How AI Chatbots are Changing the Future of Professional Learning

December 26, 2023

MoreSteam's Instructional Designer, Mel Coyle, highlights the significance of continued education for working professionals, and how we can use AI chatbots to supplement learning and foster innovation.

My most constant workplace companion is not a human.

It is an AI chatbot.

Since ChatGPT's pioneering release to the general public last February, I have had the latest version running continuously. Checking in with AI has become a ritual as comforting as my morning coffee.

I want to share my approach to working with AI and how we can use this technology to supplement learning and foster innovation in the lives of adult professionals.

First, I want to address the misconception that you need to be some kind of expert or born in Generation Z to use AI. You don't need to attend a special training or webinar on how to engineer the perfect conversation. You don't need to have a technical background or know-how to code. The only requirement to speak with AI is that you are human. You just need to show up, similar to how you would at a library.

Like my public library that proudly states "Open to all" above its marbled entrance, AI chatbots are becoming a new public space of information and learning.

Each visitor brings their own wonderings and prior knowledge. My child sees the library through the lens of a toddler. For a tiny person who cannot read, her curious exploration of the shelves is a reminder of how important the concept of "playfulness" is to learning something new.

You might wonder where to begin if you have yet to speak to an AI chatbot. Looking at the example interactions available on ChatGPT's website, even the creators encourage a playful approach. AI can assist in writing a Python script, offer great vegetarian cooking advice, and explain why popcorn pops.

How AI Chatbots Work

If you are new to the world of Large Language Models (LLMs) (we'll simply refer to them as "AI chatbots"), they don't "think" like you or me. They decide what to say based on probability models, similar to predictive text but much more powerful. These models have been trained on vast amounts of data from a wide range of sources, such as books, articles, websites, and other texts, to learn how our language functions, albeit somewhat mysteriously.

The most popular, and likely the one you've heard of, is ChatGPT, but in this competitive landscape, it's far from the only one. Conglomerates like Google and Microsoft launched their own versions of AI Chatbots earlier this year (Bard and Bing), and there will be many more emerging in 2024. All are good options for use and are equally as easy to navigate. But for the sake of this blog, since I'm most familiar with ChatGPT, I'll be referring to that LLM in my examples.

These chatbots are not perfect. Like a public library, these chatbots can exhibit the same biases present in texts written by humans since that's what they are trained on. Sometimes, the chatbot might even "hallucinate", a phenomenon in which the model produces inaccurate information in response to a user's prompt and presents it as fact. Then, there is the issue of confidentiality. If a user prompts the chatbot with company sensitive information, then what? There are a lot of considerations to be had.

Embracing AI in Adult Learning

The ability of AI chatbots to analyze and respond to a variety of queries makes them the perfect learning companion. This blog will cover three types of adult learners who could personalize their experience through AI technology:

  1. Formal learners: Professionals engaged in a training program (Lean Six Sigma or other professional opportunities to acquire new skills)
  2. Informal learners: Professionals who learn on the job (taking on new roles, closing skill gaps, or integrating new technologies)
  3. Creative thinkers and problem-solvers: This is all of us, across industries and roles

Let's take a moment to consider why continued education plays an increasingly important role in the lives of adult professionals. Much has already been written about today's rapidly changing job market. Technological advancements and shifting industry demands require professionals to be highly adaptable. The Harvard Business Review's article "Reskilling in the Age of AI" states, "The average half-life of skills is now less than five years, and in some tech fields, it's as low as two and a half years." In other words, the skills an organization will need in the next few years to remain competitive don't even exist right now. Continued education is a strategic imperative.

If that freaks you out a little, here is the good news. Research increasingly shows that old brains can learn new tricks. We don't need to return to college for another degree; we can learn new skills on the job (formally or informally), and with the help of AI chatbots, we can even have a rewarding, personalized learning experience.

Collaborative learning with AI

Even the best-designed learning experiences don't meet the individual needs of every learner or apply to every professional context. This can frustrate adult learners who expect training and content to be relevant and practical to their field, as it may leave gaps in addressing unique challenges and nuances specific to their roles, diminishing the perceived value and effectiveness of the learning experience.

Here are a few ways AI chatbots can address common frictions to increase learner engagement and improve organizational outcomes:

To demonstrate some of these capabilities, let's look at an imagined scenario from a small business whose training goal is to increase employee knowledge around cybersecurity.

If you haven't already, open up ChatGPT (it's free to use) and try asking a few or all of these questions:

  1. I work in sales. How is cybersecurity relevant to me?
  2. Can you give me an example scenario involving cybersecurity that a sales representative might encounter?
  3. What are some best practices related to cybersecurity in the sales field?
  4. Can you give me examples of phishing attempts I might encounter as a salesperson to see if I can identify them?
  5. This time, make the examples harder and ensure some phishing attempts are genuine to see if I can tell the difference.
  6. What other resources could you recommend for a sales representative concerned about cybersecurity?

ChatGPT makes a compelling case for why a sales representative should be concerned with cybersecurity and generates eerily recognizable phishing attempts.

Notice how, in query #5, I pushed ChatGPT to make the scenarios more challenging. Engaging with ChatGPT is an iterative process, where the most productive conversations typically involve a series of exchanges, with each response building on the previous one. This ongoing back-and-forth progressively leads to a more comprehensive understanding.

The effort is ultimately collaborative, and that is also what makes it so engaging.

For another example, let's look at how AI can be integrated into a Lean Six Sigma training program. Most of MoreSteam's belt enrollees fall into the beginning or intermediate categories of learners. For some, this is their first introduction or reintroduction to the world of process improvement. Even in a perfect training model with one-on-one coaching available, a candidate can fall behind or get discouraged by difficult material. Here, a unique advantage of LLMs really shines: they offer infinite patience and (mostly) uninterrupted availability. Learners can engage at their own pace, revisit complex topics as often as needed, and receive consistent support without time constraints, significantly reducing the risk of falling behind or feeling overwhelmed.

My advice is to harness the capabilities of AI to their fullest while simultaneously nurturing irreplaceable human skills — communication, leadership, creativity, and decision-making, to name just a few.

This is where a combination of coaching and AI tutoring can provide comprehensive support and free up resources. If a belt candidate collaborates with AI to achieve a foundational understanding of Lean Six Sigma, time spent with a coach is reserved for project feedback and higher-level questions.

Here are some examples of how AI can complement coaching support:

AI has the incredible capability to present information that might be new to a learner in a structured and efficient way. Let's have another session with ChatGPT to demonstrate its abilities, this time using some example questions that might come up for a dietitian earning her Yellow Belt during a lesson on XmR Charts:

  1. I am a LSS yellow belt candidate. For an XmR chart, how would I know to use the mean or median?
  2. Can you give me an example of common cause variation related to my field? I’m a dietitian in a hospital.
  3. Can a process be in control but be bad?
  4. For my yellow belt project, I am working to improve our low patient compliance rates when it comes to following their restricted diets. What data would I collect for this project that could be used in an XmR Chart?

Here, ChatGPT can clarify complex ideas, provide industry-relevant scenarios, and offer project support. The dietitian can build her confidence and increase her understanding of the material without losing momentum.

A quick note for those informal learners in the office, the ones not enrolled in a formal training program but who could use a non-judgmental officemate with all the answers. Perhaps you started a new role and realized you have some skill gaps, or maybe you want to feel more confident in your writing and communication skills. AI chatbots can support all of the above.

Generative AI and Innovation

Besides enhancing learning and development, AI chatbots can support innovation, problem-solving, and creative thinking.

At MoreSteam, we recently used ChatGPT to support the wrap-up of a structured brainstorming session by having ChatGPT summarize the group's collective feedback and surface any trends. What could have taken 30 minutes took a few seconds, allowing the group to review the data together quickly.

Consider using an AI chatbot to:

Generate ideas

Spark creativity: brainstorming prompts, thought expansion, generating new ideas or ways of thinking

Assist research

Unlock knowledge: summaries, explanations, and research guidance

Support problem-solving

Navigate challenges: analyze complex issues, suggest innovative solutions, and provide practical problem-solving frameworks

Craft language and communication

Refine words: assistance in drafting, editing, and perfecting communication

Plan and manage projects

Plan and manage projects: advice on methodologies, project design, project planning templates, and resource tracking

If you are curious to know more about how AI is already supporting process improvement, check out this blog post written by MoreSteam's founder and CEO, Bill Hathaway.

Another effective method for interacting with ChatGPT is simply asking how it can help. Consider, for instance, a project manager at a tech company overseeing the development of new customer relationship management (CRM) software. This project encompasses various stakeholders throughout the organization.

Try posing this question to ChatGPT:

I'm a project manager at a tech company. My goal is to develop a new customer relationship management (CRM) software within the next six months. The project involves multiple teams, including software developers, UI/UX designers, quality assurance testers, and a marketing team. How can you help me get started?

This query results in ChatGPT suggesting a detailed structured project plan and 10-step approach. Some highlights are its suggestion of a Risk Management Plan and Marketing and Launch strategy. In the spirit of iteration, you could ask ChatGPT to elaborate on any of the ten steps. It provided me with a pretty incredible "Risk Management Template."

Not only can ChatGPT help you get started on a new project, but it can also help keep the momentum going. It makes a great thought partner - it's nonjudgemental, positive, and responds well to feedback!

The Future of AI and Humans

Throughout this blog, I've explored the potential of AI in enhancing learning and fostering innovation. As AI chatbots increasingly integrate into our personal and professional lives, we must remain informed and agile, ready to incorporate these tools into our everyday creation and problem-solving. This is the first time we have experienced a technology this disruptive since the internet or maybe the smartphone. So if you aren't using AI chatbots right now, you will be soon.

And as we navigate this new terrain of digital assistance and automation, an urgent question arises: Where do I fit into this AI-augmented future? My advice is to harness the capabilities of AI to their fullest while simultaneously nurturing irreplaceable human skills — communication, leadership, creativity, and decision-making, to name just a few. These uniquely human qualities will continue to define our value and purpose in this evolving landscape.

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