The benefits of introducing an AI Virtual Assistant to support employees may seem obvious. AI VAs can perform routine tasks more efficiently than their human counterparts – many of them simultaneously.
They never tire or take a holiday and are available 24/7. They provide instant access to information and resources just when you need them, supporting learners and making learning more relevant and effective. These features and others translate into cost savings and enhanced performance.
But the benefits of deploying an AI VA don’t just end there. Here are 5 advantages you might not have considered, but which make using an AI-powered Virtual Assistant for learning support the right decision for your organisation.
You can use an AI Virtual Assistant as a trainer and learning buddy, offering support and solutions on the job where employees need them most. Accessible on mobile and smart devices the VA delivers the right resources just in time.
The ramifications of this shift are much wider, however. When training is delivered via a bot in the working environment, it changes the focus of L&D. Traditionally training has been the reservation of the classroom or, latterly, the Learning Management System. AI VAs, though, transfer the main locus of training and place it squarely in the workflow. This brings L&D and its clients far closer and has significant consequences for the way training is designed and delivered.
The AI VA has the potential to unlock training and learning resources and make them more relevant, primarily because it’s there where the work is being done.
2. Learners take control of learning
Moving training into the workflow has implications for the learning model too. Typically, training in organisations has been top-down: the objectives are defined and fulfilled by L&D; the employees are the target.
But, with AI Virtual Assistants capable of responding to queries using natural language processing, the learner directs the learning. Resources are deployed in response to real learner queries. With an AI Virtual Assistant constantly on call employees can access information in the same way they would in their non-work lives where they have access to search engines, wiki sites and YouTube videos. An inter-connected VA, which in turn is plugged into the organisation’s learning resources, enables learners to plot their own learning path and take control over their learning needs.
This self-directed learning incentivises employees to take responsibility for their own training. The motivation to learn drives them on and the impact of the learning is greater because they are learning while doing.
So, with the learners in control is training in a traditional sense obsolete? Far from it.
In the relationship between the learner and the AI-powered Virtual Assistants, it’s not only the learner who’s learning; it’s also the VA. The VA can learn from interactions and dialogue with learners, so information is tailored more closely to an individual learner’s needs. It can also pass back empirical data from learner requests.
The data returned to L&D requires both analysis and a response. And this becomes L&D’s new role: designing resources based directly on the learners’ needs that have been detailed and recorded by the AI VA. Instead of offering training according to some notional learning objective, learning support in the workflow becomes L&D’s major focus.
The imperative to learn comes from the bottom up and trainers are freed from the administrative burden of running courses to work on designing more impactful resources.
4. You learn what you don’t know
The ability of an AI Virtual Assistant to pass real, empirical data back to L&D is another benefit. It highlights the gaps in training. If there are repeated queries for which, with all its potential to learn and for all its access to learning resources, the AI VA can’t answer, you know your organisation has a training problem that needs fixed urgently.
You’re learning what you don’t know, and this can be as valuable as knowing what you do or should know. The gaps highlighted by the VA might be at an organisational level: a failure to address a systemic issue or they may be at the individual learner level: an employee who requires support to perform better at his or her work.
L&D moves from having a reactive function to adopting a proactive role by focusing less on comprehensive training and more on effective and specific learning interventions. Using an AI VA in learning support can create a virtuous circle of learning: L&D evaluates learning based on the feedback from the VA and then refines and enhances its learning provision. And it allows L&D to demonstrate a real ROI from learning support.
We’re familiar with the argument that Artificial Intelligence leads to greater automation and allows for a more efficient processing of routine work. A bot has the bandwidth to respond to countless requests from different sources at the same time. If a VA can outperform a human agent or do the work of multiple employees, won’t your organisation need fewer employees?
The true picture is less clear-cut and somewhat surprising: employing a VA often means creating jobs, or at least changing the way your current employees work. If you remove the boring, repetitive work that a bot can do better, you open up possibilities for employees to do more creative work.
In the area of learning support that means designing content for the VA assistant, analysing the data that it feeds back, integrating it with other support systems (such as an LMS), and making it part of your organisation’s core processes. This work requires thinking of a higher and more creative order than a VA can manage. It’s the work a human employee does best, if given the time and space to do it.
Also, the jobs required to establish the AI VA in learning support are often new: instructional design and scripting for the VA, analysis of learning data and system design are just some examples. These roles require employees to move out of the confines of L&D and the classroom and work in cross-functional teams with process owners and systems experts who are directly involved in the work flow.
Learning support becomes not just about individuals learning in isolation, but about supporting learning in action, in the context of the work flow.In summary, AI Virtual Assistants move L&D away from designing and delivering prescriptive training to offering support for learners that’s determined by their real needs. The benefits of an AI VA are not confined to greater responsiveness or ease of access to information. They extend to changing the way L&D operates and is regarded within an organisation. L&D is placed right at the heart of the organisation’s work flow and it, along with its AI Assistants, becomes a core member of the team.
AI Virtual Assistants needn’t be all about automation and efficiency, implemented correctly by L&D they can become the key to better-focused, more responsive, and effective learning support.
About the author
Paul Healy has worked in the learning industry since 2003 in sales, learning consultancy, and programme management. He specialises in assisting companies with change management and innovation agendas.