The Role of Artificial Intelligence in L&D

The age of artificial intelligence (AI) has arrived, and with it a myriad of questions about its potential impact on learning and development. Technical training with AI makes sense; product training is certainly possible; but, experts believe that soft skills like creativity, global mindset, diversity acumen, emotional intelligence, critical thinking and mindfulness are truly the essential skills for the future.

How will AI support assessing and attaining these vital skills? Firstly, L&D professionals will need to know what AI solutions are out there and receive guidance on choosing the right one.

It’s a bit challenging, because most of us are not yet even consciously aware of the AI we’re already using. From online shopping’s search and recommendation functions to voice-to-text in mobile usage, or AI-powered personal assistants like Alexa or Siri, our personal and work lives are already impacted by these new technologies.

Leading research and advisory company, Gartner, projects that AI bots will power 85% of customer service interactions by 2020 and will drive up to $33 trillion of annual economic growth.

What role will AI play in L&D?
Given the fast pace of technological and societal changes, L&D has to stay abreast of the latest approaches and methodologies as they develpp their learning strategies. Gone are the days of one size fits all. AI will provide insights based on the enormous amount of data it has collected and analysed, which will facilitate the creation of customised learning programs–faster than before. Access to these insights and data will allow us to develop a better understanding of learner behaviours and to predict needs by recommending and positioning content based on past behaviour. Adaptive learning that is personalised to the individual is a powerful way to engage today’s workforce, but the challenge facing L&D is to be able to make sense of the data and to leverage those insights to drive business value.

Choosing AI Learning Solutions
Using artificial intelligence, we will now be able to pull data quickly and easily sort through demographics like age, gender, culture, level in the organization, educational background and previous learning experiences, as well as patterns of employee behaviour, requests, needs and work experiences. AI will also make it possible to assess and recommend tailored learning solutions quickly.

L&D professionals will need to know enough about AI to be able to ask the right questions of solution providers and ensure test user groups represent diverse perspectives. Many people say AI will get “smarter” over time as it is used. Of course, this is true, but we need to make sure the recognition software doesn’t inhibit creativity or reinforce thinking patterns that may need to change – not unlike what can happen when internal trainers do all the training in organizations for their peers. On the one hand, it reinforces culture and values, and it certainly saves costs, but on the other hand, there’s no outside or objective perspective or benchmarking against other companies. This can inhibit critical thinking and innovation.

However, for those companies with robust L&D departments, AI will also be able to enhance and streamline content development for instructional designers – assuming they have the right data about what content is relevant and intended for specific populations. Instructional designers will need new and skills to be able to keep up with rapid technological advancements.

AI will free up time for learning professionals to concentrate on creating quality content for learners.

Then, there are the challenges of using AI solutions. Who will use what solution? What will resonate? How do L&D professionals maintain interest?

Let’s take a look at the way AI learning solutions will be used and how things like learning styles and types of learning solutions will be impacted.

“Businesses may want to jump on the AI bandwagon because it’s such a hot topic, but they have to identify what they want to do with it,” advises Mary Beth Ainsworth, global product marketing manager of artificial intelligence and text analytics at SAS. “AI requires a strategy with clearly defined tactical steps to successfully implement that larger plan. AI can provide valuable insights, but what you do with that information still requires human direction.”

That is the crux of the matter.

What do we need to consider in developing, using and promoting the use of AI products?

“Today  learning is about ‘flow’ and not ‘instruction’  and helping bring learning to people throughout their digital experience,” says Josh Bersin. He believes it’s imperative that L&D focus on “experience design,” “design thinking,” the development of “employee journey maps,” and much more experimental, data-driven, solutions in the flow of work.

One of the most important considerations in choosing an AI solution will be the level of analytics the solution can deliver. “If we are going to succeed when it comes to personalised learning, we have to understand how we learn and when we learn most effectively.

The benefits of AI are many, and the concerns valid. In the final analysis, however, we will need to remember to deal with AI solutions in the same way we build learning and development programs: Identify the problem we’re trying to solve or topic on which we are training, and then find the best technological solution to help facilitate the end result.

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