Artificial intelligence Learning Technology

AI Copilots Will Finally Fulfil The Promise Of ‘Learning in The Flow of Work’

Back in 2018, famed HR analyst, Josh Bersin coined the term “Learning in the Flow of Work®” and the L&D world went mad for it.

For years, not a moment, a social post or industry blog went by without mention of this very phrase.  It became part of the buzzword lexicon quicker than Ed Sheeran can bang out the next heartbreaking tune. It was ingenious.

Contents 💡

  1. Learning in The Flow of Work: A brief history
  2. Say hello to AI copilots
  3. Battle of the Copilots
  4. The balance of power has shifted

Learning in The Flow of Work: A brief history

At its core, the meaning behind LITFOW makes complete sense.

We learn in the flow of work through the experiences we encounter. In a time when the L&D industry was ruled (and somewhat still is) by the prescription of a ‘course will solve everything’ diagnosis, this was a pretty revolutionary thing to say.

Don’t force people into courses outside the workflow, bring them the resources and support where they are. I like it. However, the sentiment of Josh’s original idea became twisted by many learning technology providers.

With the fear of course-driven income disappearing, providers shifted their efforts into ‘digital learning’, specifically amplifying the monoliths of what we call learning management and learning experience platforms. This led to a re-purposing of the ‘learning in the flow of work’ branding to become a system based vs human-based experience.

Marketing engines of leading technology providers began positioning their technology as THE ‘learning in the flow of work’ solution. The problem was they were all wrong.

All these providers were doing is moving the centralisation of learning from one monolith in the form of a classroom to the centralised system architecture of a platform and whacking a pretty LITFOW sticker on it. Which is the complete opposite of what Josh meant.

I’m pretty sure he wasn’t saying ‘Move them to your system instead’. This is anything but being ‘in the flow of work’.

By needing to access a system of centralised content you’re still leaving the flow of work. Yes, it is better than waiting x weeks for some pointless course, but for most of us, Google still fills this service just fine. So why the LMS and LXP?

Josh himself said in his 2018 article: “In learning the problem is different. We don’t want people to be “addicted” to the learning platform, we want them to learn something, apply it, and then go back to work”.

I think technology vendors lost sight of this message.

They spend more time trying to make clients’ employees addicted to the platform and all its goodies, but the one consistent theme I’ve encountered with all L&D organisations I’ve worked with these last 20 years is “lack of learning technology adoption”.

I think this problem comes down to the biggest elephant in the room, these systems are not part of the workflow and they do not meet people where they are.

But, in 2023, we might just have found the true heir to the throne.

Say hello to AI copilots

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve caught wind of the current tech revolution with generative AI tools.

At this point, I’d bet even your 90-year-old Grandma has heard of Gen AI or its most popular poster boy in Open AI’s Chat GPT. The point is, we have no escape. You’re either in the camp of “Judgement day is coming and we’ll be enslaved by the machines” or “There’s so much opportunity and I can’t wait to join the Matrix”.

I believe the truth of the matter lies somewhere in the middle.

Generative artificial intelligence has so many applications and use cases that I’d need a library at this point to go through them all. Fear not, I don’t plan on doing this. Instead, if you’re sitting here and thinking WTF is Gen AI, take a look at an explainer I wrote for newbies – it’s painless, I promise.

A meaningful use case for the business world (and our personal use) is the introduction of AI-based copilots.

In this scenario, a copilot is an AI-powered tool that supports you within your business applications. No, this does not mean that MS Word’s 90’s mascot in Clippy is returning. Instead, we have a much smarter and far more useful friend at our disposal.

Basically, we’re all going to have little AI friends helping us maximise the use of tools from the world’s leading companies like Microsoft, Google, Hubspot and many more.

In the AI arms race, Microsoft has been the pacesetter so far.

They announced their copilot coming to 365 back in March 2023. This is a big deal considering millions of global organisations are MS customers. They aren’t alone though. Salesforce has introduced its interestingly named Einstein GPT and Google, as expected, is also bringing its own version to market.

Number of companies using Office 365 worldwide as of February 2023, by leading country

Battle of the Copilots

We often see the comparisons posts of ‘LMS vs LXP’ but could we see this shift to “What’s the best employee AI Copilot?”. I believe with the roster of Copilots scheduled for release, we’ll see this sooner rather than later.

As we better understand the potential use cases of large language models within corporate environments, we’ll be able to develop all kinds of things which may have seemed like the stuff of magic only a few years ago. 

So, what could some of these use cases be? Let’s explore some together across 3 different roles:

1/ Customer Service Agents

  • Generative AI can create draft responses to common customer inquiries, allowing agents to review and adjust before sending. A quality time saver.
  • It can generate helpful articles or resources for customers based on their inquiries or complaints, providing more comprehensive support.
  • Generative AI can be used to create conversational agents that provide 24/7 support, handling more routine inquiries and escalating more complex ones to human agents. I’m talking about a level of quality much better than what most have experienced in the past decade. I’ve nearly thrown my keyboard out dealing with one or two at my bank.

2/ Sales Negotiators

  • Gen AI tools can generate sales scripts based on customer profiles and product information, helping sales negotiators tailor their pitch more effectively (sounds a little creepy, I know).
  • AI tools can generate sales email templates and marketing materials, helping to nurture leads across the sales process.
  • Gen AI could be used to simulate customer responses in a sales negotiation training context, helping salespeople to prepare for a variety of scenarios (like that Kung-Fu scene with Neo in the Matrix, just less badass martial arts and more sales tactics).

3/ Learning and Development Professionals

  • Gen AI can be used to create a variety learning related content
  • Gen AI could be used to create realistic role-play scenarios or case studies for learning purposes. It can also support as a thinking partner in solution design if prompted correctly.

These are only a few examples of roles and tasks that can be supported with AI Copilots. 

For all users of popular business applications, you can expect a varied set of use cases in your daily workflow. This 3-minute video breakdown from Microsoft provides a taste of what’s to come:

I decided to ask ChatGPT what it thought the best use cases of AI Copilots would be for users, and of course, it did a stellar job of promoting its own capabilities as a LLM:

  1. Writing and Editing Assistance

    AI can provide real-time suggestions for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and style in tools like Google Docs, Microsoft Word, and Outlook. This helps users craft better, more effective communications.
  1. Meeting Scheduling and Management

    AI can optimise the scheduling of meetings by considering factors like time zones, previous commitments, and preferred working hours.
  1. Personalised Insights and Analytics

    AI can analyse patterns in your work, interactions, and schedule to offer personalised insights. Microsoft’s MyAnalytics and Google Workspace’s Work Insights are examples of this. These features will be amplified with Copilots.
  1. Data Visualisation

    Copilots can suggest the best ways to present and visualise data based. This can be especially handy in tools like Excel or Google Sheets when you’re dealing with large datasets. Check out the video below to see how Microsofts Copilot will do this in Excel.

You might be wondering what the pivot to AI copilots means for learning in organisations today. 

It’s a good question and we don’t have all the answers yet.

Learning never stops, but the way in which corporate organisations define and measure learning might. Most organisations define learning as visiting a place (classroom, LMS, LXP) or completing a measurable task (performance reviews, business objectives, development plans), whereas copilots will enable true learning in the flow which is not easily measurable.

Not from the frameworks we use today, anyway.

This leads me to think about the elimination of learning as we know it, not learning itself. Back in 2014, fellow L&D pro Nick Shackleton-Jones has already proposed this very idea with his approach to “resources not courses”.

Nick shared a great example with the London Underground Tube Map. Positioning this as a true tool used at the point of need when engaged in travel and not memorised for future use. As a Londoner for 30 years, this rings true.

“One of my favourite resources is the London Underground map. Whether printed or electronic it enables me to find my way efficiently. It has a significant and measurable impact on my performance. But it is not a learning tool – it is not a ‘bite-sized nugget enabling me to learn wherever, whenever’. I am not quietly memorising the routes during my train journey. It is a way of removing learning, a way of mitigating learning. The pre-flight checklist used by pilots before take-off is not a handy way for them to memorise the steps involved”.

Nick Shackleton-Jones

Could this be the same type of pivot with centralised content spaces in LMS and LXPs to Copilots? 

Instead of leaving your flow to engage with content from your learning platform, your local AI copilot can deliver this guidance and provide recommendations immediately without leaving your current browser tab. Truly meeting you where you are.

This will be a fundamental shift in how we view and support adult education in the corporate world.

Credit: Microsoft

The balance of power has shifted

In a world of AI copilots as the ideal context partner on the learning journey, what role will be left for learning management and experience platforms? This is not so clear yet.

If the current adoption wave of generative AI is anything to go by, assimilation could be astronomically fast. But, big organisations tend to move slowly with new technology. Especially within the HR and L&D worlds.

The astronomical adoption of Generative AI tool Chat GPT

What is clear is the exciting world of opportunities ahead. 

Users will truly be able to stay where they are working and can access support, resources and more right on their screens. I’m doing this right now by using Microsoft’s Edge browser. The right side of my screen is populated by Bing AI (powered by Chat GPT), so I don’t have to leave to access info or ask questions.

I don’t even visit Google as much these days. 

The landscape of search is undoubtedly changing too, but I’ll leave commentary on that to smarter folks. Our behaviours with information acquisition and application are facing one of the biggest shifts in the last two decades. It will pour into the corporate learning scene too.

The age of doing everything in one space is nearly realised.

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