Training & Learning

The Right Tool for the Job: Adapting Generative AI for L&D With Ross Stevenson

ChatGPT, and generative AI in general, is much more than just content creation. 

For L&D, AI technology can be an incredible tool that can help with performance support, decentralizing learning, thought partnership, and ramping up learning in the flow of work—not just publishing content at pace. 

In this episode of The Learning and Development Podcast, I speak with Ross Stevenson, Chief Learning Strategist and founder of Steal These Thoughts, about his exhaustive exploration of generative AI use cases for L&D. 

Read on to learn more about leveraging generative AI as your research and thought partner, when the tool best fits your use case, and some insights from Ross’s survey of L&D teams on their initial thoughts on the technology.

Discovering, experimenting, and sharing: Simplifying AI

When ChatGPT 3 emerged last year, Ross set out to discover, experiment, and understand the potential of the technology in workforce development.

“I've always felt that digital technology is an enabler, and early adoption has always paid dividends for people,” he explains. “Once I started to understand there were L&D use cases for generative AI, I felt it was something I should investigate, experiment with, and share freely.”

With all the doomsaying around ChatGPT in particular, Ross wanted to cut through the noise and simplify the technology’s applications for people who aren’t data scientists or AI engineers.


Have the robots really taken over?

AI as your L&D partner

L&D teams are known for being smaller in size than other departments within an organization, but generative AI can help by being an extra team member. 

When Ross uses generative AI, he looks to leverage the technology as his team partner in two roles.

1. A research partner: Ross uses the tool to synthesize data and uncover insights quickly and then brings his own point of view to give the data context. 

2. A thought partner: Compared to search engines, generative AI gives you a refined experience where you can ask questions specific to your industry. 

“I have found that generative AI allows me to focus on the creative stuff while unearthing insights at speed,” says Ross. “I love to think about how many hours that saves me a week, which is incredibly impressive.”

Related: Guiding L&D Into Uncharted Waters: Leveraging Generative AI With Donald Clark

Use case first, AI tool later

When exploring the potential of generative AI, Ross recommends that you first consider your intent for the tool and reverse engineer for that use case.

“ChatGPT and generative AI tools are not always the right tool for the job,” he says. “I think the mistake people make is that they think, ‘tool first, use case later,’ where it should be use case first, tool later.”

When talking to individuals and organizations, Ross has adopted an AI task assessment framework with a three-column table with the following headings:

  • Tasks you can automate with AI
  • Tasks that you can collaborate on with AI
  • Uniquely human tasks

For example, an L&D use case could be around learning data. First, you could leverage generative AI to automate synthesizing data to generate insights. Next, you could integrate those insights into your AI tool to uncover the top five. Finally, the human task would be presenting your insights to the C-suite using the information and creating context. 

Related: AI in L&D: 4 Practical Use Cases That Will Set You Apart

Leverage generative AI for performance support in the flow of work

The traditional L&D model, Ross explains, is the monolith of content stored on a system that is pushed out and called learning in the flow of work. 

“But I think we're probably in the actual learning and flow of work phase where you've got these far smarter pieces of technology which you can converse with, that can dive into company data, and can challenge you and help you build a skill,” he says.

I think we're probably in the actual learning and flow of work phase where you've got these far smarter pieces of technology which you can converse with, that can dive into company data, and can challenge you and help you build a skill.

Generative AI, in Ross’s experience, is probably the next level in decentralizing learning from L&D teams and rethinking how we can support people to make the best use of these tools in the flow of work. 

Related: Collaborating With Intent: A 4-Step Performance Framework by Lila Warren

Integration of AI tools vital for future organizational success

When the ChatGPT hype was at its height in June 2023, Ross set out to find out how L&D professionals were thinking about adopting and adapting the technology. 

“The data from my report is there to help people make their own insights and use those to work with their organizations to decide how to leverage the technology in a way specific to our industry,” he explains.

Ross’s report found that:

  1. 64% of L&D professionals didn’t know anything about generative AI and said they needed better education about the technology.
  2. 70% said they would feel confident using these tools once they understood them.
  3. 77% said integrating AI tools into their L&D team was vital for future organizational success. 

Ross also leveraged ChatGPT to help synthesize his survey data and recorded the process in an informative video

Related: AI Certification for L&D

Think intelligently, apply AI, and be smart in the process

Generative AI, Ross explains, will become more of a day-to-day tool as the hype cycle falls away and big brands like Google and Microsoft launch their own products.

“It’s the next evolution of learning,” he says. “Instead of being that course or video, it's a helpful companion on the right-hand side of your screen that sits there with you, especially impactful if it's trained in your company data.”

With the enterprise version of ChatGPT, and Microsoft and Google betting big on generative AI, many data considerations and concerns will be addressed because companies want to integrate generative AI so that proprietary data isn’t exposed. 

“It’s probably that element where L&D teams can help support how we teach people about handling data in general,” Ross says. “What we can do is be more intelligent and apply generative AI in a way where we can meet people where they are with our content.”

Thanks to Ross for sharing his experience and insights with us! Check out our episode with Laura Overton on applying the lessons learned from the latest CIPD Learning at Work report or Shannon Martin about how you can make podcasting effective for your learning and development initiatives.

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