Why L&D should be at the forefront of the AI revolution

AI means that 50% of all employees will need reskilling or upskilling by 2025, according to the World Economic Forum.

by Bill Borrows
Last Updated: 02 Jun 2023
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After the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT at the end of last year – with 100 million users in two months – nobody needs to be told that artificial intelligence has arrived or convinced that it is here to stay.

Earlier this year some were saying it was a ‘disruptor’ moment equivalent to the arrival of the smartphone in the telecommunications market. Opinions have since been revised upwards with the latest generative iteration of the technology inviting comparisons to both the invention of the printing press and the advent of steam power.

The latter analogy is one favoured by Dr Philippa Hardman, learning scientist and affiliate scholar at Cambridge University, but she feels it needs qualification.

“Steam power drove the Industrial Revolution, changed the way people worked and how society functioned but over a period of decades,” she explains.

“The AI revolution that is happening now is bringing discernable change on an almost day-to-day basis. There’s a danger that AI might be used to shore up existing but ineffective ideas and behaviours, but the velocity is astonishing. Any organisation in any field that fails to keep up will be left behind. That much is certain.”

A 2023 report by US management consultants Gartner revealed that enterprises implementing AI grew by 270% in the last four years. Expect that figure to rise exponentially.

PwC’s 2022 Global Artificial Intelligence Study talked of the potential of the technology to “transform the productivity and GDP potential of the global economy” – estimating a boost of $15.7 trillion. But it also highlighted that, “productivity improvements will drive initial GDP gains as firms seek to ‘augment’ the productivity of their labour force with AI technologies and to automate some tasks and roles.”

Ernst and Young dug a little deeper. “Today’s disruptive working landscape requires organisations to largely restructure the way they are doing work,” they noted in a bulletin in March this year. “Time now spent on tasks will be equally divided between people and machines. For these reasons, workforce roles will change and so do the skills needed to perform them.”

The World Economic Forum has pointed to this global skills gap and estimates that, while 85 million jobs will be displaced, 50% of all employees will need reskilling and/or upskilling by 2025. This, it almost goes without saying, will require Learning and Development departments to do the heavy-lifting in this initial transformational phase but also in an on-going capacity.

“And that’s the big problem,” says Hardman. “2025 is only two and half years away and the three pillars of L&D – knowledge transference, knowledge reinforcement and knowledge assessment – are crumbling. They have been unchanged for decades and are now, faced by revolutionary change, no longer fit for purpose.”

Hardman has been working in EdTech since 2001 and last month delivered a Tedx Talk on the “AI Education Revolution.” She is now being recruited on a consultant basis by several blue-chip businesses. “I study how humans learn,” she explains, “What is the most effective means of teaching somebody? The optimal method of knowledge transference is via problem-solving based teaching, ideally in a bespoke one-on-one environment and not via the traditional, broken methods such as a ‘sage on the stage’ or death by PowerPoint or quizzes to check compliance. They do not empower or give a chance for growth. Employee dissatisfaction and problems with staff retention, particularly post-Covid, are only two indicators of that.”

Of the other two pillars, knowledge reinforcement and assessment, she points to significant structural issues. “They are being overwhelmed,” she says. “They cannot cope with the sheer amount of content that is currently being pumped out to the workforce on an increasing number of platforms – people are drowning in irrelevant content. It’s all just box-ticking and, particularly in the case of health and safety, can be dangerous as well as non-productive.” Her solution is not to ignore the AI revolution but to wed a pedagogical approach to the benefits the new technology can provide.

“A clear-eyed approach to the business of teaching will ensure that the materials are relevant, engaging, and aligned with employees' needs, while cutting-edge technologies and algorithms will create personalised and adaptive learning experiences. By analyzing employee data and performance metrics, intelligent systems will offer tailored learning pathways, real-time feedback, and individualized support.

“AI will also help automate and streamline various aspects of the L&D process, such as content creation, assessment, and performance tracking. This cannot help but strip huge chunks of mundanity from jobs, free up time for more creativity, increase productivity and, in the process, create a culture of continuous learning and a sense of belonging.”

The irony then is that AI, while providing the most immediate and, in some cases, existential challenge to organisations of all sizes, may also provide the means to solve the problems they now face. And at scale. No wonder it’s not going anywhere.

Picture by Marco VDM/Getty Images