What HR and L&D Need to Learn About AI

A reader asked, “IT keeps asking if we’re ready here in Human Resources for Artificial Intelligence.  My contact there is certain it will help us with our workload while improving customer service.  Where can I learn about AI?”

Talent Management professionals ask similar questions frequently. Margie Meacham, a good friend, and colleague is known as the “Brain Lady,” so we asked her for advice. You may think it odd to turn to someone who has become globally known for her neuroscience and learning work, but it turns out she has found that artificial intelligence and neuroscience are naturally connected. 

“I’ve been reporting on the young science of the brain for about ten years now,” Meacham said. “Neuroscience and AI both involve neural networks. It makes sense that these two disciplines cross-pollinate each other. As AI “learns” about the brain and neuroscientists use AI to model complex behaviors in the brain, the connection becomes clear.”
She added that AI is permeating all facets of life. For example, “The advancement of AI helping the fight against coronavirus is real. One of the most important tools scientists have in this battle is artificial intelligence (AI) because it can perform repetitive tasks, like testing different vaccine models, much faster than humans. My fervent hope is that these smart people and their algorithms will help us find a way out of the current health crisis. It is also very likely that significant discoveries will be made that will have immediate, practical application in other fields. Programs sorting through medical data today might be identifying training gaps tomorrow. AI is already transforming our lives, and this transformation can only accelerate as a direct result of the pandemic.”

Who is Ready for AI?

We next discussed whether Corporate Learning is ready for AI. Her enthusiasm was palpable. “As a profession, we’re ready. Learning professionals tend to be passionate learners, so we’re certainly capable of picking up this new technology and running with it. Given our interest in AI, technology is certainly ready. Many of the applications I found are already in place in other industries; it’s just a matter of adapting the use cases from other markets for our purposes.”

We next dove into the topic of HR readiness for AI. Again Ms. Meacham was practical and optimistic about our field embracing the new technology.  From her vantage point, she commented, “As individuals and teams, we are all at different levels of readiness. In my research, I discovered many examples of AI in our daily lives but found fewer of those applications in Talent Development than just about any other field. While there are some notable exceptions, most HR departments are a step or more behind other business functions when it comes to adopting AI.”

We then looked to specific examples of AI she found in talent development and learning. “In China, where there is a severe shortage of teachers, millions of children are taught entirely by automated programs. The program’s algorithm analyses student performance and selects lessons and exercises with just the right balance of challenge and ease. The objective is that the child can experience success and be motivated to learn more. There’s no reason a similar approach couldn’t be adapted for adult learners, identifying training needs from performance records to deliver a customized lesson plan for each employee.”

She offered another example, “Some airline cockpits are equipped with an AI-powered display that recognizes pilot fatigue by reading eye movements, adjusting the display to deliver only the most critical information when the crew is tired. A similar approach could be used in various other industries, providing just-in-time performance support that adapts to the user’s needs.

Who Will Build It?

These examples are impressive, yet one assumes a talented technology team is behind them. We asked Ms. Meacham if Human Resource and Corporate Training departments needed to recruit AI programmers.

“In larger organizations, there’s a good chance you already have a department utilizing AI for other problems for the business – automating customer service, evaluating financial opportunities, recognizing when machines are about to fail before it happens,” she said. “Find out who’s working on these problems in your company and persuade them to build a pilot solution for you. You may be surprised by how easily you can deploy a simple chatbot and put your toe into the AI pool quickly and with great results.”

Meacham recently taught an online workshop where attendees built an educational chatbot from start to finish in two hours. What did this chatbot do?

“A chatbot creates the illusion of a conversation between the machine and the learner, making it a great choice for learning. In our workshop, we built a “Queen Bee” bot teaching the user about the honey bee’s plight. Almost any content can use this approach. I consider this to be a fresh, memorable way to engage learners, and yet simple enough to build simple applications in-house.”

How should our readers start exploring AI for their learning organizations?

“I have created several checklists, planners, and tools which are included in the book to help you get started. One of those is an Idea Starter. It’s a little document that walks you through a few questions to isolate the problem you want to solve. Next, you might want to go through my much more detailed planner, Build it or Buy It? This exercise will help you decide if you should hire an outside firm or build the solution yourself. The key is that almost any learning team can embrace AI!”

So, readers should be encouraged to investigate Artificial Intelligence for process efficiency and learning enhancement. Ms. Meacham’s book is available on Amazon and from the Association for Talent Development, ATD.  If this subject is of interest to your organization, be sure to check it out!

Remember to learn something new each day!

This post first appeared on the HR Exchange Network Blog.

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