Workplace learning and development (L&D) departments have increasingly relied upon EdTech to deliver valuable professional development to employees throughout the pandemic. Naturally, this has prompted a number of educators to confront a question that has long been looming: will these new technologies eventually displace their roles?
For a variety of reasons, the answer to this question is “no”, chief amongst which is the fact that humans have essential skills and qualities that are all too challenging to replicate in their robotic counterparts. From empathy and compassion, to creativity and improvisation, these virtues make skilled HR professionals and training vendors much sought-after in the workplace.
That is not to say that job functions will not change as domains like artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics continue to develop. However, these developments are likely to aid, rather than eliminate, the role of the corporate trainer. Modelling suggests that automation will create more roles than it will remove in the future, suggesting that the introduction of AI and next-generation technology will not replace our educators – but rather, help them develop new skills to fit the digital landscape.
Why is peer-to-peer learning so important?
Firstly, it’s vital to acknowledge the place that peer to peer (P2P) incentives currently have in the corporate learning environment. This method is constructed around the concept that employees are able to learn and consolidate information with more ease when they collaborate, both passing their knowledge to peers while simultaneously learning from them. It encourages employees to take learning into their own hands, with one study showing that over half (55%) of professionals are most likely to turn to their colleagues when they need to learn something new.
From enhanced communication, to increased job satisfaction – learning via social interaction and on-the-job experiences are widely recognized as some of the most effective methods, resulting in a diverse pool of benefits in addition to “just” learning. But they need a human touch to succeed. According to recent research from Soffos, 42% of full-time workers have found it difficult to engage productively with learning materials and training courses solely conducted online throughout the course of the pandemic. And this should be proof enough that the days of peer-to-peer L&D are not numbered, as many first thought.
Learning leaders and automation will be the perfect partnership
This is not to say that EdTech solutions aren’t valuable resources when harnessed by skilled learning leaders. However, both machines and humans have unique shortcomings and advantages, which when brought together, form the basis of a powerful partnership. Powerful technologies like AI can overcome human errors and deliver data-driven results, yet they lack an understanding of human thinking that educators can rest on to improve learning outcomes. The combination of human decision-making and machine calculation will provide something much more valuable than either could provide on their own.
While there is a strong element of data processing and administration involved in delivering effective employee training programmes, the role of a corporate learning leader is ultimately a non-routine and creative task: in other words, it would be difficult to replace entirely by technology. Effective educators are expected to constantly adapt their training to meet the unique needs of learners, as well as offering advice and mentorship to help employees reach their career goals. More importantly, they can lean on technology to support these vital aspects of their roles.
Indeed, as corporate educators become increasingly accustomed to new technologies, they will be able to utilize them to streamline the planning and delivery of new learning strategies to employees and deliver their initiatives more efficiently and effectively than ever.
Take for example, the fact that some learning leaders might lament the hours of painstaking planning and administration spent drawing up L&D initiatives, only for these strategies to provide a ‘blanket’ approach which leaves glaring holes in learners’ knowledge. Indeed, on-the-job training is based on the requirements of the job description and will be specific for each company, and the volume of information needed to create tailored training plans can often prove overwhelming.
Thankfully, AI-powered learning tools are adept at providing sophisticated data-analytics in real-time, providing corporate educators with all of the insights they need to develop tailor-made learning strategies which cater to individual learning styles, as well as strengths and weaknesses. Armed with these insights, specialists with excellent leadership skills will be needed to conduct the delivery of knowledge and assess how well it is being applied.
Likewise, these platforms will utilize state-of-the-art virtual and augmented reality (AR and VR) technologies to deliver effective P2P training, whether employees return to the office or continue to work remotely. In the future, these headsets will be an integral part of the learning journey, creating the opportunities for open-ended discussion in “super resolution”, in such a way that learners will not be able to distinguish virtual settings from the real office space. In fact, rather than replicating traditional in-office training experiences, these toolsets will elevate them to a whole new level.
No doubt, this will be immeasurably valuable to learning leaders, as companies proceed with their plans for a blended working environment post-pandemic.
Teaching the teachers
With so much focus on equipping the workforce with the skills that they need to thrive in their roles, corporate educators themselves are often left behind, without the opportunity to hone their own skills. Due to the ability of AI-powered technologies to understand each learner’s current level of comprehension, the technologies of tomorrow will be able to provide differentiated conversations that prompt individuals to take in new and more challenging knowledge. From enabling educators to communicate their ideas more effectively to students, or increase their higher order thinking and problem-solving skills, these advances will ensure that learning leaders never lag behind on their own L&D.
The benefits of this will be two-fold: even the most skilled of corporate trainers will be able to progress in their own roles, while delivering better education to employees. Educators will soon have access to a wider pool of resources and instructional techniques than ever before to boost their output; and, given the rate at which new knowledge is produced, this means that trainers will be able to keep pace as new trends and developments transpire.
Corporate educators needn’t fear the onset of new technologies. Even as EdTech progresses and increasingly becomes a larger part of workplace L&D, the need for effective facilitators of knowledge will remain. Corporate trainers should therefore embrace innovations with open arms and leverage them to excel at what they already do best.