The human coach becomes the coachee of an artificial coach. It sounds futuristic and for many perhaps frightening, yet it is increasingly becoming a reality. Looking back at the evolution of e-coaching, I see increasing opportunities for organisations that are already looking at the benefits e-coaching has to offer. These organisations are not only looking for solutions to reduce the skill gap, but also want to support employees in their well-being to be more human in a world that is innovating ever faster.
Matt Poepsel and I wrote a blog in 2014 about Learning Ecosystems embedded with E-coaching to support individual mastery of new knowledge and skills, and even then it seemed unfeasible to many.
Back then, we envisioned a combined social learning/e-coaching platform that could expand the learning ecosystem and create an innovative way to ensure that lessons translated into real change among participants. It is now clear that a coaching-based learning landscape can close the knowledge gaps in an organisation and deliver performance results through the mastery of new skills and capabilities by its employees in the right way. But whereas at the time of e-coaching we thought of a real human coach, we see that in the learning ecosystems we imagine today, artificial coaches provide important support and sometimes even replace humans. In addition, we see that these innovations are also increasingly focused on supporting human competence and well-being.
PART 1: Bridging Learning Ecosystems and E-coaching for Mastery, Katja Schipperheijn and Matt Poepsel, PhD (2014) … the next frontier of learning and performance: learning ecosystems embedded with e-coaching to support individual mastery of new knowledge and skills …..
Tech does not judge
To be honest, I must admit that I had, and still have, many doubts about innovations that claim to support competences. Both for assessing them and developing them, as this is much more complicated than developing skills. But because I am naturally curious and wanted to be open to new possibilities, I put my suspicion aside and opened myself up to some experiments. One of these innovations that I wanted to explore was Jenson8 developed by Jena Davidson.
Unlike many other games, this one combines several rounds in a VR world (or metaverse if we want to use hype words), teamwork and personal group discussions supported by a coach or moderator. This human moderator is in turn supported by AI to make analyses of the participants and discover possible areas of improvement. A combination that seems more than successful, because although I thought I could outsmart the AI, I learned after the first round that I am not in control of everything in certain situations. Because the AI recorded and analysed all my, sometimes very impulsive, actions, the moderator knew which questions to ask me regarding my behaviour during the game. In my case, it came to light after the first round that apparently in stressful situations I act on impulse which does not really contribute to the team spirit. Apparently, I can convince a human (recent leadership test Hudson) that I know something about leadership, but my weak points were exposed by AI. Lesson learned, experiment succeeded.
However, it does not always have to be about highly innovative or immersive technologies when we talk about coaching supported by artificial intelligence. Even micro-learning platforms, like the one implemented by Andrew Stotter-Brooks at Etihad, use technology to support the sales coach based on the method of Confidence Based Learning. By presenting certain exercises in different ways with a control question, AI can very accurately determine where the learning gaps are and where employees are, for example, over-confident about their capabilities and knowledge. For the sales coach, this makes it possible to adjust coaching to the levels of confidence and effective skills that the sales person needs to develop further.
Humanity prevails over innovation and hypes.
When I earlier stated that tech does not judge, I also want to take a critical stance on trusting artificial intelligence too much. The examples I mention above and the cases in my book all have technology as a support, yet rely on human added value and input.
All too often, I attend EdTech conferences and hear that those start-ups use AI for coaching and/or determining learning paths. However, AI is often no more than a marketing tool to sell. Moreover, those salespeople often have no idea what they mean by AI and whether it is simply machine learning based on previous data or unsupervised deep learning, which often has more bias than human judgement. That AI often showed more bias could not prevent even an organisation like Amazon, as they had to acknowledge after their failed experiment to eliminate bias by using a bot for recruitment.
When I think of learning ecosystems and the intelligent symbiosis between people and technology, I never start from the technological landscape. To me, these components are as easy to replace as a Lego block whose colours I do not like. In my view, technology is therefore often overrated when we think of the opportunities it has to offer for a sustainable future.
Ecosystems may be connected by technology, but it is people who are central and the real link. The continuous improvement of the ecosystem must therefore, in my opinion, include a recurring analysis of the opportunities it offers for the employee, the organisation and society.
I dedicate this blog to my good friend Matt Poepsel with whom I was already thinking in 2014 about how Learning Ecosystems (or LearnScapes) would evolve in the future. Thank you for being my learning friend, I am looking forward to your book “Expand the Circle” (Spring 2023)
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