Artificial intelligence (AI) combines computer science and robust datasets to enable problem-solving. With respect to the learning and development (L&D) challenges involved in human learning, there are three aspects that are the focus of AI:

  • Delivery of instructional content and directions (sometimes referred to as "courseware") intended to guide the learner and facilitate learning;
  • Environmental support for the administrative functions associated with the learning process (learner registration, test scores, completion); and
  • Support for the facilitator and the platform for development and management of learning content.

Benefits of AI Use: Broad overview

The expected result of using AI is a better learner experience and improved learning and development (L&D) organizational performance. The improvements potentially include time savings in the development of instructional materials and increased learner engagement. According to IBM, using its Watson Assistant chatbot can reduce customer services cost by up to 30%; L&D benefits are likely to be similar. (Be cautious: It is doubtful that IBM included the carbon footprint of AI development and use in calculating that percentage; see the carbon footprint discussion in the following section.) Benefits accruing to the platform include improved ROI as a result of support for the development process, and in addition automation of key parts of development frees up time for the designer, developer, and manager.

AI can provide tailored feedback to individual learners and it can support adaptive and assistive support. AI can also support workflow learning and drive performance support.

AI is an enabling technology that can make it possible to assign learners to targeted content or component modules based on their experience, past experience, or past performance. AI can also perform item analysis of learner performance on criterion tests; this means identifying questions that many learners miss or that many learners answer correctly, leading to improved support of content and focus.

AI's carbon footprint

AI is not free to use. Artificial intelligence itself requires "training" and this is becoming a more important matter as AI adopts deep learning approaches. This training involves the use of complex computer systems, and this means capital investment and consumption of electrical power. In other words, AI has a carbon footprint. A recent study by startup Hugging Face found that training one use of AI based on a Large Language Model resulted in 25 metric tons of carbon emissions. When the study took into account the emissions produced by the manufacturing of the supercomputer equipment used for training, the broader computing infrastructure, and the energy required to actually run the Large Language Model once it was trained, the number of tons of carbon emissions doubled.

Practical AI: Build and train your own chatbot

It is also possible to build your own chatbot to deliver some AI functions, such as a chatbot designed to supplement or replace a help desk function for end users, or to guide an instructional designer in the use of software. Such a home-built chatbot will not offer the capability of a system based on a Large Language Model. Making a chatbot is not a "no-code" effort. Whether you choose to build a chatbot in-house or to invest in software from a vendor, the result may be a system that does not do everything you had hoped for, so manage your expectations. Training your chatbot is a key part of preparation for use.

Practical AI: OTS (Off-the-Shelf) software

Artificial intelligence software is available from vendors. However, little if any of it is intended for use in instructional design and development. Check the available reviews online. Most of this is intended as software for end users and will require assistance from your IT group and from the accountable department (sales, support, or other administrative group).

Include AI in your 2023 planning

Deciding where to apply artificial intelligence in your L&D work will take time and thought, and consultation with other instructional designers and managers who have already committed to the effort. Begin with your research now.