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ATD Blog

The Belated AI Revolution

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Artificial intelligence (AI) has long captured our collective imagination. The phrase conjures images of robots as companions or software applications that anticipate our every need. Chat bots, as they have been implemented to date, deliver little of this romance. Instead, they’ve left many of us wondering if AI will ever be anything more than a novelty or an annoyance.

Our society’s first forays into artificial intelligence are probably selling products in your social media feed or forcing your customer service requests into predetermined buckets, like a glorified version of the long-maligned automated phone tree. Many over-hyped chat bots do little more than pick out key words and generate search results, which adds as much utility and enjoyment as a common search bar.

Lost in this sudden glut of artificial gatekeepers is the real promise of machine learning and dialog-building. With a little more creativity and vision, these technologies could be doing so much more for our learners and our organizations.

Just think how powerful the following learning events could be if implemented effectively at your organization:

  • What if you could put an infallible subject matter expert in the pocket of every employee, allowing all your learners to ask hard questions anytime, day or night, and receive an instant, expert response?

  • What if you could gamify soft skills with a realistic conversation simulation? Managers and others could use the simulator to practice difficult conversations before they happen, and see the likely outcome of their own words in a safe environment. What if you could analyze your learners’ responses, provide immediate feedback, and let them practice again as often as they’d like?

  • What if you could build a performance support tool that learners could engage with on the job? What if, instead of a one-size-fits-all manual or quick guide, your artificial support agent could ask diagnostic questions in the moment of need and provide only the most relevant and timely information to each individual user?

    With the right tools and the right approach, instructional designers could be immersing learners in brand-new kinds of learning, including the examples above and many others we have yet to imagine. It’s an exciting new frontier, and it’s ready and waiting for your innovation.

    The tools themselves are simple and easy to learn. The key is to start thinking less like a course builder and more like a conversation builder. With a basic understanding of three simple AI ingredients—intentions, entities, and dialog flows—you can build personalities and applications limited only by your imagination.


Join me for a hands-on session at ATD TechKnowledge where I’ll give you a chance to combine these ingredients and build a working conversation prototype. We’ll explore potential learning applications for these exciting new tools, including demonstrations of some conversation-based apps that we’ve built to enhance learning at Georgia Tech.

You’ll leave the session with all the core concepts you need to create your very own chat bot. But with an eye open to the full possibilities of machine learning and a keen focus on your learners, you’ll hopefully leave ready to build something so much more.

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About the Author

Travis Waugh is the instructional technologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he facilitates courses on ethical decision making and crafts the university’s annual integrity and compliance campaign. In his more than a decade of L&D experience in corporate America and higher education, he has built courses and tutorials for dozens of compliance training subjects. Travis began speaking and writing on instructional design best practices in 2012, with special interest in psychology, technology, and the use of humor in adult learning.

In addition to facilitating regular workshops and speaking sessions at international conferences, Travis has delivered private sessions and consultations for a range of Fortune 500 companies on emerging training technology and behavioral compliance. He facilitates ATD’s Essentials of Compliance course, and has served as a bridge between the ethics and compliance industry and the L&D community. As a dedicated learning professional, Travis tries, above all else, never to waste anyone’s time.

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