There are a number of questions around the use of AI in learning and development, and most of them center on how AI can be leveraged to help organisations deliver their learning needs on reduced budgets with greater time pressures on our professionals than ever before. As learning professionals we understand that the business comes first, but we still have to grapple with skill gaps, shifting competencies due to disruption, and, often, a need to balance regulatory compliance and technical knowledge with soft skills and broader professional development.
So where does AI fit in this mix?
There are a number of ways that organisations are leveraging AI to support their staff and to help them to find the right training at the right time. To do this, AI is leveraged in two main ways: recommendation engines and chat-bots.
Recommendation engines help learners to find learning which meets their needs, often they leverage curated content, whether internally created or externally located, to provide a wide variety of learning in numerous forms, from instructor-led and virtual to online e-learnings to bite-sized videos and articles. Online external repositories of learning such as Udemy and Coursera are leveraged alongside YouTube, online industry repositories and publications, and TED Talks to fill content gaps as more and more organisations leverage the power of MOOCs and external learning courses to save budget for courses required by a broader swathe of their people.
Recommended learning is provided as a choice to learners through their LMS, allowing them to find and leverage alternative learning that is relevant to their needs. Learners complete a questionnaire that indicates what they do, where they require upskilling, and then leverages this information to provide relevant learning opportunities. In many ways this capability is also working to leverage the power of social learning, as if a number of people find a piece of learning relevant and interesting, so too might you.
Chat-bots on the other hand can be hit or miss – the most important part of a chat-bot is understanding the use case behind it to ensure that the intents (or questions) created to support learners are relevant and helpful, and that the experience of ‘talking’ to the bot is helpful and not frustrating. One common use case for organisations utilising chat-bots is as a way for people to ‘ask’ about their required curricula, whether they have completed all mandated training or where they should go to find the next learning object on the list. This is a simple way to assist learners to feel more supported in their learning, but it is a very limited view of how chat-bots can assist learners.
Onboarding is a great example of a useful and broader breadth of support and learning that a chat-bot can offer to your people. New joiners often have similar information requirements, questions and needs, and through a chat-bot you can provide a judgement-free way for people to ask questions about everything they need to know but might not feel confident asking their new peers or managers.
Basic questions about tools, processes and resources staff are required to use, occupational health and safety information, sick leave and vacation information and internal administrative processes, creates a great repository for those who are onboarding, but also helps existing staff save time by having this information readily available. Add to this key messaging about the organisation’s vision and strategy, links to relevant curricula, key information on corporate culture and codes of conduct, and various links to thought leadership and hot topics in the industry, and you have a recipe for a tool which can go a long way to supporting your newest recruits and helping to boost new employee retention and engagement.
If you work in a regulated industry, providing key information on regulatory changes, and points to remember can also help staff to keep these processes and changes top of mind, helping to prevent issues which might require remediation. One great example of this is GDPR, having a bot able to explain what it is and how it will specifically impact your staff, their work and their clients, creates a great resource that people can go back to after any formal learning interventions, providing support to embed new processes and requirements.
Chat-bots can be as simple or as complex as you need them to be; you can include clarifying questions to ensure the bot is providing the most appropriate answer, and give the new user some ideas on what they can ask to help them to find the confidence to create their own questions. Answers can be updated, so if the rules change, so can the advice given. One of the strongest benefits is that chat-bots are available 24/7 and can be asked the same questions dozens of times, creating a support structure for your staff that is always there, and always ready to assist.
Personality can and should be injected into the bot to help acclimatise your staff to the corporate culture they will be working in, whether fun and friendly, or more formal and reserved, the decision is made by the group creating the intents. Personality also helps to overcome issues where a question asked might not be answered correctly, as if a user feels invested in conversation with a friendly helper, this mitigates frustration at not being able to locate what they need and encourages them to keep trying. People like to talk to Siri and Alexa because they have personality, and that personality encourages them to keep trying with their interactions when the first attempt hasn’t been as successful as they would like.
AI is now
The foundation for success with AI is to understand your employees, understand their learning needs and provide a means for them to choose your organisation’s easy to find, easy to access, relevant learning and information instead of going to Google and potentially learning bad habits and processes that they will need to unlearn. You can levarage AI to reinforce learning, provide help with getting to grips with your organisations corporate jargon, or direct staff to specific learning interventions that will assist them to upskill; the choice is yours.
AI is not the future, AI is here now, ready and waiting to be implemented, but to get the best out of it, as with all technology and all learning interventions, you should first ask ‘what do my learners need, and can this help’ rather than first asking ‘how do I leverage the power of AI for my business’. AI is a fantastic tool, but like all tools, it needs a plan that will ensure it is implemented successfully, and a strong understanding of the audience of learners who hope to benefit from its use.