What Role Will AI play in L&D?

With today’s focus on digital technology, it’s easy to neglect a simple fact: All that technology is meaningless without the right talent to put it to use. That means investing in new ways of working with, training, and hiring staff who have the correct skills.

Many of the products and services we see in today’s digital society were inconceivable not long ago. For example, Google introduced Google Duplex, a new technology for conducting natural conversations to carry out “real-world” tasks over the phone. The technology uses a combination of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Voice Recognition, Big Data, and Machine Learning. While it’s still in its infancy, Google says it is a taste of things to come. 

So the key question here is: As newer applications that include the usage of AI such as Google Duplex come into effect, how can Learning and Development (L&D) professionals make best use of them? How can they apply them in the workplace and what role will they have?

For employers, the cost to find, recruit, and train new employees year after year just isn’t sustainable, so companies need to look for effective ways to engage and retain top talent for a longer period of time. 

In this digital age, AI is a significant focus for all industries to make things better and efficient in the way we work and live, and this is very much true in the U.S., where the bulk of AI innovation is taking place in tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, and Apple.

Technology and Talent

AI is predicted to be big: worth at least $15.7 trillion by 2030, according to research done by PwC last year. The U.S. has outlined a plan to make the country an AI powerhouse and thereby boost the economy, as well as safeguard jobs.

With today’s focus on digital technology, it’s easy to neglect a simple fact: All that technology is meaningless without the right talent to put it to use. That means investing in new ways of working with, training, and hiring staff who have the correct skills. This is one of the key reasons I believe AI will have a significant impact in L&D, and not just in manufacturing and R&D. 

According to arecent report by PwC, 67 percent of executives in the U.S. think AI will help humans and machines work together to be stronger using both artificial and human intelligence. With AI, which Gartner forecasted would generate $1.2 trillion worth of “business value” on a global scale in 2018, a 70 percent increase over 2017, organizations will have to think less about job titles, and more about tasks, skills, and having the correct mindset to train. 

To put people’s concerns about unemployment at ease, it is worth noting that AI is not an automatic fix for everything, and it is not going to completely replace humans; it is just an algorithm tool. So the role of L&D is going to be central to all of this. 

At the CIPD L&D Show in London last year, Deloitte’s dead of L&D, Pash Reddy, said AI is not necessarily going to replace humans altogether. Jobs replaced by robots will top 5 million by 2020, but 2 million other jobs will be created to support the technology. "Businesses need to get ready for this digital disruption, but so far only 13 percent have,” he warned. “L&D roles are changing—what was relevant last year may not be relevant now." 

New Ways of Learning

The intellectual capabilities of staff should never be ignored, and this is why it is so important for L&D professionals to routinely gather the relevant data from their employees so they can understand and learn about the latest tools and techniques needed to drive learning and performance, and then apply them to work.

When it comes to AI, L&D leaders should stay abreast of the latest methodologies and trends. They should develop their adaptive learning strategies to gain a better understanding of learner behaviors and to predict needs by recommending and positioning customized courses.

The application of AI can provide employees with an interesting twist on learning and development, and could also be fun, too! Effectively, with the help of AI, learning and development can result in faster learning and the retention of knowledge for longer periods. Without a bold culture of learning, organizations will risk falling behind.

Having the Correct Data

A structured and systematic customer relationship management (CRM) system that holds vital employee data such as job descriptions, employee profiles, and performance reviews can make the job of L&D professionals easier. 

When AI technology is put into practice at the workplace, L&D professionals will need to make sure everyone in their company understands how it works. They will need to think about how this new technology will impact their day-to-day work, and how an employee’s core responsibilities will change. Most important of all, they will need to think about what areas of the business employees can contribute to with the skills they have.

Identifying the Talent Gap

Having the technology is great but it needs to be understood better before it is used. This is where L&D can assist in identifying the correct talent gap made up of a diverse pool of user experience, design, research, and programming professionals who can help to create AI solutions. Because of the nature of the technology, there always will be a need for continuous improvement and adoption of knowledge. 

The ROI Is Higher, the Impact and Data Are Measurable

AI offers significant ROI to L&D professionals for two main reasons. 

First, it can dramatically shorten and smooth out the learning process. Let’s say, for example, an employee wants to do enhanced training on a particular subject matter he or she has not worked on for a while. Provided the L&D team has the data stored on the particular employee, they can bring up the learner’s history and recommend a course according to his or her performance reviews right there and then. 

By bringing learners directly from point of interest to point of learning, L&D capitalizes on the moment when a learner’s attention is fully focused on a product, shortening the learning process. 

Second, unlike so many forms of learning, AI is immediately and transparently measurable. It can be measured from the L&D manager’s desktop or smartphone, anytime he or she wants. The in-app camera click, the type of device used, the gender, location, and time of engagement—all this and more is captured and presented on a single dashboard, giving the L&D professional instant, brand-owned insights. 

When a learner interacts through an AI powered app, L&D professionals suddenly gain insight into behaviors that could never before be tracked, such as a learner’s lack of knowledge of a particular subject related to his or her job. The data AI generates can be used by L&D to boost the effectiveness of all their channels, both online and offline.

Finally, with all of these factors in mind, it is worth nothing that as AI shapes the future of work, employers should focus on human skills and the role of L&D. They need to put their efforts into thinking how that is going to be fundamental in making sure people are there to create, maintain, and use the technology to drive a company’s ROI. 

Niall McKinney is Global President at AVADO, which helps ensure L&D professionals are fully equipped with the world-class knowledge and skills required for the use of AI and other digital technologies

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