Training Industry's Tom Whelan
eLearning Learning
November 27, 2023

Unleashing the Power of AI in Learning and Development: A Conversation with Dr. Tom Whelan

In the ever-evolving landscape of learning and development, artificial intelligence (AI) is emerging as a transformative force, reshaping traditional approaches and unlocking new possibilities. Dr. Tom Whelan, Director of Corporate Research at Training Industry, shared his insights on the current state of AI in the training industry and its potential applications.

The Current State of AI in Training

According to Dr. Whelan, the current state of AI in the training industry is witnessing a significant shift. While the concept of AI has been familiar for years, recent developments, especially in large language models like OpenAI's ChatGPT, are opening up new avenues. The exposure to what Dr. Whelan calls "simple AI," based on algorithms, is giving way to more advanced and powerful tools, creating a different world of possibilities compared to just a year ago.

For those in L&D roles, this new horizon is often being met with enthusiasm. A webinar conducted by Training Industry revealed the sentiments of learning leaders and companies towards AI. Approximately half of the participants were eager to embrace AI, exploring how it could enhance their training programs. Another third adopted a cautious “wait and see” approach, while less than 20% expressed uncertainty. Notably, only 3% held a negative view, indicating a widespread interest and openness to the potential of AI in learning and development.

Opportunities and Use Cases for AI in L&D

Dr. Whelan emphasized the diverse opportunities AI presents in the learning and development landscape. Providers are exploring AI’s impact on content creation, curation, and delivery across various modalities. In the realm of content, AI can be used to suggest course outlines, structure learning activities, draft presentation slides and scripts, and even help with coding for multimedia elements. Delivery applications range from personalizing learning paths to translating and localizing content more efficiently. The introduction of large language models has taken personalized learning to new heights, enabling a deeper level of customization.

Moreover, AI is being leveraged for coaching and feedback, supporting areas such as sales coaching, leadership coaching, and performance coaching. The ability to create job aids and just-in-time content using AI is streamlining support for learners, making information more accessible at the point of need. AI is also present in the realm of simulations, enhancing the variability within simulated environments.

Interestingly, AI is proving valuable in marketing within the training industry. It assists in suggesting keywords, creating attractive titles, and guiding internal marketing campaigns, showcasing the versatility of what AI can accomplish beyond traditional learning applications.

Challenges and Considerations

While AI in learning and development holds immense promise, Dr. Whelan acknowledged certain challenges. The issue of factual accuracy and the potential for AI-generated “hallucinations” pose concerns, particularly in content creation. He highlighted the need for subject matter experts to ensure the accuracy and reliability of information generated by AI. Dr. Whelan stressed the importance of the format of questions posed to large language models, known as “prompts,” such that poorly-formed questions will yield poor answers from an AI – regardless of the robustness of the language model. In addition, ensuring the ethical use of AI requires technical competencies on the part of L&D staff that they may not currently possess. In short, Dr. Whelan suggests that while L&D may reap many benefits from leaning on AI, it can be risky to blindly rely on it.

There may also be challenges with the use of AI related to privacy and security. For any organization with sensitive intellectual property or high-risk work environments, for instance, there are valid concerns about using a large language model. Where any information going into a language model is stored, and what information it references when responding to a prompt, can create a maelstrom of issues when the prompt is, “give me 5 suggestions to boost manufacturing safety,” or, “create a course outline based on clinical trial results,” versus something more innocuous like, “give me 5 suggestions for a fun icebreaker activity.” Going back to the notion of the need for technical competence, L&D staff using an AI tool needs awareness of where information is coming and going in order to avoid jeopardizing protections or running afoul of company IT practices. “In other words,” said Dr. Whelan, “there may be some stones better left unturned by AI for many companies.”

The Future of AI in Learning and Development

Looking ahead to the future, Dr. Whelan predicts increased adoption and application of AI in learning and development. "As these tools get better and broader, and more businesses realize the range of use cases that could streamline processes and tasks, we expect to see new ways for AI to impact L&D that we wouldn’t consider today,” he said. However, he foresees challenges related to the attribution of source material, particularly in contexts where the accuracy of and accountability for training content is critical. As the industry continues to explore the possibilities of AI, it is crucial to establish regulations to prevent misuse and ensure ethical AI practices.

Navigating the AI Journey

As organizations navigate their AI journey in learning and development, Dr. Whelan advises caution and recommends understanding the technical aspects of AI tools, both good and bad. Educating yourself on the fundamentals of how AI operates, including potential biases and pitfalls, is essential to leveraging its potential in a way that’s both effective and efficient. Dr. Whelan stresses the importance of treating AI and large language models in particular as a new class of workplace tool (as opposed to a replacement for an employee), recognizing its capabilities and limitations, and being mindful of the queries posed to ensure reliable and accurate responses.


As organizations embrace the transformative power of AI, Whelan says they must navigate the challenges and opportunities responsibly, ensuring that AI enhances, rather than hinders, the learning and development journey.

Related Resources from Training Industry

The Business of Learning Podcast: AI in L&D: 5 Things you Need to Know

Webinar: AI-powered Learning: The (Still Human) Future of Corporate Training

E-Book: The AI Advantage in L&D: A Strategic Guide

AI Article Collection 

Susan Cort

By Susan Cort, Director of Communications

About Us

d'Vinci Interactive is an award-winning comprehensive learning solutions provider for corporate, government, medical, non-profit, and K-12 target markets.

Ready to Connect?

Contact us today to start the conversation. We work with you to find innovative solutions that drive a sense of shared accomplishment and trust.