This paper, published in late 2021 by the OECD, is entitled “Opportunities and Drawbacks of Using Artificial Intelligence for Training.” It notes that “Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to increase training participation, including among currently underrepresented groups, by lowering some of the barriers to training that people experience and by increasing motivation to train.”

There are potential drawbacks and limitations, however, including changing skill requirements, inequalities in access to technology and infrastructure and the supply of AI skills in the workforce. Finally, there may be ethical issues coupled with a lack of strong evidence of the benefits of AI tools for training and their cost-effectiveness.

Adopting AI: the +ves and -ves

While there is no question about the movement to using AI in the workplace, the report suggests that it also “has the potential to improve the targeting of and access to adult learning systems.” Thus, it is another potential ‘weapon’ in the training arsenal building on other technologies such as widely accepted approaches like videoconferencing and web-based platforms.

The paper draws on a literature review and insights provided by various experts in the fields of AI and training. AI is seen to have “the potential to increase training participation, including among currently underrepresented groups, by lowering some of the barriers to training that people experience and increasing training motivation, and “AI solutions for training may improve the alignment of training to labour market needs.”

However, there are also:

“important potential drawbacks of using AI for training, such as the risk of decreasing the inclusiveness of adult learning systems due to the digital skills that are needed to use the tools, and the large amounts of data and high-quality technological infrastructure needed to develop AI tools. Using AI for training may also lead to significant changes in skill requirements in jobs related to training … generating resistance and negative employment effects for the professionals involved.”

In short, using unfamiliar technologies and approaches can be challenging for VET teachers and trainers – which means that there can be resistance to their adoption.

What are the opportunities that AI brings?

These include:

  1. “AI-based content and assessment may significantly shorten the learning process, because it allows learners to skip irrelevant training tasks or entire modules, and only focus on filling their knowledge and skill gaps,” and “AI may add value by making sessions more tailored to the individual needs.” In short, it can enable personalised education at scale, and
  2. It “can help people find training programmes that are most relevant to their needs quickly and easily, which, in turn may increase individuals’ motivation to participate in training” and
  3. It can address the needs of vulnerable groups, and employers also stand to benefit from the provision of training through AI due to its “time and place flexibility”
  4. And finally, “AI may help make training more impactful by enabling a better alignment of training to skill needs, by enhancing human career and training advisors’ skill assessment and training suggestions, and by guiding and empowering adults with limited access to human career counselling find the most relevant training.”

The potential drawbacks?

In addition to those briefly outlined above, there are the high level of digital skills needed by participants and educators alike, which are often lacking in both groups.

Second, and as noted above, AI for training raises ethical and transparency issues, and “at worst, it could lead to bad training decisions, when used to identify skill gaps or assess
training outcomes.” Thus, potentially, “people are unlikely to (want to) start using AI tools for training when they do not trust that the tools are easy to use, that they provide high quality unbiased output that is easy to interpret.”