Generative AI changes our very relationship with knowledge. Resistance is futile: Wildfire Learning's CEO Donald Clark
He has been one of the pioneers who has been working on AI and studying the transformations it is capable of for the last many years as he built an organisation, which is the frontrunner in transforming content into active learning. Donald Clark, the CEO of Wildfire Learning, is also an entrepreneur, professor, speaker, blogger, a co-host on the podcast ‘Great Minds on Learning’ and the author of several critical books, the latest being ‘AI for Learning: How to use AI to support employee development.’ Calling AI the Big Bang set to change everything, he has extensively spoken about how it heralds a new pedaAIgogy in his blogs.
In an exclusive chat with us ahead of People Matters L&D Singapore where he will deliver a keynote on ‘From 2D To 3D - Learning In VR & The Metaverse’, he explores the critical shifts in the LearnTech industry, an area where he has three decades of experience. He also shares the many ways leaders can unlock strategic insights for leveraging AI to reinforce resilience, strengthen agility and remain competitive amid continuous disruptions in the business landscape and the need to focus on the competency of immersive AI rather than attributing human qualities to it.
Excerpts from the interview:
Being a pioneer in the intersection of learning and technology, what are your predictions regarding the big shifts in the LearnTech space? What should organisations be ready to adopt to accelerate employee growth?
Learning Technologies have been the main driver of change in learning since the invention of writing, printing, the internet and now AI and the Metaverse. I wrote about this in detail in my book ‘Learning Technologies’, published this year.
It is literally impossible to ignore Learning Technology, as all employees use it. That is why we cannot see it as anything less than strategic. I would immediately re-examine my LearnTech strategy in light of the new advances in AI, as they are deep and profound. They touch every part of the learning journey - interfaces, learner engagement, support, content creation and curation, personalisation and assessment.
Generative AI is a productivity tool in both work and learning. We need to see it as such and not let confirmation bias (what we are familiar with) blind us to its possibilities.
In your latest book, AI for learning, you spoke about the invisible hand of AI in transforming why we learn, what we learn and how we learn. How will this invisible hand of AI and data disrupt the L&D space for organisations?
I have been working on AI for many years as I was convinced that this technology will, ultimately, be a larger Big Bang than writing. Then, in November 2022, ChatGPT was launched, hot on its heels came ChatGPT4, much more accurate and powerful. Then Microsoft, Google and other huge tech companies integrated AI into their products. This Generative AI changes our very relationship with knowledge. It heralds what I call a new pedAIgogy, where we co-create and see learning as dialogic. AI changes everything, as it changes the very nature of work, education and research. You can have a strategy around AI on learning or have a strategy imposed upon you, as learners are already using this technology. Resistance is futile.
You’re a strong believer that ‘AI is competence without comprehension’. Keeping that in mind, how can organisations and especially the L&D function, strategically approach AI? What are some best practices you would recommend?
Identify your strategic intent around AI and Learning Technologies in general. Defaulting back to classroom training simply puts you at a disadvantage to those who did not. But to take full advantage of post-Covid technologies, online AI approaches along with mixed reality and the Metaverse are serious options.
It is essential to give these tools a go, play with them, learn how to converse with them. They work because they show human qualities, that is not to say they are human. We didn’t learn to fly by copying the flapping of bird’s wings, we invented better technology. We should focus on their competence, not whether they have consciousness (which they clearly don’t). We should avoid the tendency to anthropomorphise and attribute human qualities and benchmarks to this technology. In truth, the benefits are huge.
There is a growing need for learning to not only be personalised but also accessible. What is your take on the role technology can play in achieving it? Additionally, how can organisations enhance the learning experience?
Generative AI was adopted and made accessible to hundreds of millions in months. It has also produced some astonishing advances, shown in the launch of ChatGPT4 on visual impairment. Remember also, that text to speech and speech to text were enabled by AI. It has long been a force in accessible technology and learning.
Personalised learning is its great advantage, as it is literally led by you, the learner, in your style, at your level, a personal tutor if you wish. We are at the start of a new era in learning, where we no longer have only teachers and learners (a diad), we now have teachers, learners, AI Teachers and AI that learns. This changes the game entirely. Teachers plateau in performance but AI gets better, as it constantly learns.
Generative AI has learned from us all, as it has harvested a huge portion of human culture. It is us, a deep mirror which we can interrogate to see who we really are, a socially constructed tutor.
Finally, given that the theme of our L&D Singapore conference is ‘Leading Off- Built for Disruption’, what advice would you give to the HR community when it comes to building resilient, disruption-proof and agile organisations?
The first task is to overcome the tendency to be negative about learning technology. HR is traditionally a people's profession but it must adapt to 21st century technology, as it is now a necessary condition for success and cannot be ignored. Training is largely reactive, taking orders for courses, designing them and delivering them way down the line. The conspiracy of convenience is the opposite of agile. It is far too slow for most businesses. Another problem is the obsession with a few areas of training that, far from being evidence based, are disaster zones. This includes leadership and DEI training, where formal courses are rarely the answer. We must take evidence more seriously.
To gain more insights on why we are at the cusp of a new era in learning, meet Donald Clark in-person at People Matters L&D Singapore on April 13 at Fairmont, Singapore. Register now!