In my previous article for the Learning Guild, "Conversational & Experiential: The New Duality of Learning," I shared observations on the transformative shift occurring within digital learning, spanning learning, training, and talent. This trend has obviously continued to accelerate, due to the rapid advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and its applications for learning.

On one side of this duality stands conversational learning and training, which, through sophisticated chatbots and virtual tutors, allows us to personalize the learning journey like never before.

Complementing these conversational approaches are learning experiences enhanced with AI. I highlighted the fast-growing role of immersive scenarios and simulations, produced in tandem with AI and powered through AI in their delivery.

Moreover, the integration of voice interactions, advanced image processing, and augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies provides additional tools to enrich learning experiences.

While "Conversational & Experiential" was more of a glimpse into the future of how AI will impact learning, training, and talent this year, we are now seeing more and more providers roll out so-called "beta versions" of their technologies, showcasing use cases in the exhibition halls of conferences and allowing teams to experience these technologies hands-on.

The rapid adoption of AI signifies a real shift for our industry, and we are able to see sparks of what is coming our way throughout 2024 and beyond.

A shift toward integrated solutions 

While the previous year saw a focus on standalone AI tools, the current shift is toward providers offering fully integrated solutions.

This means that platforms are underpinned by large language model (LLM) capabilities and integrate a large range of other tools, such as image and video generation tools, avatars, and voices. In combination, these can lead to learning and training experiences consisting of complex storylines as well as immersive and evolving scenarios, all of which have previously been impossible to build and deliver at scale.

So what are the imminent use cases we are seeing that are starting to bring such a vision to life?

I have recently come across two use cases that have particularly impressed me, personally, as have my conversations with leaders delivering these use cases across their organizations and the feedback and impact they are experiencing. These two use cases are leadership training in handling difficult conversations on the one hand, and the use of complex scenarios to work on critical thinking skills on the other.

Practicing difficult conversations

One of the most compelling applications I've seen lies in managerial and leadership training, specifically in navigating complex interpersonal dynamics: practicing difficult conversations. Through interactions with sophisticated avatars capable of mimicking a diverse range of employee personalities and behaviors, learners can engage in realistic scenarios that challenge their communication skills.

These avatars facilitate a spectrum of conversations, from routine check-ins to delicate discussions about performance or team dynamics, providing a safe space for learners to experiment, fail, and ultimately grow. The depth and flexibility of these simulations reflect the real-world variability of human interaction, making each learning experience uniquely insightful. 

The beauty here is that these experiences and interactions can be as varied as human personalities are in real life, including the capability to "understand" some nuances in the use of language from the learner—at least for some languages, such as English—and they offer a smoothly adaptive and contextualized experience.

For example: 

  • We can encounter an employee who delivers high performance but doesn't interact and communicate well with the other members of their team.
  • We can simulate a difficult conversation with our boss, and, having identified that a deadline will be impossible to meet without further resources, ask for additional resources.
  • Or we can practice having a conversation with an employee who we are putting forward for promotion and expansion of their responsibilities, which is key to our strategy of growing the team, but find that the employee does not feel they are ready for this move, declining the opportunity and putting their leader or manager, the learner, into a bind. 

While these are great examples of scenario-based, conversational experiences and practice, the most interesting implementations I have seen do not limit themselves to pure digital delivery. In fact, I've enjoyed discussing a number of very exciting workshops with learning leaders in global organizations, where participants attend in-person workshops, and where these digital experiences form only part of the overall experience and discussion.

In addition to practicing the digital scenarios as an individual, debating scenarios and different approaches with a partner at the same workshop, or even in small groups, can add immense value to the learning experience, as can going back to the digital scenario following a discussion and testing ideas and responses that surfaced from the group discussion. 

I find this particularly exciting, as it combines so many great tools for learning and practice, not forgetting that the digital tool is only one of the many tools in the box.

Honing critical thinking with simulations 

Another great approach I have seen is in simulations. Simulations stand out as a transformative approach within digital learning, challenging learners to navigate complex scenarios that demand not just recall of information, but deep analytical thinking and decision-making. These interactive narratives push learners to engage with a series of unfolding situations, each designed to provoke critical evaluation and strategic decision-making. 

What sets these simulations apart is their focus on fostering a mindset geared toward critical thinking and adaptability rather than merely testing knowledge acquisition. As learners navigate through scenarios, each presenting a balanced array of arguments and counterarguments from various stakeholders, they are encouraged to synthesize information, assess options, and make choices that align with broader organizational goals and ethical standards. 

The discussions I've had with leaders implementing these simulations reveal a dual focus: enhancing individual critical thinking skills and embedding these capabilities within the fabric of the organization.

Again, the most exciting implementations of these simulations transcend digital delivery, finding a powerful complement in in-person workshops. Here, participants not only engage with digital scenarios but also participate in vibrant discussions, exploring different perspectives and collaboratively crafting solutions. This blended approach amplifies the learning experience, merging the immersive power of digital simulations with the nuanced, collaborative learning that occurs in group settings.

The integration of digital and in-person elements exemplifies the future of learning and development, where technology and human interaction enrich each other, creating a more dynamic, responsive, and effective educational ecosystem.

More innovation to come …

As we move through the year, the trend toward integrated solutions that blend conversational and experiential learning into various formats is expected to accelerate. This isn't just a shift in the tools we use for upskilling and reskilling; it's a fundamental change in our approach to enhancing performance and improving skills. The emergence of integrated learning solutions signals a future where technology serves to enhance personalized, effective learning experiences.

The excitement shared in discussions with industry leaders isn't merely about the technological advancements themselves but about the promise they hold for transforming learning methodologies. The real measure of success for these innovations will be their impact on learners, particularly in how they foster critical thinking, adaptability, and comprehensive understanding.

As we adapt to these changes, our focus should remain steadfast on creating learning experiences that are both innovative and impactful. An exciting aspect of this current evolution is the seamless integration of digital platforms with traditional in-person workshops, bridging the gap between technology and human interaction to create a holistic learning environment.

In my next article, we will explore the significant role that AR and VR technologies are playing in this transition. By bridging the digital with the physical, we're crafting learning experiences that are richer, more engaging, and more effective than ever before.

This balanced approach to learning—where digital enhancements meet the irreplaceable value of face-to-face interactions—represents the core of our journey forward. It underscores our commitment to crafting educational experiences that are not only informed by the latest technologies but are also deeply human at their core.