Generative AI: are we seeing the future of corporate L&D?
Love it or fear it, this ubiquitous, so-called ‘generative pre-trained transformer’ from San Francisco-based tech firm OpenAI is reputed to be the fastest-growing internet service of all time, having topped 100 million users in January, a mere handful of weeks after its launch. Thanks to the company’s heavily trailed $10 billion deal with Microsoft, it’s also spooked big hitters like Google into fast-tracking the rollout of their own chatbots.
Much of the coverage is exploring how generative apps are encroaching on ‘human’ territory, using deep learning and natural language processing (NLP) to push the boundaries of what was considered possible – or even plausible – a few decades ago. But how might it impact corporate learning and development (L&D) programmes – for better or worse?
Improving the L&D experience for all
Daniel Strode is Global Director of Culture and Strategy at Santander and author of The Culture Advantage. He believes that the potential for using this tech to transform L&D is already clear.
‘At this stage, the best uses cases for L&D focus on creating training content with very little effort. If and when you overlay a human on top of the content an AI has generated, you can create more impactful – sticky – content. But there’s also a massive opportunity to give learners a more rounded experience by using AI to assess existing training content and identify missing components or areas for improvement.’
Generative AI’s ability to digest information and generate content that’s tailored to the individual’s pace and style could also help to personalise L&D delivery, translating complex ideas into digestible segments, while making learning more inclusive.
It’s an approach that could broaden access to learning opportunities; neurodivergent employees may benefit hugely from custom-generated audio and visual material, for instance, rather than being directed along the same well-trodden path as their neurotypical peers.
Christy Kulasingam is an experienced business strategist and founder of Radbourne Consulting.
‘Generative AI can add huge value by recommending personalised learning journeys, automatically curating ultra-specific learning playlists, and giving higher quality education feedback and improvement plans that are closely aligned to a company’s learning outcomes.’
Scaling cross-organisational provision
Further, in companies where L&D provision faces geographical constraints or budgetary pressure, matching skills development opportunities to individual needs could also offer a time-saving shortcut that’s also a better fit for everyone – even if they’re working remotely – while freeing up human resources to deploy where they can make a difference.
This capacity to deliver L&D that’s simultaneously more personalised and more distributed could potentially have the greatest impact within enterprise-level businesses that manage often unwieldy L&D programmes. Because large language models like ChatGPT can create new content that mimics individual speaking and writing styles, it will become easier and more cost effective to produce assets that accurately reflect a company’s voice and values.
Christy continues: ‘Tools like Recut.io can be applied to generate personalised learning content – even to include tailored speeches and pep talks from corporate leaders – which could prove invaluable for distributed teams. By embracing intelligent automation, corporate L&D functions can instead focus their efforts on designing impactful human interventions and building rewarding mentoring relationships.’
Delivering continuous learning at scale
Moreover, as corporate L&D programmes become increasingly user-centric, AI can be deployed to promote an organisational culture of continuous learning.
David Galea is a digital transformation expert, Director of Digital Leadership at Centigo and author of Digital Made Simple.
‘The greatest breakthrough to be achieved by these technologies will be transitioning from an intermittent to a continuous approach to L&D. This means that rather than having a linear cycle of formal learning and concept application, these two functions are merged into an infinite loop of learning and application with each stage reinforcing the other.
‘These applications can continue to clarify, reinforce and reframe concepts, ensuring all learners receive the same level of quality in the learning experience – free from the personal bias of the human trainer’.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Graham Glass, CEO and founder of Cypher Learning, who predicts that generative AI could enhance and accelerate skills-based learning at every level.
‘Large language AI models stand to make skills acquisition easier, faster, and friendlier. Content production time will be sharply reduced – and not just for text. The independent lab Midjourney is already generating imagery in response to written or verbal inputs. In business, this could enable faster creation of visual guides for workers to learn complex technical processes – learning to change an aircraft engine, perhaps, or run a hydroelectric dam.’
Making the right connections
We shouldn’t get too carried away, though; the servant isn’t about to become the master. While generative AI tools may excel at dissecting and reconfiguring fragments of existing knowledge, humans are still better able to forge conceptual connections or intuitive leaps, especially when identifying the approach that will unlock a challenge for a learner, a team or an organisation.
Dr Tanya Boyd is a Learning Experience Architect at people development organisation Insights.
‘L&D professionals need to be clearly informed about what AI can do and what its limits are. We already know a lot about how people learn; this knowledge should underpin the methodology that we use to build learning opportunities, journeys, and ecosystems in our organisations. Once we have that framework in place, then we can look to technology to help advance these learning opportunities.’
It’s also worth considering that not every organisation has the maturity in data, technology or business processes to take full advantage of the benefits of AI. Or it could be that other technologies would integrate more easily with their team’s learning styles. The impact of applications like ChatGPT on learning and development will ultimately depend on how it is integrated into a company’s existing L&D culture.
Ian Thatcher is MD at change and transformation agency Robots and Humans. He believes that embracing generative AI may actually increase the workload for L&D departments, at least in the short term.
‘Humans mostly learn by experience and AI technologies can undoubtedly play a role in transferring knowledge into different learning styles. Those leading L&D, though, will have greatly expanded responsibilities for teaching not only human learners but the technology and machines too.
‘Organisations, in theory, can become much more efficient at the iterative, rinse-and-repeat tasks but there’ll also be a fresh conundrum: how can you effectively teach the technology?’
An evolving picture
Indeed, ensuring the accuracy of training data will be key to evolving L&D. While generative AI applications can help connect us to a more intuitive learning process through greater personalisation, accessibility, scalability and scope, human planning, direction and oversight will still be vital.
Christy Kulasingam: ‘AI can be a convincing liar. It can generate impressive-sounding answers, but the accuracy of these answers depends on one crucial factor: training data. Although we should soon see AI solutions incorporating references and further reading from trusted sources, the necessity of human due diligence, no matter how good technology appears, can never be underestimated.’