Can you tell…
…whether this was a friendly chat with Bob, your colleague from HR who’s responsible for training, or if it was an automated Q&A with Bot, a friendly but non-human chatbot on a training platform?
It could be either. And no matter who you chatted with, you got the answers you needed. Does this mean that Bob’s job could be at stake? In other words, should all “Bobs” look for a career change? And is a Bot going to replace Bob permanently?
That’s not an entirely science-fiction scenario, considering all the tech innovations we’ve seen emerging in various business functions and disrupting our jobs.
Companies, for example, use machine learning to analyze big data and build new products based on predictions about consumer behavior. AI Assistants, like Alexa and Siri, leverage voice recognition and natural language processing (NLP) to answer questions, make recommendations and perform several tasks. Healthcare is also a good example of an industry that largely benefits from tech, as AI-powered software can diagnose diseases and help develop new medicines.
But how about learning and development?
If robots took over training…
In education, we’re still taking baby steps when it comes to using advanced tech in classrooms. But corporate learning is where all the magic happens. That’s why our earlier, fictional “chat with Bot” is not a far-fetched scenario. It seems that employee training already follows the trends and technologies we’ve seen in other business functions.
Let’s picture what employee training would look like if “Bots” were in charge.
Recommended courses paths vs. defined training plans
Remember, in our example, how Bot suggested what courses to take next? For example, it might be just a matter of a few clicks to set a logical rule like “if a user completes this course, then assign them with that one”.
But Artificial Intelligence can take this one step further. What if those recommendations were unique for each user? Think Netflix, for example, whose algorithm recommends shows based on previous behaviors and decisions.
In eLearning, AI-based software could analyze the user’s preferences, interests, and even skills and knowledge gaps, only to suggest what courses might be best to take next. This means that training professionals — or their robot replacements — could design a completely personalized learning path.
Smart content, fast
One of the biggest challenges that instructional designers and eLearning professionals face is the time it takes them to create training content. This is where machine learning could be the solution. Do you think robots can’t type? Well, if they can write an article, then soon they’ll be able to build entire courses, as well.
An “intelligent” machine can collect and combine data from various online sources in a matter of seconds. This way, companies will have the ability to create even more courses in even less time and expand learning to an even broader audience.
Virtual and augmented reality become part of training
Going from “watching a presentation” or “reading a manual” on how something works to “testing first-hand how it works”, is completely different. And VR/AR technology is closing this gap. In areas where testing something can be dangerous, but going completely hands-on without testing is equally catastrophic, a simulated environment is the best solution.
Think, for example, healthcare — which, as we mentioned earlier, is one of the industries that could get huge benefits from advanced tech. What if healthcare professionals could practice and master a new, innovative medical method using VR/AR technology before applying it to humans? Likewise, mechanical engineers could use simulation to experiment with complex equipment or “build” entire premises without leaving their training room.
Learning becomes inclusive and accessible
Learning should be for everyone, no matter where they are, what device they’re using, what language they speak, or what special needs they may have. But Bob alone wouldn’t be able to maximize accessibility.
What seems like a click of a button (e.g., to change the displayed language) requires many hours, days, and weeks of work from multi-disciplined professionals —particularly in a web environment as content-heavy as eLearning.
However, we could increase accessibility and inclusion more easily by integrating the training platform with apps like text-to-speech readers, automatic translators, and chatbots.
But the truth is that tech can’t replace the human mind
That window to a potential future when we’ll be using AI and machine learning in training shows that we can disrupt that space for a good cause: to train employees better, faster, more safely, and to train all of them. But don’t be so quick to think that all those people who are currently responsible for training won’t be needed anymore.
Because there will always be things that a robot will never be able to do:
Humans make decisions
A machine can give you the information you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise — or that it’d take you forever to do so. But it doesn’t tell you how to use that information. For example, training software can track user behavior and automatically assign learners the same course as soon as they fail a relevant test. But the software cannot dig into why this is happening.
It’s a human Bob who can understand, in this case, that the course is too difficult and learners need additional training before they take that test. Or, that learners fail because they don’t pay attention, so the course needs to be enriched with more interactive elements that will keep the focus on.
In other words, artificial intelligence may tell you what is happening during training. But you need “human intelligence” to decide why this is happening and how you should move on next.
Humans have business acumen
Artificial intelligence may recommend courses to learners based on their preferences, expertise, and previous training. But it can only get you this far. You need someone who can analyze your specific business needs and predict changes in the industry, and then match this information with potential skills gaps inside your organization.
Then, you’ll have to set priorities and determine how you’ll cover those skills gaps. To do so, you’ll have to combine various sources, like which skills you can cover internally through training, which ones you need to look for externally by hiring new employees, how much budget and time you can allocate, etc. Those are all executive decisions that need to be made by the people who know the organization and its goals.
Humans can lead change
Last, we need to remind ourselves that technology is not here just to help us save time or money. In training, specifically, software can help make a course accessible. But it’s a human who will decide how much of a priority it is in the first place. It’s a human who’ll explain to senior management the need to build an inclusive learning environment and persuade them to invest in relevant software.
Besides, employee training is not — or should not — be just about ticking a box. It is what makes employees feel motivated and happy at work. The key here is the word “feel.” Machines don’t have feelings. People do.
So, it’s the people inside the organization who can understand the need for and work towards building a healthy workplace. They’re the ones who can sit down with employees, craft their career paths, and initiate learning and development plans.
So, is it a tie?
It looks like both humans and robots have their unique strengths when it comes to building an employee training plan. Perhaps, it’s time to stop thinking about whether robots will replace humans, but rather start planning the new roles that training professionals will have.
In the future, HR and L&D professionals will have more tools in their hands to train employees. This means they’ll no longer need to focus on how to execute those training programs. Instead, they can play a more strategic part in designing training that benefits the organization but also boosts employee engagement.
The robot revolution we’ve been hearing of is not really a war. It’s not us against the machines. It’s us, along with machines building a better world. And in that world, both Bob and Bot could live happily ever after…