In a world of technological advances, Justin Kinnear explores how AI might impact L&D.



Technology as a negative force


Humans have a long history of suspicion toward new technologies. When Henry Ford introduced his new moving assembly line concept in 1913, reducing the time taken to build a car from 12 hours to 2 hours and 30 minutes, many were unsure what this new way of working might mean. While Ford’s innovation in production did mean cheaper cars for more people, it changed the nature of work at Ford and other factories forever after.


Technological advances may bring benefits for millions, but there is almost always a latent fear about the unintended consequences of what’s new. Today, organisations are already looking for ways to use AI to advance our work and lives. Amazon’s robots run its warehouses, Japanese insurance claims are handled by IBM’s Watson AI solution, and Stanford University Hospital’s “pill-picking robots” dispense medicines 10 times faster than a human can. So, where might AI make a positive impact in the field of learning and development?


Learning is more than consuming


The inevitable assumption is that AI will somehow replace the traditional instructor. Previously promising technology solutions in the classroom have often offered little more than news ways of delivering information, or news ways to access and consume that information. AI can help to tailor what is presented, where it is presented and how it can be accessed, but that won’t radically change the learning experience. Beyond information delivery, great learning should provide relevance for learners, and a deeper human connection through stories and lived experiences. The human contribution to learning may be enhanced by AI but unique human capabilities of relating, finding meaning and relevance, and bringing learning to life through stories, mean human input is likely to remain critically important.


A mountain of sensory data – but what does it mean?


L&D has tried to get to the heart of what makes an effective learning experience using various evaluation approaches. What if AI could discern when we learn and when we don’t learn, and thus guide us to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t? AI coupled with 5G technology will capture and aggregate data on a scale never seen before. Just imagine what we could do with data on what happens when a learner returns to their workplace, who they spend their time with, what they spend their time on, which order they tackled activities etc. However, the current state of AI is closer to machine learning than true AI where a system can think and interpret as we humans can. The capacity for systems to self-teach, to interpret and to derive meaning within a context – these are all capabilities that remain theoretical goals at this time.


We never saw the potential, but it was there all along


As L&D professionals, we should consider the possibilities that technology may create in our industry. New technologies are rarely perfect at the start, but as they evolve and we gradually get used to them, we eventually see the value in the technology as it reveals new possibilities and makes us more capable than we ever imagined. Patience coupled with the imagination to utilise technology in new and interesting ways will be essential for us to make progress.


 “There is an inevitable assumption that AI’s role will be to replace the role of the instructor, but as we have seen with e-learning and more recently MOOCs, technology can’t entirely replace the value generated by a skilled and knowledgeable instructor.

AI’s greatest impact on learning may be in the evaluation and transfer of learning.”


Justin Kinnear is Head of Research at HPC

Justin is a highly experienced facilitator and coach who advises HPC’s clients on their most pressing development issues.  As well as his extensive research and facilitation experience, he was formerly Head of L&D at IBM and Britvic.


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