Imagine if learners had 24/7 access to the information they needed, when they needed it. The onboarding process would be quicker, productivity would soar and the weight of knowledge transfer would be largely lifted off the training manager’s shoulders.

Intelligent assistants (also referred to as virtual or digital assistants) are making this ideal learning environment a reality. Using artificial intelligence (AI) to predict, recognize and respond to human queries, intelligent assistants are transforming the learning process by efficiently onboarding new employees and integrating just-in-time learning seamlessly into the flow of work.

Streamlining the Onboarding Process

“When a new person starts in a role, they have a heap of things to learn,” says Kaye Chapman, learning and development manager at customer engagement SaaS provider Comm100. By offering them training at their fingertips, intelligent assistants can help new employees become productive members of their organizations from the get-go. For example, Comm100’s Agent Assist, an intelligent assistant designed to support contact center employees across the banking, health care, finance and government fields, among others, enables L&D professionals to hand off part of the information taught in the onboarding process to the intelligent assistant. This approach reassures new employees that they don’t have to know everything right off the bat: The intelligent assistant has already “learned” and memorized the information they need to succeed on the job.

Chapman says, “There are real benefits, not just in terms of how people assimilate information in order to do their jobs, but in terms of how you can engage new [employees] from the start and make it a little bit easier for them to become effective.”

For example, equipping customer service employees with an intelligent assistant will “cut down on the thinking time. It’s going to cut down on the amount of effort the agent has to do to hunt and search for an answer, because it’s all going to be surfaced right there, in the middle of the conversation, for the agent to curate before sharing with the customer,” says Jeff Epstein, vice president of product marketing at Comm100.

Additionally, says Tracy Malingo, senior vice president of product strategy at customer engagement software company Verint, “Virtual assistants allow employees to be more honest with their learning and what they’re still figuring out. While there may be some element of embarrassment about constantly going to HR with your questions, it’s guaranteed that a virtual assistant won’t judge you for your questions — no matter how many you ask.”

Injecting the onboarding process into the flow of work also helps employees relate training initiatives to their individual jobs. This capability is especially beneficial for employees in customer service roles, says Chapman. “It’s very difficult to give learning packaged up in an alternate environment and just expect agents to memorize that and automatically apply that to their jobs. That’s not the way we work.”

In today’s digital economy, organizations that provide new employees with intelligent assistants have a competitive edge over the ones that are reluctant to adopt them. Malingo says, “Employees that are just now entering the workforce are used to having virtual assistants at their fingertips to aid in learning and task management; they’re AI natives. Companies that neglect to bring virtual assistants into their business processes will find themselves missing out on this new cohort of hires.”

Learning in the Flow of Work

According to LinkedIn Learning’s “2018 Workplace Learning Report”, 68% of employees prefer to learn at work, and 49% of employees prefer to learn at the point of need. Further, “The #1 reason employees say they are not engaging in workplace learning is because they don’t have the time.” By delivering just-in-time learning, intelligent assistants enable employees to work and learn simultaneously.

SumTotal Systems’ intelligent assistant, SIA, is an AI-powered browser extension that delivers “snack size, bite-sized” learning “without any interruption in the flow [of work],” says Debasis Dutta, vice president and general manager of product management at SumTotal Systems. By bringing learning to the learner in his or her day-to-day workflow, “you’re not losing productivity. You are productive, because you’re doing your day-to-day work. And we bring in learning at that point in time.”

With intelligent assistants, employees don’t have to go to a separate system or platform to access the information they need to do their jobs, Dutta says. They “plug” learning into an employee’s daily routine and can complement a variety of training programs, from executive leadership training to unconscious bias training. “What we serve to SIA is any kind of learning which a customer or administrator has enabled for them,” Dutta says, reinforcing that there’s “no limit” to what users can learn in the flow of work.

Verint’s virtual assistants are also designed to help employees “take learning into their own hands,” Malingo says, creating confidence. “Suddenly, employees can dictate the pace at which they learn — which I would say is almost always faster and more efficient and effective than existing pre-programed training modules.”

For maximum impact, training professionals should deploy the virtual assistant across the entire organization. Malingo says, “The data that intelligent virtual assistants derive from each individual department becomes multiplied when it can be looked at holistically as opposed to being kept in a silo.” This approach also helps training professionals see where employees are getting “hung up” in the training process, allowing them to pinpoint which concepts need reinforcing.

By streamlining the onboarding process and enabling learners to learn in the flow of work, intelligent assistants can help even the busiest employees make time for learning — while working toward key business goals. As Malingo says, “This is simply where the workforce is moving, and organizations would be smart to adopt now before they lose workers to competitive companies that have already moved ahead.”