Have you ever wondered if a robot will take your L&D job someday? Luckily, there’s a website that can answer that question for you (kinda). Here’s what you get when you plug a few common L&D roles into willrobotstakemyjob.com:
? Instructor: 1.0% probably of automation
? Instructional coordinator: 0.4% probably of automation
? Training specialist: 1.4% probably of automation
? Training manager: 0.6% probably of automation
? Chief executive: 1.5% probably of automation
Apparently, L&D professionals are “totally safe.” But retail associates (92%), customer service representatives (55%) and food service workers (94%) are in deep trouble.
I’m not as well-versed in automation as the folks behind this particular website. However, it's clear that these numbers don’t paint the full picture of how artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will impact L&D. In real life, we are anything but “totally safe.”
First of all, if you are an L&D professional who supports a “doomed” profession, you are in just as much trouble as the people you support. That said, most industries experience ebbs and flows. Some retailers are shutting down altogether while others are opening new stores at record rates. In addition, 80% of the global population work in frontline roles that are often the first to be considered “replaceable.” In the end, it’s justifiable to assume that most jobs are not really doomed.
Instead, almost everyone will have to change the way they do what they do. This isn’t the first time technology fundamentally changed the nature of work, and it won’t be the last. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype as people try to figure out what the real impact will be over the short and long-term. According to Susan Lund at McKinsey, 50% of the tasks people do today can be automated. But only 5% of jobs can be entirely automated. Remember, Amazon Go stores still have employees. And the rise of ATMs actually increased frontline banking positions.
L&D may not be pushed to the brink by automation, but technology has an undeniable impact on how we do our jobs and what’s ultimately expected from us. In a world where people can access information anytime and anywhere, waiting for formal training at work has become increasingly untenable. AI is quickly becoming a foundational component of workplace technology. L&D professionals must reinvent themselves in order to provide right-fit support in a modern organization. Otherwise, management and employees will find alternative options.
I try to avoid “imagine a world where …” conversations when it comes to AI. Instead, I have been exploring the practical application of AI in workplace learning from two perspectives: advancement and transformation. AI-enabled tools will help us advance existing practices in the short-term. This is similar to the way AI is applied to improve the capabilities of traffic signals. Long-term, this technology has the potential to introduce new practices and transform the way people develop their knowledge and skills. This is more akin to the eventual promise of self-driving cars.
Figure 1: Technology adoption two-by-two
Every organization will adopt AI at a different pace. (Figure 1) This is especially true within our field, where we tend to lag when it comes to paradigm-shifting technologies (internet, cloud, social, mobile). L&D roles also vary despite similar job titles. Therefore, it’s impossible to say exactly how AI will impact everyone in L&D. That said, let’s merge human and machine for a moment and explore the not-so-distant future for five augmented L&D roles.
Logistics. Testing. Tagging. All of these tasks fit squarely within the AI and automation wheelhouse. Administrators will continue to monitor technology performance. But they will spend more time focused on optimizing system performance across their ecosystem. AI will handle class setup (yes, we will still have classes), dynamically assign training to employees and run functionality tests on new content. The role will expand beyond simple administration to include more complex concepts, including technology strategy and ecosystem architecture.
AI can already generate content from source material. It’s straightforward and factual, but so is a lot of training. Developers will use AI to scrap source material, identify key learning points, and generate draft content, including articles, questions, and basic modules. The developer will then improve this content and curate additional resources using AI-enabled tools before deployment. This will allow the developer to handle more projects and focus their unique skills appropriately. They will also leverage AI to caption videos and translate content within the experience based on each individual’s preference, thereby saving time and money in the development process.
The ID will apply advanced analytics to identify performance gaps and make proactive recommendations regarding proven solutions. They will also leverage adaptive learning technology to provide personalized support experiences for each employee while using a range of content modalities. The ID will continue to lean on their expertise in learning science and design but expand their focus beyond isolated programs to consider the entirety of the learning and development lifecycle.
The ability to prove the impact of learning will fundamentally change how L&D managers approach their work. They will leverage a continuous data flow to build their business case and recommend new tactics. They will also make rapid adjustments when solutions are not performing as expected. Like the ID, they will expand their scope to leverage a range of potential solutions, including on-demand resources, coaching, and mentoring before formal training is actioned. The L&D manager will collaborate with internal (BI, IT, Ops) and external (solution providers) partners to continuously hone the organization’s learning ecosystem.
Chief learning officer
Similar to the L&D manager, the CLO will leverage data to transform their executive role. They will collaborate with their peers to proactively identify and close capability gaps in order to maintain organizational agility and competitiveness. They will champion employee development and enable their teams to embed learning and support within the everyday working experience.
This is a narrow look at how existing AI-enabled technology can impact current L&D roles. Depending on your organization, AI may quickly become transformational and shift the overall role of L&D, resulting in a reduced need for some positions (content, administration, coordination, management) while introducing new roles (data analyst, tech strategy, performance consultation). And we didn’t even touch how AI will change what it means to learn and develop from the employee perspective.
One way or another, L&D is not safe from technology. In this case, that should turn out to be a very good thing—for us, our organizations and the people we support.
If you’d like to explore more on the potential for AI in workplace learning, check out my curated AI resource page on LearnGeek.