. Various exotic juice bars dot the white sand that borders the clear turquoise waters. The bars are all close to each other, look the same, and sell similar products—so how do customers choose which bar to buy from?

INSEAD Business School’s extended reality learning library gives learners access to 20 virtual reality experiences covering a range of topics.

Participants meet two juice bar owners to gather details on their different business outlooks and competitive advantages. After completing their consultations, learners offer strategic advice on how to expand the avocado shake business. Through the simulation, students gain insights into sustainable growth, have a chance to devise innovative solutions, and get practice acting as consultants.

In another XR experience, students undertake a mission to Mars, where a new base needs to be built quickly. However, on the way, an accident occurs on the space shuttle, and learners must come up with ideas for how to save both the payload and the lives of the crew members. Working in teams, participants interview members of the crew, assess team dynamics, and recommend the best solutions to Mission Control. The objective of the simulation is for students to learn how to work in teams to generate innovative ideas in challenging environments.

More than 40 faculty members at INSEAD are using XR in their teaching, employing it in their research, or developing VR experiences. These experiences are available to other institutions around the world to use their own classrooms.

Critical Mission, Essential Learning

Similarly, ESMT Berlin is relying on an immersive VR simulation to drop participants into an imaginative yet perilous metaverse landscape.

“The simulation is centered around a critical mission where teams are plunged into an unstable setting threatened by environmental degradation,” says Mandy Hübener, director of executive education. “The simulation divides participants into two roles: One group uses VR to construct a bridge across hazardous terrains, embodying a hands-on, collaborative effort. Simultaneously, people in a second group located in a separate room act as strategic planners. This group, connected via audio, observes the VR team’s efforts and provides guidance, utilizing additional information to navigate challenges and allocate resources effectively.”

Through the exercise, participants work within a custom metaverse space to enhance their skills in hybrid teamwork, strategic thinking, and adaptability. As they seek solutions in a simulated high-stakes situation, they prepare to handle the complexities of real-world challenges.

AI is also a component in ESMT Berlin’s executive programs. A new challenge developed by Carolin Puppel, program director of executive education, teaches students how to use generative AI to complement human decision-making.

In ESMT Berlin’s virtual reality simulations, students build skills in teamwork, strategic thinking, and adaptability, which prepares them to handle real-world challenges.

Participants play the role of the chief quality officer at AquaPure. The company, which specializes in flavored bottled water, is facing a crisis because some products potentially have been contaminated. Using lab reports, customer feedback, and sales data, participants must determine how severe the contamination is and what actions they should take. These range from instituting a full product recall to staging customer service interventions. At the same time, participants must shape the appropriate communications.

Taking on tasks such as writing prompts and checking facts, team members learn to use AI tools such as ChatGPT as they analyze complex data, validate their findings, generate solutions, and make decisions. Because they are engaging with the tools on practical tasks, participants learn how to create effective prompts, address the limitations of AI, confirm accuracy, and understand the real dynamics at play when humans collaborate with technology.

Virtual, Immersive, and Personalized

Technology is a growing component of educational delivery at NEOMA Business School, which has locations in Reims, Rouen, and Paris, France. In 2020, the school opened a virtual campus, an online space that allows students to join seminars and meetings or even play football on the digital pitch.

The school also has brought VR cases into its classrooms. For instance, NEOMA partnered with ENEDIS, a major electricity grid operator in France, to create an immersive case study experience for its Global Executive MBA.

In addition, the school uses AI-powered adaptive learning processes to sort students into slower or faster learners. This allows faculty to adapt the type and quantity of exercises they provide in the classroom while putting more focus on areas that are more challenging. Taking these insights one step further, professors can turn fast learners into mentors who help other students and thus contribute to the success of the entire class.

Alain Goudey, professor of marketing and associate dean for digital at NEOMA, has written about how tools such as ChatGPT can improve education by providing students with personalized assessments and high-quality feedback, thus freeing up some of the instructor’s time and attention. He says, “The time saved means there’s more human interaction, which is beneficial for teachers and students alike.”

The Career Coach With All the Answers

AI can be useful outside of the classroom, too, as POLIMI Graduate School of Management in Milan demonstrates with its career coach, FLEXA. The tool was created through a partnership with Microsoft.

POLIMI’s AI career coach analyzes a student’s career ambitions, proposes training opportunities, and suggests which skills might need improvement.

Acting as a digital mentor, the AI application analyzes a student’s career ambitions and proposes the best training opportunities. It even allows participants to go through an assessment phase to evaluate the skills they need to improve before they embark on their personalized learning paths.

To create programs tailored to unique individuals, FLEXA sorts through about 800,000 pieces of learning material, from digital courses and webinars to podcasts, articles, and case studies. Because it maintains profiles of interested professionals, FLEXA also can serve as a digital recruiting platform for corporations looking to hire new talent.

An IDEA for the Future Classroom

As these examples show, today’s business schools are highly focused on answering a critical question: How will technology shape the future of learning?

It’s a question that’s getting particular attention at Imperial College Business School’s Innovation, Digital Education, and Analytics Lab (IDEA Lab) in London. In one initiative, which considers how AI can be integrated into learning, faculty are using course materials and personas to create AI avatars and simulations. As students converse with the avatars to deepen their understanding of specific topics, AI turns passive content consumption into interactive dialogues.

Through rapid advancements in AI and XR, society is witnessing a unique convergence of digital and physical worlds and unlocking an entirely new set of tools to build solutions, says the IDEA Lab’s executive director Monica Arés. This rare moment in the trajectory of education, she adds, will increase student engagement and retention by enabling personalized learning at scale.

As other schools come up with their own ways of integrating AI into the classroom, they will create more fun, intriguing, and innovative learning experiences. Sandy beaches and space shuttles are just the beginning—who knows where business education might go next?

Stephanie Mullins-Wiles
Director, BlueSky Education
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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