Reflections from IDEAL Learning Circles: Artificial Intelligence

text reading Artificial intelligence over an image of adult learners

IDEAL Consortium is a community of practice for state-level staff who support digital education in WIOA-funded adult education. The IDEAL spring learning circles bring together members from IDEAL states (e.g., state office staff, professional development leaders and facilitators)  to share ideas, identify solutions to challenges, and collaboratively develop resources. In 2024, the learning circles convened around these prioritized issues identified by the membership: leveraging Learning Management Systems for quality instruction, teaching hyflex courses, using digital literacy plans, and integrating Artificial Intelligence tools. This blog post is part of a series authored by the IDEAL Learning Circles facilitators, reporting on key insights that grew from them.

Given the influence of artificial intelligence (AI) on learning and work, it is crucial for state adult education leaders to understand how to support educators in safely and responsibly leveraging AI and integrating AI literacy into their programs. Our AI Learning Circle was designed to help state leaders address the increasing interest in AI, discuss existing and necessary policies, and strategize on supporting AI implementation at the state administrative level. This circle met three times from early February to early April 2024, working together to better understand what advancements in AI demand of leaders in adult education.

The goal of the AI Learning Circle

A Flippity sorting activity illustrated similarities and differences amongst guidance administered by the OECD, The White House, and UNESCO on AI.
A Flippity sorting activity illustrated similarities and differences amongst guidance administered by the OECD, The White House, and UNESCO on AI.

At the start of the learning circle, we set out to develop guidance for adult educators on using AI. We used TeachAI’s Guidance for Schools Toolkit, a resource designed to support PK-12 schools, as our core text, imagining it would have some relevant insights for adult learning contexts. The toolkit provides a framework for incorporating AI and principles for AI guidance that participants found useful. We compared similar themes across multiple resources that include guiding principles on AI and used that comparison to consider how we might adapt these principles in a way that is helpful to teachers and learners. 

What We Learned 

In short order, we found ourselves traveling down many rabbit holes to discuss our burgeoning questions – ranging from the most theoretical, like “What does generative AI mean for the future of reading, writing, and learning English?” to the practical, like “What exactly do teachers need to know?”

We identified some prerequisites to developing AI guidance for adult education:

  1. Expanding Knowledge and Awareness: While the toolkit recommends that stage 1 is developing guidance and policy, the group agreed that adult education teams need to start with collaborative learning experiences to raise awareness and knowledge across every role. 
  2. Mapping Out Governance and Accountability: Because adult education takes place under different governance structures (in some states led by the Department of Education, in others by the Department of Labor, e.g.), we found the challenge of complying with existing policies especially pronounced, with many of the participants unsure where to start and others already participating in AI working groups or similar cross-cutting collaboration opportunities in their states. 
  3. Developing Consensus: When we considered the range of benefits and risks that AI introduces and the nuances within, members felt that more conversations need to be had so that we can reach some consensus around how to define the ethical use of AI for adult education. 
  4. Understanding Learners’ Needs: Topics that need further exploration include how AI can enrich learners’ experiences, align with their enrollment goals, and immediately benefit them.
  5. Equipping Educators: All participants in the learning circle provide professional development in their state. They characterized teachers as the “early adopters” and emphasized that once generative AI is demystified, teachers find it very useful. Reducing theoretical “what if” questions and connecting AI directly to practice, with a balance between innovation and accountability, is crucial for effective integration.
  6. Impact on Language Education: The significant impact of new GenAI and large language models on ESOL, language justice, translanguaging, and language access came up frequently in our conversations. Since a language component occupies a large portion of instruction in adult education, participants highlighted the need to attend specifically to teachers, learners, and curriculum in this subject area. 

What’s next?

Understandably, the learning circle didn’t end with new policies etched in stone and ready for ongoing implementation. Instead, it marked the beginning of a collaborative journey where educators, leaders, and stakeholders will continue to engage, refine, and develop AI guidance and strategies that are responsive to the evolving needs and challenges in adult education. 

Participants are interested in continuing the conversation and co-developing resources to support the field. Some ideas for technical assistance resources included a map of the spectrum of AI use in specific subjects and developing personas to test and explore AI tools for bias. Out of this conversation, the EdTech Center has already developed two new resources to address some of the needs expressed: 

  1. The AI Integration FrameworkParticipants wanted questions that one can ask themselves before using AI and examples of AI use in different contexts. This framework includes six dimensions of AI integration, and within each dimension there are questions to ask vendors/developers, questions for educators to consider, and use scenarios in adult education. 
  2. The AI Literacy Matters one-pagersWhile not fully satisfying the need for a framework of AI literacy extending from existing digital literacy frameworks, which was discussed in the Learning Circle, this collection of one-pagers does begin that work by highlighting the ways AI shows up in an adult’s life and what adults need to know to navigate its presence safely and leverage it effectively. 

Our AI Learning Circle was a valuable step toward understanding and integrating AI into adult education. The collaborative efforts, open mindedness, and shared insights of IDEAL Consortium members highlighted the challenges and opportunities AI presents. The Learning Circle will continue to convene until the 2024 IDEAL Summer Institute in August. 

IDEAL Consortium is open to any state. If you are an edtech or professional development leader in your state, we invite you to explore membership for your state to be part of this dynamic and forward-thinking community. Any educator can join our monthly EdTech Strategy Session webinars


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