Why Students Still Need to Learn to Write in the Age of AI

In an era where machines can write your emails and papers for you, why should students still learn to write?

Yes, generative AI has gotten pretty good at natural language generation. In fact, studies have shown that people tend to prefer AI-generated writing!  Personally, I find off-the-shelf AI-generated writing to be too flowery and kind of stale. But in many cases – especially for lower-skilled writers – AI  pumps out pretty decent written content. 

But I firmly believe that students still need to learn and develop writing skills. 

Here are 9 reasons why:

1. Clear thinking 

Clear writing is a reflection of clear thinking. When someone isn’t able to express their thoughts clearly, I question the depth and clarity of their understanding. The process of writing helps students organize thoughts, identify gaps in their understanding, and think more critically about complex ideas. By learning to write clearly, students learn to think logically, express their ideas coherently, and make well-reasoned arguments. This skill is invaluable in everyday life (not just in school). Thinking clearly and making informed decisions are important in everything we do..

2. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills

Writing is a powerful way to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. When writing, we have to analyze information, evaluate arguments, and make informed judgments. This process helps develop the ability to think critically about complex issues, consider multiple perspectives, and construct logical, well-reasoned arguments. In addition, writing often requires students to break down complex problems into manageable pieces, devise creative solutions, and communicate their ideas effectively. These skills are essential skills for tackling complex problems in a world of accelerated change.

3. Creativity and originality

From the earliest days of humanity, we’ve been creative. Humans have been creating songs, stories, dance, art, and more since the time of cave-dwelling. Creativity and storytelling are core to who we are as human beings. 

Human writers bring unique perspectives, experiences, and creativity to their writing, producing original content that goes beyond what AI can currently generate based off of patterns and prediction. I think of the richness of the human experience and what will be lost if humans forget how to use their own words and ideas to express themselves. While I believe the future is a world where humans are augmented by AI, it’s imperative we don’t fully outsource writing and other art forms.

4. Effective communication

Writing is a fundamental form of communication that enables everyone to express their ideas, thoughts, and feelings in a clear and compelling manner. Whether crafting an essay, composing an email, or creating a report, writing helps students develop the ability to convey complex information in a way that is easily understood by others. This skill is essential in personal and professional contexts, where the ability to communicate effectively can be the difference between success and failure. Yes, AI-generated writing can help with this. But students still need to learn what makes communication effective. And the best way to learn that is to do it themselves. 

5. Personal and professional growth

Writing is a skill that requires continuous practice and refinement. Engaging in the writing process helps students develop their voice, style, and confidence as writers. Finding your voice can play a big role in personal and professional growth.

6. Human connection

Writing is often a deeply personal and emotional act. Human-written content can forge connections, evoke empathy, and inspire others in ways that AI-generated text may struggle to replicate. Writing is powerful. Again, while I believe AI-enhanced humans are the future, we cannot fully outsource writing and other art forms that allow us to connect with each other. 

7. Developing empathy and understanding

Writing encourages students to explore and understand diverse perspectives. This teaches empathy and open-mindedness. Fiction has been shown to improve empathy and to increase helpful behaviors. By engaging in writing, students become better people and citizens. They develop a deeper appreciation for the complexity of human experiences and learn to value diverse voices.

8. Inspiring innovation

The awe-inspiring, futuristic worlds imagined by science fiction writers have frequently sparked the curiosity and ambition of scientists, leading to the development of groundbreaking technologies. Star Trek and the Jetsons have inspired the creation of cell phones, laptops, and home cleaning robots. I’ve always loved historical fiction and science fiction. But even I remember being an undergrad at MIT and being astonished by how deeply passionate my classmates were about science fiction. Writing is so powerful that it can literally lead to the future – by inspiring and driving innovation across various fields.

9. Collaboration with AI 

Finally, I’ll address the elephant in the room. Yes, the future is a world where writers use AI to craft better writing. Paradoxically, that makes it more important to be a better writer. Confused?

As AI writing tools become more common, students who have strong writing skills can better collaborate with and guide these tools. As AI thought leader Ethan Mollick wrote in Co-intelligence, writers are often the best at working with AI to create writing. They can provide the necessary context, specify requirements, and edit AI-generated content to ensure it meets their intended purpose and audience. 

Because generative AI currently creates writing by guessing what the next probable word is, it often creates generic, inaccurate, one-dimensional text. Writers who can describe the effects they want the words to create are able to use AI to create more powerful prose. With their editing skills, good writers are able to guide the AI to improve their writing. And those who are familiar with a variety of different tones and styles can use that knowledge to prompt the AI more effectively.

In short, good writers are better at reviewing, editing, and adapting AI-generated text to fit specific needs or preferences.

Writing in the Age of AI

While AI can assist with writing tasks, it does not eliminate the need for students to learn and develop their writing skills. The process of writing fosters critical thinking, creativity, effective communication, personal growth, empathy, and the ability to inspire innovation. 

Rather than replacing human writers, AI writing tools are changing the nature of writing work, requiring students to have both strong writing skills and the ability to collaborate with AI.

As is true of many aspects of life, process is equally important as outcome. In teaching writing, process is more important than outcome.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Yolanda is also a Founding Board Member of the Hawai’i Center for AI (HCAI), a non-profit organization. HCAI envisions a future in which all of Hawaiʻi’s residents have access to AI technology that effectively and safely serves their individual and collective well-being. Hawai’i Center for AI promotes the beneficial use of AI to empower individuals, communities, and industries throughout Hawai’i. We are committed to understanding the ways AI will help grow the state’s economy, help our institutions evolve, and transform our society. Through collaboration, education, and service, we drive research, innovation, and community partnerships to build a sustainable, prosperous, and policy-driven future for Hawai’i.

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