AI and the importance of meaningful humane learning

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, in his 2016 book The Fourth Industrial Revolution, correctly observed that as the workplace becomes more digital and high tech, and while artificial intelligence (AI) and robots are becoming crucial in the workplace, there is an urgent need to still feel the human touch grounded in meaningful close relationships and social connections between people.

Universities, whose core mission is teaching, research and service engagement, are challenged to design and deliver engaging and effective learning programmes grounded in appreciative leadership that is aimed at building thriving individuals, organisations and communities, argued Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom and Kae Rader in their 2010 book on Appreciative Leadership.

In addition, appreciative mentoring is core to the success of the workforce in this fourth industrial revolution. It is important that all educators endeavour to tap into people’s collective positive relationships with technology, and teach social skills aimed at nurturing appreciative leadership, appreciative mentoring, and caring and empathic workplaces.

To prepare undergraduate and graduate students for the future world of work, institutions of higher learning should always remember that leadership matters.

Thus, institutions should endeavour to build leadership courses in the core curriculum and focus on developing holistic education that seeks to nurture the learners’ minds, hearts, souls and bodies (mental, spiritual and physical well-being).

For we know that there is an association between the biological heart and emotional heart, as noted by Dr Sandeep Jauhar in his TED Talk on “How your emotions change the shape of your heart”.

To achieve holistic learning and prepare well-rounded graduates, there is an urgent need to emphasise four types of intelligence identified by Schwab in his 2016 book. These include:

• Contextual intelligence and engaging learners to co-create the future

• Emotional intelligence and the biological heart and emotional heart

• Inspired intelligence and meaningful learning

• Physical intelligence and individual well-being

These are discussed in more detail below.

Contextual intelligence and engaging learners to co-create the future

According to Schwab, the term contextual intelligence was coined by Nitin Nohria, the former dean of Harvard Business School. Contextual intelligence refers to the nurturing of the mind and the cognition processes that assist learners to understand and apply knowledge learned.

The fourth industrial revolution era is characterised by networks through the internet and people. To develop contextual intelligence among learners, educators must recognise and understand the value of diverse learners, diverse networks and diverse social media platforms, and have the capacity to seek multiple perspectives among learners.

In addition, they must be willing to respect difference and be the ‘genius of inclusion’, and be willing to engage learners to co-create the future, as noted by Whitney, Trosten-Bloom and Rader in 2010.

Emotional intelligence and the biological heart and emotional heart

Empirical evidence now shows that there is a link between the biological heart and the emotional heart, and this is true in the case of learning.

Emotional intelligence recognises the emotional heart and how learners process and integrate their thoughts and feelings and relate to themselves and to others appropriately, according to Daniel Goleman of Rutgers University, in a 2004 article on “What makes a leader”, published in Harvard Business Review.

In his 2016 book, Schwab noted: “As a complement to, not substitute for contextual intelligence, emotional intelligence is an increasingly essential attribute in the fourth industrial revolution.”

For graduates joining the workplace during this technology-informed and technology-driven era, emotional intelligence is the vital foundation for skills critical to workplace success, such as self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and interpersonal relationships (Goleman 2004).

In a workplace that is volatile, uncertain, competitive and ambiguous, graduates with high emotional intelligence, wrote Schwab, “...will not only be more creative but will also be better equipped to be more agile and resilient – an essential trait for coping with disruption”.

Inspired intelligence and meaningful learning

Inspired intelligence refers to the soul or spirit and how learners use their sense of individual and shared purpose, trust and other virtues to effect change and act towards the common good – in short, provide leadership.

Thus, inspired intelligence seeks to develop graduates’ ability to continuously search for meaning and purpose. As correctly noted by Schwab: “It focuses on nourishing the creative impulse and lifting humanity to a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny.”

Inspired intelligence helps develop trust, which is essential in developing and nurturing collaboration and teamwork, especially in the learning and workplace spaces.

Physical intelligence and individual well-being

Physical intelligence refers to the body and how learners cultivate their personal health and well-being and that of those around them to be able to apply the energy required for both individual and systems transformations.

Based on our human experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, while contextual, emotional and inspired intelligences are critical to the success of learners and employees, in this technology-driven world, however, most critical is the physical health and well-being of learners and employees in institutions of higher learning the world over.

We have all learned the importance of nourishing personal health, safety and the well-being of all people in our communities. Thus, individual well-being and community well-being are essential components of the learning processes.

Hence the value of creating humane learning and working environments for students and employees to not only survive but thrive in their learning and life endeavours.

We cannot be focusing on environmental sustainability or artificial intelligence without first thinking of creating humane learning and work spaces to nurture the human mind, and by extension to sustain humanity.

Professor Fredrick Muyia Nafukho is vice provost for academic personnel, professor of management and organisation at the Foster School of Business and presidential term professor at the University of Washington in Seattle in the United States. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and not those of his employer. He can be reached at