Generative AI has brought a new level of innovation to Learning & Development (L&D), with promises of streamlined processes and rapid content generation. But the rapid adoption of AI-powered tools can lead to ineffective learning solutions if not properly managed. In this article I suggest an approach that addresses this issue.

I’ve seen firsthand how the emphasis on efficiency over learning effectiveness can lead to programs that don't deliver meaningful outcomes. The ease of AI-based content creation can also tempt business teams to bypass L&D departments, creating a challenge for maintaining quality. Moreover, the emphasis on speed in AI tools can detract from the focus on effectiveness. As a result, L&D professionals have an important role to shape future learning solutions using AI so they’re effective.

A disconnect between tech and L&D

A significant issue with generative AI is its tendency to create training content that isn't centered on the modern learner. While technology companies excel at software development, they often lack a thorough understanding of modern adult learning principles. Their AI solutions are centered around “level 1” uses of speeding up the current L&D workflow.

Those outside of L&D typically view training as a straightforward process from their school days that can be automated with a few algorithms and a vast dataset. This perspective leads to AI tools that generate generic training using outdated teaching methods – this does little to drive actual learning or behavioral shifts.

While the AI type may vary, overall the AI-generated solutions are often just a faster way of creating ineffective traditional training – with lecture-based training, text-heavy slides, remedial quizzes, and AI-created lecture-style videos. While it uses AI, this approach perpetuates outdated and ineffective training models.

The pitfalls of DIY training

In turn, business leaders and decision-makers often believe they “understand training.” As a result, they harness their own subject matter experts and teams to create their own courses without involving the L&D department. I’ve had excited senior leaders let me know how they’re now able to create training themselves and without the “push back” that their L&D teams provide. 

Although this may seem cost-effective and efficient, it risks compromising the quality of the learning solution. Without the guidance of L&D professionals who specialize in instructional design and modern adult learning principles, DIY training solutions can turn out superficial and ineffective given they are based on outdated methods of “imparting knowledge.” This is not an indictment of business teams; rather, it's a call for collaboration and integration with L&D experts to ensure training programs are cohesive and aligned with organizational goals.

Speed without quality

The allure of speed with generative AI tools can also undermine training effectiveness. While AI vendors often highlight the rapid content creation capabilities of their tools, speed should not be the primary focus in L&D. The speed of AI-training creation is meaningless if it’s ineffective. Learning solutions that ignite behavior change takes time to design, test, and refine. When speed becomes the main objective, the quality of training can suffer, leading to shallow learning experiences that don't achieve the desired outcomes.

The role of learning & development

Given these risks, what can L&D professionals do to ensure generative AI contributes to effective learning? The solution lies in embracing the role of trusted learning advisors, guiding the use of AI tools in a way that prioritizes achieving learning outcomes over only speed. Here are three key steps to achieve this:

1. Playtest and Learn About AI: L&D professionals need to engage with AI tools, understanding their capabilities and limitations. This requires more than just observing product demos; it involves hands-on experimentation to identify the best practices for integrating AI into training programs. Joining AI + L&D communities of practice and collaborating with other L&D experts can provide valuable insights into how to use AI effectively.

For example, an L&D professional may experiment with the common tools that business teams may use to create training. By having an informed opinion though experience, L&D professionals can successfully advocate for if and when those tools should be used. Additionally, they will stay updated on when the tools have advanced sufficiently to be suitable for creating effective, not just quick, learning solutions.

2. Set the Direction for AI to Be Learner-Centered: Effective L&D requires a deep understanding of modern adult learning principles. With an instructional designer defining the learning objectives, target audience and desired learning outcomes, the AI can be customized to address specific learning objectives. This involves crafting the input and adapting the output from AI tools to create relevant learning experiences that drive behavior change.

For example, instead of using AI to create all training slides from scratch, a better approach is for the instructional designer to derive the key materials and use Co-Pilot to rewrite certain slides in plain language. Moreover, instructional designers can oversee AI-generated images to ensure they align with specific concepts and effectively convey the intended message.

A more effective way to leverage AI is to use ChatGPT to generate quiz questions focused on key aspects critical to achieving the performance outcome. This approach is better than having ChatGPT create quiz questions without considering what will drive behavior change. It strikes a balance, enabling learning and development (L&D) professionals to benefit from AI's efficiency while retaining control over the learning's impact and quality.

3. Become Trusted Learning Advisors: To futureproof, L&D leaders and practitioners can establish themselves as trusted advisors within their organizations. This means building strong relationships with business leaders and decision-makers, advocating for best practices in L&D, and guiding the use of AI tools in a way that aligns with organizational goals. By fostering this collaboration, L&D professionals can ensure that AI-generated training is both effective and aligned with the broader objectives of the organization.

A future of effective and efficient

With generative AI on the cusp of transforming learning & development, there's reason for optimism amid the caution. By embracing the role of trusted learning advisors, L&D professionals can guide their organizations through the complex terrain of AI-based training. This involves playtesting and refining AI tools, customizing content to meet specific learning needs, and always prioritizing effectiveness over speed.

With this approach, L&D teams can harness the innovative power of AI while ensuring that training programs are capable of driving real behavior change. The journey toward AI-enhanced learning is filled with opportunities, and with thoughtful guidance, the L&D community can shape a future where technology and effective learning go hand in hand.