AI and L&D - OI VEI!

Aug 24, 2018 by Robert M. Burnside

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Considering all the current anguish in the L&D field about AI, the Yiddish expression “oi vei” comes to mind…or perhaps “aiaiai” can also fit, one can even picture a palm on the face emoji.

There are many reasons for these reactions, among them the following:

  • AI as a shiny new object: As Amy Loomis, former Director, Digital Learning of IBM’s Think Academy, says, "AI is often offered up as a bright shiny object", without recognition of the hard work and time that goes into effectively putting machine learning into practice. That doesn't mean it doesn't have a critical role to play, but as we point out in our article Beyond the Classroom in CLO Magazine, applying AI in the right context and with the right data is critical to success. As a member of the learning and development field for the past 35 years, trust me, I’ve tried a lot of bright shiny objects, most of which ended up primarily as a reduction in the L&D budget in the next year.

  • AI can be seen as an off the shelf solution to all of L&D’s problems: Just buy the machine/software/algorithm and feed it data and voila, presto, it tells you everything you need to know and what to do. This can generate a lot of data but if you don’t know what you’re trying to solve, you’ll get data on something else. This reminds me of the many ways I worked to develop an ROI measure for the L&D investments—lots of data generated on hours of training delivered; satisfaction scores from trainees, skills ratings with 360 reviews, etc., but in the end, ROI remained an illusive concept, as the data generation means did not produce the results we needed.

  • Underestimating the potential of AI in the L&D context: Senior management doesn’t understand that AI has the potential to improve skill development for both the organization and the employee, focusing learning on the skill needed now, with ongoing continuous learning that is adaptive to the fast changing external conditions. Here, the investment can look large in relation to previous L&D expenditures which got few results; what is needed is the understanding that AI now has evolved to a place where the up front investment, if done properly in relation to the intended outcomes, can finally bring the return on investment long dreamed of by L&D leaders.

    So, long story short—don’t let AI get you down. Be clear on the outcomes you are looking for, then go slow to go fast. Take your time to overview the manifold possibilities in which AI, as machine, as software, as algorithm, as data processor, can bring you the results you want. Keep in mind that a small investment that has no ROI is zero ROI, known as a waste of money. Gauge the investment in AI in relation to the outcomes and you may find a larger investment that actually gives you the outcomes you want, has a brilliant ROI, and might even increase your next year’s L&D budget. And, you’ll feel better.

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