Chat GPT kills formal learning?

by Viv Cole on May 11, 2023

Similar to when Google first became integrated into our daily work life, it will take time for people to become familiar with ChatGPT’s capabilities and how to use it effectively. I believe that concerns about ChatGPT making formal learning obsolete are unfounded. The picture is more nuanced and so it helps to be clear about which use cases play to ChatGPT’s and formal learning’s relative strengths.

Where does ChatGPT win?

Speed: L&D’s lead time for formal learning is expressed in weeks or months, whereas ChatGPT provides almost instant results. Interestingly ChatGPT will help reduce L&D’s lead time as it will reduce the time commitment needed by subject matter experts and accelerate several writing tasks.

Generic content e.g. Excel formulae, introductions to management concepts: with well-written prompts, ChatGPT returns almost instant deliverables e.g. tailored instructions, summaries, briefing papers, backgrounders. However, if context is not important to the learning, you probably shouldn’t have had a bespoke course anyway (the need was already covered by Google or your LXP).

The long tail of learning needs: individuals can get answers (hopefully good enough) to a vast range of prompts. L&D is resourced only to use formal learning to solve for strategic learning needs relevant to a critical mass of people.

Where does formal learning win?

Learning experience: formal learning is more that information, it should be engaging, varied and memorable. ChatGPT’s user experience is basic, the clever part is behind the scenes.

Tailored learning: effective performance consulting should lead to a clear and well communicated context for a personalised, formal learning experience and call to action. ChatGPT returns the “average of the internet” for a given prompt.

Reliability: L&D should go through the process of validating content with the organisation’s subject matter experts so that it can be relied on. ChatGPT’s algorithm surfaces content that is limited by the data model e.g. may contain mistakes and not include recent developments. There is no trail to allow checking for reliability. 

Relevance: L&D review and refine formal learning content so that it ties in with the organisation’s purpose, strategy, culture, brand and tone of voice. ChatGPT’s algorithm estimates what is relevant or not and is subject to limitations in the data model.

Authenticity: messages and experiences are based on real people working in the organisation, whereas ChatGPT returns the “average of the internet” for a given prompt.

Confidentiality: there is minimal (or at least well understood) risk of leakage of questions and answers beyond the organisation from a formal learning course. There is a risk that ChatGPT users input confidential/commercial information that they should n’t and this gets leaked through incorporation into the language model.

Reward: a user can be given credit/qualifications/CPD points for attending/completing formal learning as well as any performance system reward for performance improvement. As learning is not visible in ChatGPT, although the user may get rewarded for performance they won’t get rewarded for learning.


Undoubtedly, individuals will utilize ChatGPT to solve certain problems for which they would have previously submitted a learning request to L&D. However, L&D can still successfully differentiate the features and benefits of formal learning (courses and e-learning). With effective internal marketing and communication, L&D can establish a strong, defensible and well understood position for its strategically important formal learning offerings.


L&D’s canteen of dreams?

by Viv Cole on April 4, 2023

Metaphor is a great tool for understanding a complex situation. Just picture something simpler we can picture well and read across the similarities and differences. Health warnings aside, used well, metaphor generates rich insights and questions. One rich metaphor that I’ve often used to help people understand Learning & Development (L&D) strategy is to imagine that the L&D department is the office canteen.

Why is corporate L&D like an office canteen?

There are lots of similarities, here are 5 to start you off:

  • Nourishment: Just like how a canteen serves food and nourishment to employees, L&D provides knowledge and skills that feed employees’ career and professional growth.
  • Choice: Both have menus that users can choose from, although L&D tends to refer to this as the learning catalogue.
  • Socialisation: A secondary purpose of both is to provide a setting where people have time to build working relationships whilst sharing insights, challenges, ideas and best practice.
  • Specialisation: Only organisations of a certain size will make the investment to create a specialist L&D department/canteen – there needs to be a critical mass of users to make the investment viable.
  • Accessibility: Just like when the canteen creates its menu to cover that some users have specific dietary needs/allergies, L&D needs to cater for users with various accessibility requirements.

So what?

I’m confident you see there are some similarities (and you can think of more). Moving onto how this metaphor helps, here are a few insights that might be relevant for your strategy:

  • Funding: Does the Board choose to subsidise the canteen, outsource it to a catering company, or shut it so that people to spend their own budget externally (or bring in their own packed lunches)?
  • Marketing: How do we position and communicate the canteen so that it’s competitive against any local sandwich shops or restaurants? How do we reward loyal customers and advocates?
  • Personalisation: Do we offer the same to everyone? How much choice of menu do we offer? Do we market to target segments of the population?
  • Campaigns: How often do we link or theme the canteen’s offerings to company-wide strategy or external events e.g. International Women’s Day?  
  • Return on investment: Can we show how the activities of the canteen drive business metrics or make a contribution to the employee value proposition?

Going deeper

And to conclude here are three anonymous insights that have come from discussions using this metaphor:    

  • “Why did we buy our LXP? The canteen was running out of capacity so we needed a vending machine for people in the queue to stop them getting too hungry and noisy.”
  • “Once we got our data reporting organised that we realised how much food being bought centrally by the canteen wasn’t getting eaten.”
  • “We realised we needed better governance on user-generated content, it was like finding there were more people in the canteen eating their own lunches than paying them from the canteen.”

If you’d like to talk through your learning strategy with an independent expert, let me know and I’ll put the kettle on.


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