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How Generative AI Revolutionizes HR and Learning & Development

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As a seasoned HR professional with over 20 years of experience, Keca is an expert in various aspects of Human Resources.

How Generative AI Revolutionizes HR and Learning & Development

How Generative AI Revolutionizes HR and Learning & Development

In our latest interview, we’re thrilled to feature Ken Hubbell, a dynamic force in HR and learning innovation. Ken’s eclectic background — spanning physics, athletics, music, and programming — has fueled his journey from an industrial design graduate at NC State University to a pioneer in educational technology (edtech).

Leading a team at the forefront of using generative AI to transform edtech, Ken’s approach is shaped by innovation and a passion for enhancing learning. His work offers invaluable insights into the future of learning strategies, the impact of technology on education, and the transformation of traditional business models. Join us as Ken shares his visionary perspectives on driving educational excellence and workforce development through innovation.

Career Journey

HR – Could you share how your career and background have shaped your approach to HR innovation and learning strategy?

Ken – I was fortunate to have had a few teachers and mentors who saw something different in me, whether it was how I approached a problem or pure passion for both my own and the ideas of others. I was one of the original geeks. I knew every subatomic particle, from electrons to leptons, all the way down to quarks. I was also a jock. I played football and soccer, eventually refereeing as my job in high school. I was a musician, playing in the marching band. I was a performer — from church choir to high school musicals. I was also a programmer from age 12, progressing from BASIC to FORTRAN to LISP to JavaScript. Someone once asked me if I would ever decide what I would be, so I decided I would help start the field we now know as multimedia. 

With a background in industrial design from NC State University, I quickly found my niche in edtech, moving from animation and production design to creating engaging explainer videos for EPA site cleanups. My journey took me from visualizing textile mechanical processes and building interactive training programs to developing cutting-edge 3D web tools, partnering with giants like Intel and Adobe. I have always been innovative, pushing the boundaries of what can be done to improve learning. I’ve built simulators for Caterpillar and the FAA and collaborated with NASA. Now, I lead a team leveraging generative AI to revolutionize edtech, enhancing educator efficiency and training effectiveness.

Business Transformation

HR – How do you approach transforming traditional business models to embrace innovation?

Ken – At one time or another, every business model was an innovation in its own time. The challenge of any transformation is not the transformation itself but rather the transformation of the people involved. My secret is to approach from two directions. Start small and show improvement and value at the source of the change. After measurable success, market the innovation to management to get buy-in to proceed. While innovation is a process in and of itself, having everyone on board because they see how they can benefit will garner the support and resources to make it happen.

There are some specific tasks that can help usher this degree of change. They involve evaluating the current model, establishing an innovation vision aligned with business objectives, creating a culture of creativity and collaboration, and securing leadership commitment. Key elements include prioritizing a customer-centric focus, investing in pertinent technologies, adopting agile frameworks, and exploring open innovation models. Additional aspects encompass providing training, managing risks, continuous evaluation of initiatives, implementing pilot programs, and instituting reward systems. Throughout this transformation, effective communication and transparency are pivotal to creating an environment where innovation becomes an ongoing and integral aspect of the organization.

Innovation in Learning

HR – What innovative learning strategies have proven most effective in engaging large workforces?

Ken – Effectively engaging large workforces in innovative learning needs flexible and dynamic strategies tailored to diverse employee requirements. Many of these may seem obvious. Here are my top strategies for engaging large workforces with learning:

Learning in the flow of work/performance support first. Embedding learning activities and resources directly into employees’ workflows using tools like digital adoption platforms, browser plugins, mobile apps, etc., enables frictionless access to learning at the point of need without disrupting productivity. 

Blended learning journeys. These have been around for the better part of three decades and take into account that learning requires different modalities for different skills. Designing extended learning programs that include a mix of formats like self-paced e-learning, live webinars, classroom workshops, on-the-job assignments, etc. and offering variety and combining formats engages learners better than one-dimensional programs.

Scenario-based learning. My favorite mode is creating realistic scenarios, case studies and simulations where learners can practice applying knowledge and skills to real-world situations. This approach is far more engaging than passive learning of facts and concepts. Interactive storylines and branching scenarios work well. The format can be online games, VR experiences, or traditional board and card games. All are great ways to apply knowledge and skills.

Microlearning. Delivering short, focused learning modules that can be easily consumed in 5–10 minutes. This aligns well with busy schedules and short attention spans. Microlearning is especially effective when delivered in engaging formats like videos, infographics, quizzes, etc.

Technology in Learning

HR – How have virtual reality and e-learning technologies impacted your training strategies?

Ken – I was a pioneer in web-based training and a part of the teams creating e-learning tools throughout my career, so these technologies have been key to my training strategies. In the early days, e-learning was a hard sell as we pushed to move from 100% classroom to online courses. Cost, internet speed, and assurance that e-learning could be equally effective eventually gave way to cheaper, faster, and, in many cases, better training. In recent years, e-learning has come to dominate training because it is easier to deploy to a global audience.

VR has been similar, yet different. The cost of VR is still a major roadblock for many companies, both for content creation and hardware. With e-learning, the hardware is already available to most employees. With VR, the hardware is expensive and not required for most employees. VR also faces additional issues like eye strain, motion sickness, and, as a result of COVID, concern for health and safety. Additionally, VR is best used in a hybrid learning environment. It provides the opportunity to practice a skill or capability in a virtual real-world scenario, but I have found it works best when combined with a non-VR introductory activity and a post-VR debriefing.

Learning Ecosystem Development

HR – What are the essential components of a successful multi-year learning ecosystem?

Ken – My philosophy for all of my programs is “design for the future, build for today.” When creating a multi-year learning ecosystem it is important to focus on only one or two large initiatives per year. Keep the rest small and impactful. Change is a killer in this business. Whether it is the impact on the IT department to implement a big initiative like a new LxP or VR, or getting buy-in from the employees on your new approach to training, change is not easy. A solid change management plan is vital to the success of your transformation. The small and impactful programs are what establish and maintain your credibility through all of the change. They also provide the moments for introducing the upcoming future in small pieces everyone can support. The last component is to look beyond each stage to anticipate how to prepare your content and infrastructure for today and tomorrow.

A prime example of this type of thinking was a video-based training program where we shot the video at a much higher resolution than we needed, and then, two years later, we were able to repurpose the video for VR.

A thriving multi-year learning ecosystem incorporates crucial elements. This includes well-defined learning objectives aligned with organizational goals, a flexible curriculum that adapts to evolving needs, and the implementation of a robust system for managing employees/students. This can be a full learning management system (LMS) or a learning experience platform (LxP).

The important consideration is how it will work with the scale of your company and the support you want to provide to your people. Adding social learning functionality can promote collaboration, but you should be conscious of the other tools your teams are already using so as to not overwhelm them. Integration of technology, metrics, and analytics can ensure efficacy, adaptability, and scalability to accommodate organizational changes. Aligning with organizational culture, engaging employees, and establishing feedback loops cultivate a continuous learning environment, with a commitment to ongoing enhancement.

Global Learning Technologies

HR – What challenges come with deploying learning technologies globally, and how do you overcome them?

Ken – Global deployment of learning technologies comes with its own set of challenges, everything from IT accessibility to hardware and software restrictions to GDPR to translation and localization. If you are a global company or see yourself becoming one, the key to success is to start planning for the rest of the world from day one of your project. Things like translation take on a life of their own when the languages include non-romantic languages or languages that read right to left or ones that double the number of words required to say the same thing in English. Every step along the way, you need a person whose sole focus is to be the voice of the global audience. You must also work with leadership to ensure they are aware of the impact training a global audience will have on cost, time, and resources.

Deploying learning technologies globally is accompanied by challenges, including diverse cultural contexts and technology infrastructure disparities. Overcoming these requires the creation of culturally sensitive, multilingual content and prioritizing adaptable technologies. Compliance with data privacy regulations is essential. Addressing time zone differences involves flexible scheduling and asynchronous options while managing resistance to change requires comprehensive training. Incorporating local context into content creation is crucial, and budgetary constraints can be managed through scalable and cost-effective solutions. Monitoring and evaluation challenges are addressed through consistent metrics, data analytics, and regular feedback. Prioritizing cultural sensitivity and localization is key, and maintaining training standards involves establishing global guidelines and ensuring ongoing quality assurance. Strategic approaches are vital for the successful global deployment of learning technologies.

Emerging Technologies

HR – Which upcoming technologies do you see as transformative for learning and development?

Ken – The technologies transforming learning and development right now and in the future are very exciting. While VR is interesting, I think AR is the bigger play. AR layers over the real world, augmenting us with real-time data and feedback at the moment of need. AI manages this data and provides feedback. Generative AI is in the process of transforming everything we know about training, and we are in its earliest days. 

Robotic process automation (RPA) streamlines administrative tasks, and immersive learning platforms incorporating AR, VR, and 3D simulations boost engagement. Extended reality (XR) provides diverse learning experiences, and adaptive learning systems leverage AI for customized learning paths. Gesture-based technology allows hands-on learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT) supplies real-time performance data. Voice-activated technology enhances accessibility and convenience, showcasing the transformative potential of these technologies in reshaping learning and development strategies. Successful implementation requires meticulous planning and a focus on addressing specific organizational needs and learning objectives.

Tech, not even on the minds of most people, includes physical human augmentation. Biofeedback, embedded devices, and bionics will provide additional performance data outputs and new ways of supplying non-verbal feedback during human activity. We are heading into a time when we will have to redefine learning programs. Training will be much more in the flow of work and will also involve proficiency in using these new technologies.

Skill Development

HR – What strategies are most effective in reducing talent pipeline needs while boosting retention and satisfaction?

Ken – Effective strategies for reducing talent pipeline needs while enhancing retention and satisfaction involve thorough onboarding, transparent career paths, competitive compensation, and flexibility in work arrangements. Recognition programs, regular feedback, and engagement initiatives contribute to a positive workplace. Investing in training, promoting diversity, and developing leaders supports employee growth. Assistance programs prioritize well-being, while transparent communication and workplace flexibility foster openness. Conducting exit interviews and ongoing improvement based on feedback further enhance the overall employee experience

The most effective training and learning strategies to reduce the talent pipeline need to address the confidence and capabilities of each employee. Great training solves those two issues, which ultimately reduce fear and increase satisfaction. In this era of rapid technological advancement and economic uncertainty for both employees and employers, it is important to upskill and reskill your employees. One way of accomplishing this is to implement informal, peer-led learning academies. These programs provide opportunities for your in-house experts to share their knowledge and improve the capabilities and capacity of your teams to meet future needs. Learning academies are also cost-effective as they utilize resources you already have.

In all cases, tailoring these strategies to the organization’s unique context is crucial for success.

Stakeholder Engagement

HR – How do you collaborate with stakeholders to align talent and learning strategies effectively?

Ken – The key to working with stakeholders as relates to talent and learning strategies is to focus less on the training and more on how your solutions will address issues or improve their bottom line. Effectively aligning talent and learning strategies with stakeholders involves a strategic and communicative approach. Start by understanding organizational goals and engaging leadership.

For example, if an injury resulting from improper equipment use will cost a company millions of dollars, showing that a VR program provides a risk-free environment to train and certify employees to prevent injury has an ROI. If an empathy training program for contact center employees improves customer experience and reduces defaulting accounts, there is ROI. Change the narrative, and stakeholders will ask you for a solution that just happens to be learning.

Cost Management

HR – Can you share strategies for achieving significant cost savings in learning and development?

Ken – The best strategies I know for achieving significant cost savings are:

  1. Sometimes a page-turner is just a page-turner — don’t overcomplicate it
  2. Sometimes a one-page job aid is enough
  3. Use the right technology for the right type of learning, ie., VR is not for viewing a 2D video
  4. Make sure the requested training is not just a bad process
  5. Remember, the cost of training goes beyond the cost of the course — it includes deployment and time to consume — make the training as short but effective as possible

Success Metrics

HR – What metrics are most important for measuring the success of learning initiatives?

Ken – Learning initiatives’ success can be assessed through diverse metrics, including: 

  • Value > Cost: programs must provide more value than they cost
  • > Confidence: programs must improve employee confidence
  • > Capability: programs must improve employee capability
  • > Quality: programs must improve employee performance, product quality, and organizational effectiveness

These metrics collectively offer a comprehensive view of the training program’s effectiveness. By monitoring these indicators, organizations can make informed decisions to enhance the outcomes of their learning initiatives.

Professional Development

HR – What advice would you offer HR professionals to innovate in their learning and development programs?

Ken –

  1. Look outside your window and see what the rest of the world is doing.
  2. Watch how your children learn and ask if your employees can do the same.
  3. Ask why you are often still training the way you are — if you can’t determine who said it was supposed to be done the way you are doing it, you need to re-evaluate it.
  4. Go to the local technology store and play with the new devices out there that could be used for learning.
  5. Listen to Trends and Issues in Instructional Design, Educational Technology, and Learning Sciences hosted by Dr. Abbie Brown and Dr. Tim Green.
  6. Read science fiction. Get started with Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Earth by David Brin, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, The Fun They Had by Isaac Asimov, Deathworld by Harry Harrison, The Veldt by Ray Bradbury, and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and watch The Matrix.
  7. Maintain agility, promote inclusivity, align learning with organizational goals, and solicit employee input.