I set out to learn ChatGPT, and along the way, my curiosity led me to discover other related topics I did not intend to discover. I asked ChatGPT, “what’s the term called when you accidentally learn something new when learning something else?” There’s a term for that. It’s called incidental learning. Here’s the response: 

As an auto-didact, the last three months have been a fun time for learning.

Here are three topics I am discovering along the way.

  1. I learned how to use Discord. While I had used Discord a couple of years ago, I only really knew how it worked once I got interested in creating images through MidJourney, a text-to-image AI platform that works on Discord. For example, I learned how to use /imagine command to generate a unique image from a short text description (a prompt). I read some examples on Twitter that showed how to use ChatGPT to generate descriptive text, which you can use as a MidJourney prompt. Here’s an example of an image generated by MidJourney. The prompt is “bahay kubo.”

2. I got curious about learning the areas of Artificial Intelligence. What are the disciplines (and their sub-disciplines), and where does ChatGPT belong? I use Airtable to store the information and the relationships between these disciplines. Airtable has an extension called “Flowchart” that enabled me to display the relationships visually, like below. Here’s a more readable version of the diagram below. 

3. I was introduced to Obsidian, a note-taking app that allows users to create, organize, and link their notes using “markdown.” It is designed for knowledge management and personal productivity and offers a range of features to help users connect their ideas and thoughts. Though I have switched to using Airtable to store links to articles related to ChatGPT, Obsidian was where I managed links and my notes associated with Artificial Intelligence.

4. I am learning to analyze conversations around ChatGPT using sentiment analysis and topical modeling. Soon after ChatGPT was introduced in December 2022, I began to track how ChatGPT is discussed on the web and social media by higher education professionals and analysts. I am also compiling higher education institutions’ responses to ChatGPT, which vary from banning the tool, to providing guidance and policies, and presentations around the topic. This is a running list built on Airtable. This journey started with a simple prompt: “How would I analyze the responses around chatGPT? I want to know topics being discussed and sentiments towards ChatGPT.” 

My interest in doing informal research around ChatGPT led me to conversations with faculty members on our campus for their guidance on how to do this research. I intend to share my research finding and maybe even collaborate with scholar(s) more experienced with formal research. One faculty member also expressed the need for IT support on campus as he has chosen to remove the essay and exams from our learning management system and switch to handwritten essays due to ChatGPT.

I am in the starting phase of this learning journey, which started with my curiosity about ChatGPT. I look forward to continuing a deeper understanding of the abovementioned topics and discovering more areas incidentally.

What’s your experience with incidental learning?