Never having been much of a “look back” person, I’m taking the opportunity to muse about where L&D will head in 2024 rather than rehash the ups and downs of 2023. Even so, I find it useful to consider the evolution of learning and of Learning and Development (L&D) practices and assumptions as we move farther into this technology-driven and AI-influenced era.
Industry analyst Josh Bersin says of AI in learning, “Of all the domains to be impacted by AI, perhaps the biggest transformation is taking place in corporate learning. After a year of experimentation, it’s now clear that AI will revolutionize this space.”
That may be so, if only because AI touches on so many aspects of how we conceive of, design, create, and deploy learning content. Alison Shea, a Learning 2023 speaker and author of the Learning Manifesto newsletter, captures the changes through a story: She describes the laborious process her third-grade self engaged in to create a report on birds—going to the library, seeking information in encyclopedias, drawing favorite birds on tracing paper and coloring them in—and then outlines the technologies that today’s young learning leaders used to create “better” reports when they themselves were in third grade. The changes that occurred over a 20-year span, driven by evolving technologies, are truly amazing.
Rather than focusing on finding and curating information, today’s 20- to 30-year olds would have “needed to shift to evaluating all that was available and synthesizing the vast information into the most relevant facts, images, and data,” Shea wrote.
And today’s third graders have generative AI at their fingertips.
Growing & evolving
According to DevLearn 2023 speaker CJ Rodriguez, “The AI global market will grow to a $1.8 trillion industry by 2030.”
In other words, the advances of AI in 2023 are just the beginning!
Reactions range from fear of being displaced or fear of “robots” taking over the world to creative ways to use AI tools to streamline our work, improve productivity, and drive performance.
AI is more than generative AI tools like ChatGPT, of course: Our cellphones and smart speakers have long been powered by AI. Machine translation, chatbots, intelligent recommendations—whether on Netflix, Amazon, or your LMS—these all use AI. But the emergence and rapid improvements in generative AI tools magnified the impact of AI in 2023—an impact that seems likely to grow in the coming year.
Generative AI and L&D
Synthesizing information happens at lightning speed with today’s generative AI tools. Rather than returning complex academic articles and statistic-laden reports, a large language model tool can answer questions simply and conversationally. But that’s only a small piece of what generative AI can contribute to L&D.
Generative AI can be used in many ways. Bersin presents four major use cases:
- Generating content. Fed lengthy and complex information, a large language model could, for example, synthesize that information into a simple process or set of instructions or best practices.
- Personalization. Looking at data on an individual learner’s past performance and demonstrated knowledge, generative AI tools can make learning more efficient and relevant by targeting to each learner the specific information they need.
- Polishing skills & filling skills gaps. Bersin says that “AI can help identify skills within content and infer the skills of individuals.” By focusing training content on specific skills that are needed and targeting training to learners’ weaker areas, AI can again ensure training is more efficient and effective.
- Solving problems without training. We’ve long talked about “just-in-time” training and job aids. AI tools such as chatbots herald a new level of assistance. Instantly providing the specific information that a person needs, when and where they need it, is easier than ever before.
Other areas where generative AI may be game-changing in L&D include:
- Dynamic content updates. AI engines can “keep up with” new information. As new research is published, rules and regulations are updated, or your company’s products and services change, AI tools can dynamically incorporate these changes into job aids, responses to queries, and other training and support content.
- Immersive scenarios. Writing for HBR, Chrysanthos Dellarocas says that generative AI can create "highly realistic, varied training simulations that respond dynamically to user decisions,” exposing trainees to diverse and complex situations and offering experiential learning.
- Intelligent tutoring or coaching. Much like customer service chatbots that answer common and routine questions, coaching or tutoring chatbots can provide “personalized" guidance and feedback to learners.
- Data collection and analysis. AI tools can be used to gather, analyze, visualize, and use data aids in strategizing and decision-making to further enhance performance and efficiency.
AI tools are far from perfect. The risks of “hallucinations”—the generative AI tool making up a response that fits the prompt—are still very real. AI tools that train using internet content are rife with problems from bias to plagiarism to mis- and disinformation.
However, these tools are improving rapidly, and, likely in 2024, it will be possible for organizations to use versions of generative AI tools that pull information and create content based on a body of information provided by the organization or the L&D team. It will become possible to provide vetted information, including proprietary information, as the basis for the AI tool, providing learners accurate and relevant responses to their queries and prompts.
For these reasons, it’s essential that learning leaders understand the tools they are using. Consultant and AI expert Markus Bernhardt offers a series of questions to ask vendors and context for understanding the responses. These include knowing how the AI was “trained” and what data is uses to generate responses, what its limitations are, and who has access to data they gather.
Keep up with AI developments
The Learning Guild will continue to focus on developments in AI—and other essential emerging technologies—throughout 2024. Don’t miss the AI and Talent Development Symposium on April 22. This co-located event with the Learning & HR Tech Solutions Conference and Expo explores the potential of AI to transform workplace cultures and practices. As well, join the Learning Guild and take advantage of the free publications and research reports, along with Learning Solutions articles, that provide free and frequent insights into AI and other essential topics for learning and talent development leaders.