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Is the learning industry facing disruption — again?

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AI is not something discussed only in the future tense, especially in HR.

AI is already changing learning and development in the corporate world, and is poised to revolutionize the way that companies create training content and help employees with their career progressions, experts told HR Dive.

“I think we’re going to have, within a year or two, corporate training systems that ingest content and develop training automatically,” said Josh Bersin, CEO of The Josh Bersin Co., a human capital advisory firm. “It’s already happening.”

L&D’s ongoing technology progression

Learning is a big industry to be disrupted. According to the 2023 Training Industry Report, U.S. training expenditures hit $101.8 billion in 2023, which was relatively steady from the year before, though spending on outside products and services jumped 23% to $10.1 billion. Other training expenditures, like travel, facilities and equipment also went up, from $28.3 billion in 2022 to $28.7 billion in 2023.

However, spending per learner has dropped; companies spent an average of $954 per learner in 2023, compared with $1,207 per learner in 2022. This may indicate a push toward streamlining for the industry.

For more than two decades, this spend has been towards “refining the uses of technology to better enable teaching,” Bersin said. Content was turned into courses and programs, and mixed up with experiences, virtual reality, tests or simulations to try to create engaging content.

That’s changing. “AI does all of that automatically,” he said. “All of the stuff that people do in learning and development is going to be more automated than anything in HR.”

That’s in part because of how much content already exists. “AI can take existing legacy content, whether it be documentation, guidebooks and courses, and make [it] available through a chat interface to employees without instructional designers being involved,” he said.

What AI can do for L&D

The lowest lift for AI in this realm is generative chatbots, which are already being embraced by vendors, Bersin said. A generative AI chatbot, for example, can allow a user to ask questions and get answers. Users can also “find the stuff they need [and] then get back to work,” without needing to click through an entire course to get there.

AI can also help “smaller groups for whom it was in the past not feasible to create learning courses,” said Shalini Jetli, vice president for global practice at Randstad RiseSmart. That will bring training to more people in a cost-effective way.

AI will also make module building faster, she added: “We’re likely to see more content curation in place of the traditional, very custom, home-grown content development.”

Jetli believes that AI will enable more immersive learning experiences, including through the integration of augmented reality and virtual reality, leading to more complex and personalized approaches for “areas that need to have hands-on experience,” she said, like flight simulators for aspiring pilots.

What HR pros need to know

This isn’t a matter of what is to come, because AI is already here in this space, and moving fast, said Bersin, who recently wrote about this topic. HR professionals must decide what to do with the L&D materials they already have; they can either wait and hope that the vendor they use will add AI features, or try something new, he noted.

He expects there to be “a fair amount of replacement of some bigger legacy vendors that are not keeping up, that are going to be disrupted.” That’s especially true if those legacy systems are not just focused on L&D, he added. “They’re not as agile or innovative in this area. They’re focused on other things.”

HR professionals will also need to stay on top of the “ethical use of things,” Jetli said, including data privacy, mitigation of bias, and accountability. “AI is still a new approach and needs the compliance to scale in a trusted way,” she said. That includes making sure that the data deployed to train AI is used in a safe way, which may require HR managers to “force stronger and more collaborative work relationships with IT teams in their organizations if they are to have influence over these areas.”

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