Alexa Gets a Job: How AI Could Transform Performance Support

Imagine a future where half of our interactions with smart devices are hands-free, primarily using voice interactions. A future where smart devices will be everywhere, far more ubiquitous than smartphones are today. Futurist Amy Webb anticipates that future arriving very soon, she told the “Future of Everything” festival in May 2018.

The growth of digital assistants and other voice-technology-based apps in everything from smart speakers to mobile apps to everyday tools could dramatically change the way L&D teams think about eLearning and performance support.

Digital assistants head to the office

AI and performance support are a natural pairing; in the shape of digital assistants, AI can take on mundane tasks, allowing employees to focus on work that is more critical and improve their efficiency and productivity.

Digital assistants are learning new “skills” that are intended to provide performance support for employees and executives. These include conventional skills that home-based digital assistants already perform, such as looking up information online, as well as tasks like scheduling meetings, booking meeting rooms, and turning on lights and equipment ahead of the meeting. Those skill sets will quickly expand as developers exploit the digital assistants’ natural language processing ability to work—watch for digital assistants taking notes at meetings or even reminding employees to follow up on questions or action items that came up in a meeting, for example.

As cognitive computing systems become integrated with eLearning and performance support, adding in voice technology is a logical next step. And digital assistants are ripe for personalization. Corporations are already taking advantage of the ability to build new skills for assistants like Amazon’s Alexa to create custom tasks like accessing specific corporate programs and eLearning, requesting support from the company’s help desk, or looking up proprietary company documentation, metrics, and even an employee’s balance of vacation hours.

As the L&D shift toward expectations of digital consumers has demonstrated, employees bring their consumer behaviors to work with them. Consumers have become accustomed to asking their digital butlers to perform more and more routine and customized tasks for them at home. As voice-activated AI apps become available in more places, a shift to voice-based digital interactions and assistance could become inevitable.

Repurposing consumer AI apps for performance support

Webb’s Future Today Institute cites several consumer examples of AI-based interactive applications that could have eLearning parallels:

  • Retail apps that use facial and posture recognition systems to show customers how makeup or clothing will look on them could also be used to target content and guide learners through onboarding, tours of corporate offices, or to enable them to virtually try on their company’s products.
  • Automated recognition and payment systems translate easily to automated security and access systems in corporations; these could authenticate employees for access to training and to correlate training with performance.
  • Moving to a broader helper role, AI technology that provides the engine for apps like Amazon’s personalized education and assistance.

Learn more about how AI is being used in various industries, as well as how it could affect eLearning and transform performance support in “Artificial Intelligence Across Industries: Where Does L&D Fit?” an eLearning Guild research report.

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