Tap into the Power of Technology to Enhance Employee Training

By Jim Romeo August 6, 2019
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​According to The Wall Street Journal, virtual simulations incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) are being used to improve health care workers' bedside manner. Doctors, nurses and other caregivers in southern Maine are being trained in a virtual environment that simulates the conditions that patients with Alzheimer's disease, cancer and substance addictions experience.

At the Hospice of Southern Maine in Scarborough, health care workers wear virtual reality headsets and are able to move their hands, pick up objects and get a panoramic view of the hospice setting as if they are the patient. The patient's family—in a simulated form—is present at the virtual bedside.

Such examples demonstrate the remarkable advances in skills development and training, thanks to technology such as artificial intelligence—when machines learn based on experience—and virtual and augmented reality. In virtual reality, users are immersed in a fully digital environment. In augmented reality, virtual objects lay over a real-world environment.

According to Lilith Christiansen, the vice president of onboarding solutions for SilkRoad Technology, an HR software company based in Chicago, AI can tailor training that uses virtual or augmented reality precisely to specific employees, not only for the type of work they'll perform, but also for their unique human characteristics.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing the Employee Onboarding and Assimilation Process]

Skills Assessment and Identification

Assessing an individual's skills can be challenging for employers. Traditional methods of determining training requirements depend on periodic performance reviews to assess how employees are performing and what skills they need to develop, said Sid Bhambhani, the CEO of the Summatti Corporation in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. However, such reviews don't offer many opportunities for employees to keep their self-development on pace. He added that the process can be tainted by reviewers' bias, as well. However, AI may be used to identify which skills are required and how training should be designed and structured.

"AI tools help analyze an individual's or a group's skill sets in an unbiased manner and in a way that allows for assessment on an ongoing basis," he explained. "It also eliminates the tension in subjectivity that is brought on through human-driven assessment processes. What better way to provide subjective feedback to an employee on areas of improvement than to compare it against a set standard that is used for all their colleagues in a consistent and transparent fashion?"

Bhambhani said machine learning—a method of data analysis and branch of AI based on the idea that systems can learn from data, identify patterns and make decisions with little human intervention—can help employers boost worker skills, particularly in customer service. Employees typically need to have a mix of both hard and soft skills to provide effective customer service. With machine learning models, managers can assign weights to the hard and soft skills each employee needs to perform his or her job. The machine learning analyzes each employee's interactions with customers and helps business leaders determine which skills are more important in that worker's role. As a result, they can decide which skill sets to focus on and invest in.

Disruptive Training

Christine Kensey, the director of training at recruitment technology company Phenom People in Ambler, Pa., believes AI will become a larger part of educational technology platforms. "By so doing, AI will recognize how someone learns and retains information, adapting content to meet the learner's needs."

She added that learning products today need to be agile, adaptive and readily accessible, in contrast to training that has traditionally taken months and even years to produce. Skills requirements continually accelerate, and the demands for training advance faster than the training materials to accommodate them are developed.

"The solutions are nimble and interactive approaches that curate content from multiple sources to deliver rich and resourceful nuggets of information," she said, noting that there's a great deal of knowledge available. Effective learning and development programs need to tap into such knowledge and exploit it strategically.

Artificial intelligence, with its machine learning, deep learning, and transformation into virtual and augmented reality tools, will enable employees to train in the most realistic settings and incorporate the most up-to-date information required to expertly perform their jobs.

Jim Romeo is a technology writer in Chesapeake, Va., focused on business and technology topics.

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