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ATD Blog

Using AI Chat Bots to Increase Learning Impact and Value

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

One of the biggest challenges businesses face with talent development is what happens after a learning initiative is complete. Will all the time, effort, and money invested in the initiative be worth it, and will the business actually see a real change in employee behavior?

Study after study shows that in most cases, formal learning approaches are only about 10 to 20 percent effective. This means that the return on financial and time investments in training is rarely, if ever, fully maximized. Typically, employers are unsure how to hold people accountable to change after training, and thus are unable to ensure effective learning transfer.

Training is increasingly becoming less about learning and more about change. To create sustained change, a robust and holistic learning transfer approach is critical. Any robust learning transfer solution must focus on the context the individual is working in, rather than more content. A coaching-based methodology can be the key to achieving behavioral change.

However, using the word coaching within the context of learning transfer is fraught with difficulties. People have different associations with the word, as it conjures up memories of their soccer team coach or someone giving advice from observation. True learning transfer coaching will identify what needs changing and help individuals hold themselves accountable to follow through on those changes and get business results. A transfer solution should empower the individual to take control of the learning process and increase its value and their productivity for individual and collective success.

One of the most important aspects to consider with any transfer approach is the maturity of leadership and coaching at your organization. Many in talent development look to managers to take ownership of the learning transfer process, but the manager may not be the most appropriate person to help a learner apply their new skills or knowledge. Understanding your organization’s level of learning maturity will help gauge if they are the best people to fulfill that role.

Take this Maturity Model survey to analyze the level of maturity at your organization.

Another aspect to consider with any approach to learning transfer is the strategic importance of the initiative. If there is high strategic importance, the most effective way to support transfer is with a series of one-on-one follow-up conversations, ideally conducted by phone, where the learner will reflect on their individual goals using a specific transfer methodology.


However, if you don’t have the budget to invest in high-touch transfer solutions but still want to support the learners and make the transfer more learner driven, there could be another option.

How about an artificially intelligent coaching chatbot?

Early experiments with chatbots have shown they can be an effective alternative. After all, if a coaching style transfer solution is about helping an individual have a conversation with themselves, then why can’t AI be used to facilitate this?

The cliché view that chatbots can be used only in help desk or customer support interactions is surprisingly prevalent, but one that is rapidly fading as people begin to see the breadth of possibilities. As workforce demographics continue to get more dispersed and mobile communication becomes a crucial contributor to agility and effectiveness, HR professionals are embracing AI chatbots to streamline their processes—so why can’t we in learning?


A learning transfer–focused chatbot can enable learners to slow down and reflect on their personalized learning commitments and provide a structured process to review progress and set small achievable steps to embed the new behaviors. It’s a scalable solution that enables you to give learners the power to hold themselves accountable to change. The process can use AI to mirror a basic coaching conversation over SMS or a message platform.

While this approach can be learner driven and self-paced, the structure of having suggested timings of when to take learning breaks and prompts via SMS or messenger can guide and support the participant through the process. Without some kind of framework, things rarely get done. Imagine trying to get seriously fit using incidental exercise alone!

Lever–Transfer of Learning, global learning transfer specialists, recently experimented with this process, creating a transfer chatbot based on their methodology, which has been honed over more than 18,000 one-on-one conversations. They observed a 53 percent uplift in the progress of learners’ individual objectives with the support of a learning transfer chatbot. Initially skeptical on the level that people would engage with a chatbot, they were surprised at the in-depth conversations that transpired. Reading the interactions in a transcript, you could almost mistake it for a human-to-human exchange.

Using specific goals that people have identified and setting an initial self-rated score that can be tracked is one way to measure impact. Manager collaboration can be used to verify these. Collecting data on how learning is applied and what impact this has had will add weight to your overall evaluation. This could be as simple as verbatim comments three months down the track on specific outcomes, or a key performance indicator analysis that is directly linked to what people learned.

A positive impact is the ultimate goal for the organization from any investment—be that technology, new hires, or learning. As a profession, let’s get creative about how we can embrace AI and use it to generate even more impact from our learning initiatives.

For more information on this topic, join us in an upcoming course:

About the Author

Emma Weber is CEO and founder of Lever – Transfer of Learning and author of Turning Learning into Action: A Proven Methodology for Effective Transfer of Learning (2014, Kogan Page).  Emma's firm belief, and the platform on which she has built her successful global business, is that the key aim of learning in the workplace is to create tangible business benefits. She established Lever – Transfer of Learning and the Turning Learning into Action™ (TLA) methodology to help organizations and their employees convert learning to effective action back on the job. Users of the new TLA methodology include Coca-Cola Amatil, Google, BMW, Apple, Jaguar Landrover, Colgate, Cisco, Nokia, and Subaru. A recognized authority on the transfer of learning, Emma has been a guest speaker on learning effectiveness at conferences in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and the USA. Emma’s second book, Making Change Work: How to Create Behavioural Change in Organizations to Drive Impact and ROI, co-authored with Jack and Patti Phillips of the ROI Institute, was published on May 2016 by Kogan Page.

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