The L&D leader’s guide to AI in the digital workplace
AI is filling your news feed. Headlines are claiming the dawn of a new tech era. Writers are panicking about their futures. And who even owns the copyright? It's 2015 all over again–but this time the stakes are higher. When OpenAI launched its first offering eight years ago, it democratized the technology. Today we're experiencing a ‘new wave’ of generative AI. It’s distinct from everything that’s come before.
Introducing the new reality
What does this change in AI mean for today’s L&D leaders? How can the newer wave of generative AI be leveraged to help your learners and increase efficiency?
Away from the sensationalist headlines, AI is already helping L&D teams to create and deliver exceptional learning programs. And, following my chat with Lavinia Mehedinţu, co-founder of groundbreaking L&D newsletter and community Offbeat, we’ve been thinking about the impact of today’s AI on L&D's most-poignant megatrend: the digital workplace.
What is this new AI wave?
Let’s start with some definitions. AI is a broad term, but the new wave refers to a specific type of machine learning called generative AI. We call it generative AI, because the systems generate content. New generative AI tools such as ChatGPT and DALL-E are creating everything from blog outlines to marketing assets. No more writers block–deadlines aren’t so deadly.
ChatGPT works by crawling hundreds of billions of words. From newspaper reports to policy documents, and listicles to social media posts, ChatGPT takes that information and uses language models to create content that sounds and reads as though you or I might have written it. This development is powerful precisely because of generative AI’s ability to create content with minimal human input.
Launched in November 2022, ChatGPT is OpenAI's newest articulation. Unsurprisingly, our newsfeeds were suddenly full of AI-generated posts as people explored its potential. We’ve never seen a new technology move into the public consciousness at such speed and scale–over 100 million users were reached in under 2 months. The computing power used to train these models increased by 6 orders of magnitude. OpenAI’s ChatGPT can tell you how to write a script, make a vegan mac & cheese, or help schools to reach every pupil.
And it’s these AI breakthroughs that are set to transform our digital workplace.
What is the digital workplace?
The digital workplace is a major L&D megatrend. It refers to moving the traditional, in-person elements of working life online. The transition had been growing steadily, but the pandemic and its related lockdowns rocketed the acceleration. We were all on the (digital) move.
Organizations are now increasingly distributed. More than ever before, communication, collaboration, and learning are all happening through a range of digital tools. And that raises even more challenges–one survey reports an 86% increase in employees learning through online classes. More classes mean L&D is creating more courses, building more templates, and deep-diving into new research areas.
“The digital workplace is on everyone's lips. It’s key to increasing efficiency, and to remaining competitive... If you want to remain competitive, you need to engage.” Lavinia Mehedinţu
Inevitably, distributed teams lead to distributed information, especially in a fast-moving company. Knowledge becomes scattered and stored inconsistently, and stuff just gets harder to find. We’ve all experienced information bottlenecks. The frustration, the reduced productivity. Something’s got to give.
AI's role in the digital workplace
And this is where generative AI comes in. And it can do so much more. It can be the brain-storming, right-word-finding co-pilot you’ve been waiting for. And once your course is live and ready? AI can surface the smallest nugget of information hiding in every slide deck, just when it’s needed. Here’s how.
AI as your content co-pilot
Platforms that harness the potential of generative AI can help to co-create training that will save you time in research and writing. Meaning? L&D is free to edit and curate learning pathways. Less time in the weeds, and more time scanning the horizon.
Imagine this: you open your learning platform, and type in “Generate course on EMEA GDPR information”. Through the power of the models, generative AI can glean accurate, up-to-date knowledge on everything from cookie policies to cross-jurisdictional regulations to ePrivacy–you name it, AI can find it, write it, and form it.
Within seconds, an entire course is ready: full of content, packed with interactive questions and polls. And filled with relevant, uniquely-generated images that are relevant to the topic and content. All in line with your brand's visual identity.
Struggling to summarize the takeaways from each course module? AI can do that for you. Maybe you need to scale your course globally? AI can be your translator. Stuck on what to say about ePrivacy? Ask AI some questions and allow it to brainstorm ideas, or complete that tricky next paragraph. Let it create summaries based on your writing. AI is the extra pair of hands you’ve been waiting for.
AI as your knowledge assistant
Back to our information bottlenecks. How can AI help employees find everything they need, right now? One answer is in semantic search–and it’s light years beyond the search bar.
Much like generative language models such as ChatGPT, semantic search models takes human input (like asking a question in Google) and provides us with more relevant results. Say an employee is looking for up-to-date information on their personal learning allowance before they book a course. They remember a slide from a company-wide update, but they don’t want to risk booking without knowing if they’ll be reimbursed. So, they ping L&D. And? They wait.
Imagine how many times these micro-moments happen every day. How many unanswered questions and breaks in concentration are creating waste? And for every last-minute, small question, there’s a cognitive cost for every person. It’s long known that regaining concentration can take up to 23 minutes. What’s the cost of these breaks when they’re multiplied across your organization? Now, imagine that time being given back to everyone.
When workplaces use Universal Search, finding information is easier. Universal Search crawls your workplace’s knowledge bases (think, Google, Notion, and Slack). Nothing is too niche–everything can be found. Goodbye information silos, hello answers!
Back to our employee. Rather than finding one long training policy document, semantic search generates responses in natural-sounding language. Your employee asks Search “Has my personal learning allowance changed?” And receives the answer: “Since November 2021, your personal learning allowance increased—and we’ve added to our list of permitted vendors. If you can’t find the course or supplier who can support your progress, please ping L&D!” Imagine the bottlenecks that removes. No need to ask a busy L&D colleague. Everyone has the information they want, when they need it.
L&D's role in an AI-assisted world
Many functions are experiencing role shifts in response to AI, and L&D is no exception. But trust me, the shift is positive! With less time spent answering repetitive questions and creating content, L&D can assume a more strategic role. Here's how.
The rise of power skills
Power skills are those uniquely human skills, such as showing empathy, working with others, and critical thinking. Traditionally they've been called ‘soft skills’, but this label undervalues their importance. In a world where AI is doing the heavy lifting, L&D can finally leverage these power skills to its advantage.
“The power of humans lies in power skills.” Lavinia Mehedinţu
Take critical thinking. Completing a never-ending laundry-list of ‘research latest GDPR’ and ‘update compliance ASAP’ doesn’t leave much time for horizon scanning. There’s little scope to allow L&D to build relationships with the wider business and address business critical needs.
When you’re free from endless content creation briefs and managing course completion rates, L&D can embrace strategic questions. Like how to increase employee retention and reduce time to productivity for new hires. Or what role learning can play in improving the sales team’s close/win rates. These are exciting and challenging problems to solve. And with AI covering more content needs, you finally have the time and space to embrace them.
The careful curator
L&D will always be accountable for learning content and programs. So when AI is involved in the content creation process, you become the chief editor. And that requires some due diligence.
After all, AI is only as accurate as the information it's working with. Without accurate training data on the right topic, the model might not create what you’re looking for. On top of that, the AI might not know it’s not telling the truth. And with those possibilities comes risk. Think about that GDPR course–the learnings from that course have legal implications that impact the core business. So if you use AI to generate your course draft, always fact-check the outputs. Quality checking might add time at the end, but the overall content creation process is still remarkably quicker.
And it’s here that we see the true partnership—AI automating the bulk-work, with people owning the detail-work. This is where L&D’s horizon really starts to expand.
None of us know where AI is heading. But we know that we can face uncertainty with more resilience when we make the decision to learn. We’re facing the future with open hearts, and a learner’s mindset. AI is simply the next tool in our evolution.
With thanks again to Lavinia Mehedinţu and the amazing Offbeat newsletter.