Learning and development (L&D) leaders typically lean toward a growth mindset by default given the nature of their job function. However, the extremely fast pace of artificial intelligence (AI) development and its impacts on the L&D space have challenged the typical L&D growth mindset approach. While the internet is overflowing with webinars, articles and info about AI, these resources rarely address the elephant in the room around generative AI: The fear and anxiety around its adoption.

It’s clear that generative AI has many benefits and is here to stay. But the estrangement, fear and overall anxiety among L&D leaders must be addressed before the full potential of generative AI can be appreciated and applied successfully.

So, if you are in this space of anxiousness, the good news is that you’re not alone. AI anxiety has been and continues to be on the rise. The best way to address this is to understand the fears, as well as why they are valid, and then think about ways to overcome them, along with some next steps on how to work with AI in the L&D space.

Understanding the Fears

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This Franklin D. Roosevelt quote is still relevant in this current period with the unknowns of generative AI.

The idea is to take a deeper dive into learners’ fears, but also recognize that this type of fear is not unknown. Anxiety about artificial intelligence is logical when headlines such as those shared by Scientific American appear stating that “AI chatbots already surpass the average human in creativity,” and “AI is already more creative than YOU.” In the same article, Sanae Okoamato, a psychologist and behavioral scientist, suggests that these fears of unfamiliar technology are not new. She states that “computer anxiety’ and ‘technostress’ date back decades,” as there were worries about industrial automation. There are various instances when technological advancements became polarizing or created worry, like the printing press, electricity, railroads and nuclear energy.

However, there is fear and there is skepticism or concern. Philosopher and historian Christian Vater distinguishes between concern and panic: “I consider ‘concern’ to be very legitimate and extraordinarily necessary, especially if we want to actively, jointly shape a future shaped by technology in an informed democracy,” he said. “’Panic’, however, typically leads to uncontrolled running away.”

Some of the main concerns around AI in L&D include but are not limited to:

    • Privacy concerns, if not managed securely.
    • Ethical considerations: Bias and discrimination resulting from training the AI tool on biased data.
    • Lack of transparency/data quality: Not being able to recognize where the information is coming from (sources, reliability, accuracy, etc.).
    • Over-reliance on technology that could contribute to the loss of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
    • The prospect of massive job losses (AI replacing human roles in the workplace).
    • Ease of plagiarism and cheating by learners.

While the fears and concerns over AI are expected and valid, it’s critical to understand how AI will impact and benefit the L&D space. First, we need to align on some basic definitions before digging deeper.

    • Artificial intelligence (AI) is the ability of a computer or robot to perform tasks that would normally be completed by a human, including, but not limited to: visual perception, identifying patterns in data, speech recognition, decision-making and language translation. It has several applications in L&D, including adaptive learning, sales enablement and big data.
    • Generative AI refers to deep-learning models that can generate high-quality text, images and other content based on the data they were trained on. Per LearnExperts, generative AI is a great tool for building training content and “can efficiently create new content from multiple sources and documents, a fraction of time it would take a human.”
    • chatbot is an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered conversation app. In L&D, organizations may use chatbots to help learners find answers to questions, complete tasks or reinforce what they learned in a formal training program. Chatbots might also support digital coaching platforms.

In general, AI is predicted to influence the L&D industry in a variety of ways and it’s beneficial to pivot toward self-education instead of fear and avoidance.

The Benefits of Generative AI

We’re now in a period of time when a tool like ChatGPT can provide instant access to large amounts of information and data quickly. This not only saves time, but also allows L&D colleagues to be more creative, and may also spark curiosity and new ways of thinking. Generative AI can be a boon for diverse learners who have various learning abilities or accessibility needs. Gone are the days of waiting for translated content. AI can efficiently transform learning content to suit linguistic needs in global companies. Learners may benefit from tools that provide them with instant feedback on their learning activities and also coaching on demand.

The human resources (HR), talent and learning spaces can most definitely benefit from AI tools that analyze large sets of data quickly, while also recognizing patterns and generating associated insights. Learning leaders and instructional designers experience efficiencies related to generating course content and course materials (including, but not limited to: lesson plans, quiz questions, scenario-based learning, course syllabi, evaluations, etc.). AI bots can act as virtual teaching assistants to answer learner questions and provide clarity or guidance when the instructor is not available. AI tools create space for resource-limited L&D teams to shift their focus to enhancing the basic materials produced by AI, as well as putting their efforts on processes, learner interactions, higher level coaching, problem-solving and robust change management along with continuous improvements.

Getting Started

All of this sounds great, right? But, where should one start? Many of the latest webinars generate so much hype and noise that it may feel like if we don’t embrace the latest and greatest tools right now, then we will miss out. The first thing to do is not to fall prey to the pressure. Instead, address any fears by using a methodical approach. Despite all the information that is available and the speed by which AI technology is changing, it is useful to step back and analyze the situation with basic data and facts by taking inventory. Gain an understanding of how your company is responding to AI. Are there policies in place for AI use? Is there a governance board or a process that you must follow before using any tools?

Based on your findings, there may be guidance already available on how your team may approach AI. Simultaneously, stay engaged and informed. Understand or plan for an AI budget. Re-invigorate that growth mindset and educate yourself. Read, network, join webinars and forums. Learn more about AI systems, applications and tools, as well as their various pros and cons. Collaborate with others internally at your organization and benchmark externally about various technologies. Share your thoughts and fears and find out what others think or have learned.

If your team decides to embrace a new tool within your company’s parameters, start small. Choose where to implement AI. Will a specific tool be useful for only the learning team, talent processes, HR or even more broadly at your organization? Create a pilot or phased approach to the rollout of any new tools, so any feedback may be used for improvements or decisions about broader applications and implementations. Measure, monitor and track data about the AI tool to determine outcomes and success.

Evaluation Tips to Quell Our Fears

When evaluating generative AI tools, specifically around course development, there are some considerations beyond cost and overall return on investment (ROI). Understand the tool’s capabilities. Understand what it can do, but also how it will interface with your data. Gain an understanding of the outputs from the tool. Ask the vendor if there is a sandbox or pilot environment for your team to access and experiment with. Tools that allow selection of content modalities, branding and other customizations may assist in learning content creation that maintains the company’s voice.

Data privacy and security are major concerns, and the tools should provide or come with parameters for handling sensitive data. Integration and compatibility for any new AI tools are key factors if there are already preferred tools and systems in your organization. The interface should be user-friendly. What will the user experience be and is the tool intuitive? Or will it require additional training? A common oversight when purchasing such tools is around support: Look for the tool provider’s resources for buyers, like email support, online help and training (immediate and ongoing). Another question to ask the tool vendor is regarding tool improvements and their release cycle. If the tool does not fit your needs, look for others.

Remember, the trendiest tools could fail if an organization is not ready for them or if the tool does not fit the team, department or company culture and needs.

AI technology is rapidly advancing. Though it is hard to keep up with changes, there is no time like the present to get started on your AI journey. Recognize and be aware of any fears. Address them head-on by educating yourself and your team. Though widely believed, AI cannot solve ALL problems or replace human judgment and oversight. Be aware, share and experiment, and eventually, the fear will subside and even you can embrace AI!