2 Capabilities and Limitations

What can AI tools do well, and what are their limitations?

This chapter explores:

  • general capabilities and uses of generative AI tools;
  • weaknesses and limitations of AI tools;
  • benefits and drawbacks of AI tools in education.

While each generative AI tool has specific functionalities, some common capabilities include:

  • Creating text: prose, poetry, dialogue, code.
  • Providing examples and references.
  • Generating outlines, questions, tables, and long form text.
  • Summarizing inputted text.
  • Providing feedback on text, including content, organization, tone, and mechanics.
  • Explaining concepts at different levels of understanding.
  • Translating between languages.
  • Remembering instructions within a chat thread and accepting follow-up prompts.
  • In some AI tools like ChatGPT, remembering instructions and preferences from previous conversations.
  • In some AI tools, generating images and video.

Some of the limitations of generative AI tools include:

  • ChatGPT 3.5, which is currently free, is not able to access the web and is lacking knowledge beyond January 2022. ChatGPT 4.0 and Copilot have been trained on data up to April 2023.
  • Content produced by AI tools varies based on the wording and framing of the user’s prompt. See an example in the Writing and Refining Prompts chapter.
  • Free versions of AI tools may be subject to wait times and may have limited capabilities compared to paid versions.
  • See the following table for information about other issues with AI tools like bias, hallucinations, environment, disinformation, copyright, and privacy and safety.


Benefits and Drawbacks of AI Use in Education

Benefits for Students

AI tools offer 24/7 instant and personalized tutoring and feedback. When course and institutional policies allow, AI tools can also be used by students to assist with aspects of assignments that are time consuming but have limited learning potential in order to focus more on higher value learning opportunities. A number of pre-ChatGPT 3.5 studies on student engagement with AI tools reported increases in student motivation, engagement, happiness, and achievement when AI tools are integrated with coursework.[1] Additionally, learning how to use AI tools effectively and responsibly prepares students to use AI in the workforce. For more information, see the Using AI to Enhance Student Learning chapter.

Benefits for Instructional Staff

For instructional staff at educational institutions, AI tools have the potential to help with prep and administrative tasks, including lesson planning, idea generation, editing, email drafting, and assessment. This kind of AI-based ‘cognitive offloading’ can lead to a more manageable workload, better work-life balance, and increased job satisfaction, leading to more working hours available for student contact and support, updating and enhancing curriculum, and continuous learning. For more information, see the Using AI to Enhance Student Learning chapter as well as each chapter in the Practical Uses for Preparatory and Administrative Work section.

Benefits for Accessibility

AI tools can be used to support accessibility in teaching and learning. Some examples are AI-powered text-to-speech and speech-to-text tools, auto-captioning/auto-transcribing, summarizing or adapting a resource, writing assistance, and time-management tools. They can also help instructional staff to increase accessibility of course materials, including generating alt-text for images, changing the language level or format of a resource, and checking a document for accessibility. For more information, see the Generative AI Tools for Education chapter.


This chapter outlines numerous issues related to bias, accuracy, privacy, and copyright. All of these issues cause concern for AI use in educational environments. Another issue is the disparity in educational opportunities arising from use of AI tools—students who can afford premium subscriptions benefit from advanced features and no wait times, while those using free versions face reduced capabilities and potential wait times. There is also a risk that AI tools may be intentionally or unintentionally used by students to plagiarize or cheat, which is leading educators to rethink teaching and assessment approaches. Some educators are concerned that excessive reliance on AI tools will lead to a loss of critical skills, like document organization, problem solving, and creativity. For both educators and students, failing to recognize the limitations of AI tools could have consequences if AI outputs are used without fact checking, adapting, and other forms of human refinement. These consequences could include damaged professional reputations due to inaccurate or unoriginal work and potential legal or ethical violations from the misuse of AI-generated content.



  1. Tufan Adiguzel, Mehmet Haldun Kaya, and Fatih Kürşat Cansu, "Revolutionizing Education with AI: Exploring the Transformative Potential of ChatGPT," Contemporary Educational Technology 15, no. 3 (July 1, 2023):ep429. https://doi.org/10.30935/cedtech/13152.


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Generative Artificial Intelligence: Practical Uses in Education Copyright © 2024 by Troy Heaps is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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