The age of artificial intelligence (AI) has arrived, and with it a myriad of questions about its potential impact on learning and development. Technical training with AI makes sense. Product training is certainly possible. But experts believe the soft skills like creativity, global mindset, diversity acumen, emotional intelligence, critical thinking and mindfulness are truly the essential skills for the future.

How will AI support assessing and attaining these vital skills? Firstly, L&D professionals will need to know what AI solutions are out there and receive guidance on choosing the right one.

Choosing AI Learning Solutions

Using artificial intelligence, we will now be able to pull data quickly and easily sort through demographics like age, gender, culture, level in the organization, educational background and previous learning experiences, as well as patterns of employee behavior, requests, needs and work experiences. AI will also make it possible to assess and recommend tailored learning solutions quickly.

L&D professionals will need to know enough about AI to be able to ask the right questions of solution providers and ensure test user groups represent diverse perspectives. Many people say AI will get “smarter” over time as it is used. Of course, this is true, but we need to make sure the recognition software doesn’t inhibit creativity or reinforce thinking patterns that may need to change – not unlike what can happen when internal trainers do all the training in organizations for their peers. On the one hand, it reinforces culture and values, and it certainly saves costs, but on the other hand, there’s no outside or objective perspective or benchmarking against other companies. This can inhibit critical thinking and innovation.

However, for those companies with robust L&D departments, AI will also be able to enhance and streamline content development for instructional designers – assuming they have the right data about what content is relevant and intended for specific populations. Instructional designers will need new and skills to be able to keep up with rapid technological advancements. AI will free up time for L&D professionals to concentrate on creating quality content for learners.

Then, there are the challenges of using AI solutions. Who will use what solution? What will resonate? How do L&D professionals maintain interest?

“Through the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning, L&D can better understand learner behaviors and predict needs by recommending and positioning content based on past behavior,” wrote Doug Harward and Ken Taylor, in the 2018 Training Industry Trends Report. “Adaptive learning that is personalized to the individual is a powerful way to engage today’s workforce. The challenge for L&D is making sense of all the data and leveraging the insights to drive business value.” Let’s take a look at the way AI learning solutions will be used and how things like learning styles and types of learning solutions will be impacted.

Learning Styles

Learning styles impact the development of learning solutions. A person’s learning style may be influenced by age, ethnicity and cultural background, which must be factored into the development process. For example, a study by Wainhouse Research found that there are small differences in the way different ages prefer to learn. For instance, those aged 50 or above reported being slightly more interested in coaching and mentoring than other techniques. Millennials reported being a little more interested in microlearning, with a preference for short how-to videos.

But across the board, all ages wanted face-to-face, live training. And, contrary to popular belief, millennials want face-to-face training even more than others. Why? Part of the reason is the constant desire for learning. Studies have found that the number-one complaint of new hires in entry-level positions is that they aren’t learning fast enough. New hires also say they would like more hands-on help from managers or peers. The introduction of AI may not only help new hires learn more quickly but may also free up L&D departments to be able to provide more face-to-face coaching options.

Learning on Demand

L&D departments face the need to provide access to learning at all times. “Employees are pretty overwhelmed at work, and typically only have 20 minutes a week to set aside for learning. So rather than produce two to three hour ‘courses’ that require page-turning and slow video or animation, we need to offer ‘learning on-demand’ and recommend content just as needed,” writes Josh Bersin.

With so many open source options for learning, it almost doesn’t make sense for a company to create its own virtual platform. However, distinguishing high-quality content aligned with company values and culture is an important skill here, which makes a case for customized, company-specific content. The introduction of artificial intelligence technologies to learning on demand will provide additional speed and accessibility for both L&D and the employees the departments support.

Customized Learning

If your L&D department doesn’t have a particular solution on hand, thousands of providers and platforms can be accessed at a moment’s notice. Today, there are coaching, culture, management and live mentor apps, all of which will become increasingly more sophisticated. There are also several platforms with self-directed courses.

Blended Learning

According to TechEmergence, “Though not yet a reality, the ultimate goal in this field is to create virtual human-like characters who can think, act, react, and interact in a natural way, responding to and using both verbal and nonverbal communication.”

However, this isn’t the end of human interaction. In fact, the opposite is projected: “Yes it’s important for employees to be able to quickly find the content they want,” writes Bersin. “But when it comes to sustainable development, we believe there are ‘Four E’s of learning’ at work (education, experience, environment, and exposure). People at work must have time to learn, they must feel their new skills will be valued, we must take time for discussion and reflection, and managers must give people space and freedom to discuss mistakes, ask questions, and often experiment with new ideas.”

The kinds of programs that are most successful today will continue to be most successful in the future – programs that blend online, virtual and face-to-face learning.

“Businesses may want to jump on the AI bandwagon because it’s such a hot topic, but they have to identify what they want to do with it,” advises Mary Beth Ainsworth, global product marketing manager of artificial intelligence and text analytics at SAS. “AI requires a strategy with clearly defined tactical steps to successfully implement that larger plan. AI can provide valuable insights, but what you do with that information still requires human direction.”

That is the crux of the matter.