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The Next New Frontier By Carra Simmons
State Farm Insurance Chief Learning Officer Carra Simmons says artificial intelligence is the next new frontier for learning.
Carra Simmons
Carra Simmons

When Neil Armstrong took that famous first step, do you think he was wondering how it would impact learning at his organization? Probably not, but I would like to think someone at NASA was.

Lately, I find more and more of my discussions are focused on identifying the next new frontier for learning in the workplace — learning solutions that span industries; harness current customer, workforce and technology trends; and have a broad impact on business operations. As learning professionals, it’s important that we keep our eyes focused on the horizon, so we can help business partners see the learning possibilities that exist there.

As I look to the horizon, I see artificial intelligence as the next new frontier. And I am particularly excited about it because AI connects to learning in the workplace in a way that previous opportunities haven’t.

For example, solutions like virtual classrooms and online courses have been game changers, and maturing technologies like augmented and virtual reality show great promise. They often help by driving down the cost, or extending the reach, of familiar learning experiences. AI is different, though. AI is going to impact the businesses we support in ways that fundamentally change what is asked of us as learning professionals.

Today, performance support and learning in the workflow reduce the need for “just in case” in favor of “just in time” learning. Automation can reliably execute routine and rules-based work. AI and machine learning promise to broaden that impact by discerning and acting upon patterns too difficult to articulate and too complex to code.

The work that these technologies affect also happens to be the kind of work that training has focused on in the past. That historical need won’t disappear overnight, but we have to recognize now that it is on an inevitable and likely accelerating decline. The tipping point will be driven by an accelerating pace of change inside and outside our organizations, evolving expectations of employee learning experience, and technology that promises to disrupt not just how we learn, but the very nature of what learning is needed.

Is that scary? No, it’s exciting. It’s exciting because it brings into focus a new need, a new frontier, for learning. That frontier is to understand, embrace and advocate for these tools and technologies while preparing our workforce for the uniquely human work that remains (creative, empathetic, complex, cross-discipline).

Just as the moon landing represented a new frontier, one that moved hearts and minds to consider new possibilities, so, too, does AI for learning professionals. Where is your organization on the trip to this new frontier?

Top of Mind - According to Carra
Chief Learning Officer wants to hear from you: What are you thinking about? Send your thoughts to Ashley St. John at