The release of ChatGPT in November 2022 was a watershed moment for generative AI (aka tools that use artificial intelligence to create original content like text, audio and images). The recent and rapid advancement in this technology is already impacting the education marketing landscape. We recently fielded a pulse survey to gauge how education marketers feel about the current and future implications for their professional work. You can see those results in our infographic What Business-to-Education Marketers Think of Generative Artificial Intelligence Right Now.
We also asked what business-to-education (B2E) professionals are hearing from their current and prospective customers at education institutions about generative AI. Understanding customers’ perspectives and needs will impact if, how and when AI features become commonplace in educational products and services.
Sixty-three respondents answered our open-ended question: “What have you been hearing most often from your customers on the topic of generative AI (opportunities, questions, concerns, etc.)?”
Answers fell into a handful of key themes:
Theme One: The Sound of Silence
The second-most common answer to our question was: nothing. (Or as one poetic respondent said: “Crickets.”) Fourteen of sixty-three respondents replied to this effect.
This doesn’t imply that your customers aren’t thinking about generative AI or talking about it amongst their education peers. As you’ve likely seen, the topic is heavily covered in the education press, and one of the first collective responses to ChatGPT’s product release was: “Won’t students use it to cheat?”.
Rather, it’s more likely that customers just haven’t started thinking about how these new technologies could impact the products they purchase from education vendors. Once the dust settles, and the immediate topics like plagiarism and copyright subside, customers will likely be ready to hear your pitch about how generative AI is making your product or service better. You should use this down time to begin exploring ways that, if relevant, you may be able to integrate machine learning into your product, and how to deliver that message to your current and prospective customers.
Theme Two: Kicking the Tires
A sizeable number of respondents suggested that their customers and prospects are either still considering implications (six respondents) or have mixed feelings (seven respondents) about the possible implications of generative AI in the classroom. Educators love information, and they typically want to learn more about any subject before forming a strong point-of-view. One respondent is hearing, “[An] almost 50/50 [split between] concern with cheating [and] the need to understand its capabilities.”
If your company is using generative AI in your products, or is exploring doing so, it’s important to listen to your customers who are still gathering info and forming opinions. As one respondent said: “[Our customers] are still grappling with productive uses and still evaluating.” While they grapple, you should be crafting marketing and sales messages that will anticipate and overcome any potential barriers.
Theme Three: Caution Prevails
Unsurprisingly, the most common theme our respondents are hearing is concern about risk and trustworthiness. We know educators are entrusted with making smart, sound decisions that protect students while providing them with the tools to succeed. Generative AI currently sits at the intersection of those two things: it poses risk if used indiscriminately, but also may herald a new era of human learning and achievement.
By nature, the education space requires a high level of accuracy and trustworthiness, so it follows that some of the most frequent words mentioned among the skeptics were “validity,” “accuracy,” and “trust.”
The recent spotlight on tools like ChatGPT, Bard and DALL-E 2 may be making customers even more concerned about preexisting AI. One respondent from the EdTech space said, “We have an AI component to our solution—that used to be a big plus. Recently, folks seem more skeptical and I think it has (at least for the moment) made folks pause rather than become more interested in the part of our suite of solutions that leverage AI.” It’s wise to remember the double-edged sword of increased attention and focus on AI, and consider how you can point out the ways your AI features take safety and security into account.
Theme Four: Ready, Set, Go
While caution seemed to rule the day, six respondents said their customers are relatively gung-ho about generative AI’s potential. Some said they’ve heard customers saying AI “lightens the workload,” they “appreciate how it can generate ideas,” and like that it can “create lesson plans and write email drafts.”
It’s impossible to predict what the next generation of these products will be able to accomplish, so it’s important to assume there will be some meaningful and positive effects on education products, and, in turn, on student learning. Also, since we just returned from the ASU+GSV summit—where generative AI was the hottest topic—we can confidently say that if you aren’t thinking about how to integrate it into your products, a competitor almost certainly is.
On another optimistic note, while our question focused on how education buyers are responding to these technological advancements, one respondent offered an intriguing perspective on how they are exploring generative AI to make their marketing process more effective and empathetic: “[We’re exploring] opportunities to train it and integrate it into our website to help customers understand the solutions to their particular pain points.” This is a great reminder that a well-tuned “robot” will work best when it helps B2E marketers respond to their customers’ human needs.
An Interesting Road Ahead
AI has been touching our lives for decades, and these new generative AI tools are an evolutionary leap. If you’re making, selling or marketing edtech, you should use the survey feedback we’ve shared here as one indicator of how buyers are reacting in early days, and start mapping out a plan for how you’ll respond when they become more familiar and comfortable with generative AI and begin expecting you to integrate it into your products.
In addition to asking what education vendors are hearing from their customers, we also asked your peers how generative AI is affecting their education marketing. To see what they said, download our infographic What Business-to-Education Marketers Think of Generative Artificial Intelligence Right Now.