Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here to stay, and it will inevitably impact many HR processes — but how? The following is an example of an interview between a recruiter and a job applicant:

RECRUITER: Ms. Grey, we’ve received your information for the job we are offering from someone named Hal. We were very impressed by how your experience seems to meet our needs.

APPLICANT: Well, Hal is always very smart when it comes to matching my credentials with a new gig.

RECRUITER: Is he your agent — like, a sports agent?

APPLICANT: You could say that! Actually, Hal identifies my next opportunities to learn by searching for future gigs, and he allows me to face new professional challenges that will develop my skills.

RECRUITER: Ok, so Hal essentially handles your career map?

APPLICANT: Yes, and Hal also enables me to learn in the workplace. Hal curates relevant content and identifies the appropriate “learning buddies” to meet my challenges when they arise. For instance, I wasn’t fully proficient in the agile project management skills you requested for the job. So, Hal suggested that, beyond the microlearning program he has already designed for me, I could meet with Tom Miller, who already works in your team. Tom has already agreed to train me on agile project management and, in exchange, I’ll train him on user interface (UI) design. It’s a fair deal!

RECRUITER: Wow, so you haven’t even started working for us yet, and you’re already in touch with Tom?

APPLICANT: Yes. I feel like I’m already part of your team! Hal coaches me to make sure I make the most of these resources and learning buddies.

So, do you and Hal meet regularly?

APPLICANT: Well, we plan some feedback loops together, and Hal creates assignments that add clarity to my learning path.

RECRUITER: Assignments? That sounds like you’re going back to school, doesn’t it?

APPLICANT: I feel I never left! My job is changing so quickly that I need to continue learning, and extra assignments allow Hal to track my progress and to publish authenticated micro-credits via blockchain once I achieve them.

RECRUITER: That’s what we thought was so great about your resume. It’s more than simply having a diploma — we can actually track what you’ve achieved. That’s impressive. Obviously, we want you for the job, and we’d also love to meet Hal. I think he could be a great addition to our learning and development team.

APPLICANT: Hmm…you do know that Hal is an AI-powered assistant, right?

This scenario isn’t just something that would come up in a Black Mirror episode — it’s a representation of the reality in which we will soon live and work.

Continuous Upskilling is the New Normal

Gig economy, swarms, squads … whatever you call it, a growing part of organizations will eventually rely on M-shaped persons (those who have a wide breadth of knowledge on various topics but shallower knowledge where appropriate) and specialists. For these individuals, continuous upskilling will be the new normal. Individuals are becoming more self-accountable regarding their skills development (similar to how they are regarding their health or their online reputation).

Still, self-accountable doesn’t mean alone or without support. However, as they no longer consider their employers as the only ones responsible for developing many of the key skills needed for the future or for managing everyone’s lifelong learning activities, there’s a gap to be filled.

Enter the AI-Powered Learning Companions

In the near future, the AI-powered learning companions may very well assist learners in four ways:

1. They may curate and analyze professional opportunities according to each individual’s current and future preferences and capabilities. Their goal will be to find “future gigs” that will allow the learner to tackle new professional challenges that will help them learn new skills.
2. AI-powered learning companions may also curate the appropriate content (sourcing the right learning objects from available learning repositories) and find the right learning buddies to meet those challenges. They may even have the ability to push the right content or promote human interaction at the right pace and best moment to learn.
3. They could practice coaching and providing feedback through interactive functions (e.g., natural language processing, video analysis, chatbots) to monitor the learner’s progress, stimulate them and keep them engaged in the program.
4. They could track evidence of skill acquisition over time and publish micro-credentials authenticated via blockchain.

In other words, these assistants will manage a continuous workflow of pursuing the right gig, curating the best content and buddies, building adaptive learning experiences, coaching to keep them on track, and publishing evidence that will enable the learner to embark on a new and stimulating gig!

When Will It Become a Reality?

As the ecosystem of the learning companion is already expanding, many of the conditions for an AI assistant-powered workforce are already being met. Consider the following:

Swarms and squads are gaining more and more interest as they help organizations become more agile.
• Employees who are not looking for a new job are enrolling on job platforms and providing data related to their jobs and skills — which helps AI thrive.
• Learning marketplaces are able to provide curated content in ASALAF (Any Skill/Any Language/Any Format).
• Badges and certificates now recognize formal and informal learning (Open Badges, xAPI).

The following technological bricks are forming the foundation for the AI-powered learning companion’s success:

• Personal assistants (such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home) with voice activated interactions and web curation.
• Automated recruitment and job opportunity curation (through robotic AI assistants like “Mya” and “Tengai”) featuring profile fit analysis, robot interviewers and behavior analysis.
• Adaptive learning platforms (like Knewton and Area9) supporting personalized learner experience (LX) management.
• Automated personality and skills assessment.
• Intelligent learning objects that coach you on various skills, such as public speaking.
• Intelligent curation tools like “Filtered,” which curates content you’re actually interested in.
• Open badges providers like Mozilla combined with blockchain technology, which offers a secure model for the collection and sharing of skills indicators including academic records, badges and certificates, citations and letters of recommendation.

Does This Mean That L&D Will Be Disrupted?

Learners will likely become more emancipated in the near future. Modern learners often follow the mantra, “I learn what is required to become who I wish to be.” This is where the sports agent analogy comes into play: Sports agents want their players to reach their full potential, just as AI-powered assistants want their learners to reach their own potential.

The film “Love & Mercy” focuses on the Beach Boys’ co-founder and leader Brian Wilson’s struggles with mental illness. In the movie, his therapist turns into an overbearing agent showing that, well, agents can easily become greedy. In the years to come, we may face a new kind of singularity: not the one where robots become self-aware, but the one when you’ve given so much personal data to your personal assistant that it becomes the master, and you become the tool.

Regarding corporate learning, one of the major side effects of technology is that intermediaries disappear. So, corporate training will need to refocus on the following specific objectives to demonstrate its value:

• Develop industry-specific learning objects that will feed learning companions with relevant content for individual companies.
• Become consultants in corporate transformation. As individuals will eventually be handled by their AI skills assistants, there will still be a challenge of changing teams, organizations and company cultures in order to adapt to their digital ecosystems.
• Grow a sustainable learning culture by fostering mentoring and providing opportunities for on-the-job learning.
• Promote the employer branding. Measure and showcase the fact that in this company, people develop their skills and obtain new credentials — which has a positive impact on recruitment costs and retention rates.
• Focus on upskilling and reskilling the people who aren’t tech-savvy enough to use a learning companion.

Ultimately, in order to tackle the numerous challenges outlined above, corporate learning leaders may very well need their own personal skills AI assistants.