• Opinion: The AI revolution will change what it means to work in L&D

  • 19 Oct 2017
  • Comments 3 comments

While technology won’t replace humans entirely, we will need to rethink our purpose as learning professionals, writes Barry Johnson

We know that L&D is changing as more is known and understood about the brain. We know with the advance of the fourth industrial revolution that learning will be crucial to coping with the progress. Some of us wish to resist the learning changes. Some of us fear the changes. Some of us are excited by the changes. Whatever our view, learning change is coming. Sooner or later the individual in the big office will be asking questions about learning, and whoever they ask will point at you. Why? It is our job. We will have to get on with it, and master it.

One of the biggest changes on the horizon is the use of AI in learning. AI-based systems are radically changing how we are interacting with information. Already some university students in the US are using AI for research and grading. Some learning systems are changing. Not a lot, but it has started. Learners in the future may have vastly different experiences than the learners of today. AI will have created custom, tailored learning solutions for helping learners at different levels and types of work, with L&D professionals supporting them as needed.

AI systems can put the learner in control of their own learning. But people will still need the support of people, so you will, perhaps, be doing some different things to facilitate learning. AI systems will be programmed to provide information: learners ask questions, the machine replies and the machine will learn from the questions, so the form and structure of the information matches the individual’s learning needs. Some people believe this can only be used for learning basic information. Others believe the power and adaptability of AI will enable better learning structures, so each learner effectively has their own tutor. Learning facilitators will supplement AI learning, assisting learners who need human interaction and hands-on experiences.

Trial and error is a critical part of learning but, for some learners, not knowing the answer is stressful – particularly when they are put on the spot in front of their peers or people in a position of authority. An intelligent computer system that is designed to help learners to learn is less daunting. AI could offer learners a way to experiment and learn in a judgement-free environment. In fact, AI may be the perfect format for supporting all kinds of industrial learning. AI systems themselves often learn by a trial and error. This might sound like science fiction, but it is already science fact.

Significant changes are still in the future, but AI has the potential to radically change learning, transforming the role of instructor to one of learning facilitator, matching the learning to each learner and adapting to each learner’s needs, indicating where the learning strategy needs revision, giving learners and facilitators feedback. This will ultimately change how learners interact with information, and change and add to your role, too.

AI learning is coming and, when it does, traditional distance learning will die – but, fortunately, you will still be around.

Barry Johnson is a non-executive director at Learning Partners

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Comments (3)
  • I think the potential for AI to revolutionise many areas of business is massive - however, is not what you have described more in the realms of machine learning? Analysing data, and then returning back a prediction based on this. For example: I have completed A, B & C training courses, the system then reads this data and analyses against a list of other data of people who have also completed these courses, and what they went onto next. This should be something we can achieve today, not in the realms of possibility in the future.

    Pulling together ideas of machine learning and integrating this with new advances in technology such as natural language query chatbots on the Microsoft Bot Framework could take this to the next stage.

  • Sorry Barry,

    I see profound changes in the way we work, and the use of technology, but we no more need trainers than we need people.  Some sectors of training will certainly die, particularly those concerned with knowledge sharing, but supporting understanding, insight and application are quite different. 

    I passionately believe that developments come from human endeavour, fuelled by a depth and breadth of knowledge and understanding that google search doesn’t offer. 

    I look at school teachers providing not just the knowledge but the spark of excitement to fuel future careers and exceptional output in those inspired by a moment in a classroom. I owe my HR career to one truly exceptional university lecturer. 

    Whilst the tools and techniques will change, the day those inspiring teachers disappear from the classroom, will be the day the human race access defeat to the machines. 

  • You are right in saying AI is coming - looking at this, faster than most of us can imagine


    and it may be that curation is more likely than facilitation.