Cut Through the Ambiguity: How L&D Leaders Can Drive Organizational Success with Generative AI Skills Training

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Packed with insights from AI experts, this article is for L&D leaders who are starting to design and implement impactful GenAI learning initiatives across their organizations.

By Trena Minudri

More often than not, we humans default to certainty over ambiguity. We go with what we know because it’s safe—even if we could reach greater heights by trying something new.

As L&D leaders, we witness this aversion to ambiguity in nearly every skilling initiative, especially those involving new innovations. Our role is to help learners develop the mindset and confidence to continuously learn, change, and grow. 

But what happens when this resistance to change occurs at the organizational level, impeding the company's ability to reach new heights of success? How do we enable our organization to embrace critical transformations?

A technological innovation that’s undeniably ambiguous, yet also undeniably critical for the success of future business operations, is Generative AI. By 2028, expect to integrate AI-powered solutions across their businesses—but as of 2023, only 19% of organizations have tried any sort of GenAI pilot program, according to research from Gartner. 

I’m convinced this 19% statistic exists not due to a lack of desire to implement GenAI (and reap its compounding productivity benefits), but rather because there’s a lack of knowledge about how to implement GenAI. Business leaders who are responsible for upskilling at their organizations are keenly aware of the need for GenAI training and adoption, but with the “broad and emerging nature of the technology,” its roll-out feels daunting and littered with risk.

That’s why I’m writing this. L&D leaders need expert advice on how to prioritize and deploy tailored GenAI learning opportunities effectively.

GenAI will continue to advance what companies are capable of, and if you’re an L&D leader, it’s time to start making moves despite the unclear outcomes. Lean into the staying power of GenAI and discover ways to implement training organization-wide with the help of several GenAI experts who collaborated on this article with me.

GenAI could truly change everything

Nearly 40% of all global employees have been exposed to AI at work already. GenAI’s potential is not overhyped; if anything, L&D leaders need to understand GenAI’s impact on every job function.

Just last year, hundreds of thousands of individuals enrolled in Coursera’s 35+ GenAI-focused courses or projects every minute. Searches for GenAI in our platform grew 4x from the year prior.

GenAI is the catalyst for a paradigm shift in the way people work. It’s not just another addition to your tech stack. Successful GenAI adoption means:

  • Buy-in: Everyone from the C-suite to individual contributors must jump on board and understand GenAI’s value.

  • Commitment: Leaders need to instill a willingness to learn and upskill across all job functions.

  • Training for everyone: All employees need to understand how to use GenAI as a thought partner for coming up with alternative solutions, examining their biases, and automating repetitive tasks.

  • Training for leaders: Leaders need to know how to use GenAI to make stronger decisions and set the pace for company usage. Widespread adoption starts at the top.

Training for individual teams: Team leads need to understand GenAI well and how it can impact their direct reports in their specific functions.

AI is coming to your job, it’s not coming for your job. Helping people learn how to use AI in a variety of capacities is an investment that everyone should be making in their career.

—Elisa Graceffo, General Manager, Technical Content, Worldwide Learning at Microsoft

Hear how learning experts at Dow, Microsoft, and Vanderbilt University are planning for GenAI.

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Why L&D leaders should prioritize GenAI skills training

GenAI adoption requires a company-wide mindset shift. Otherwise, it’s not going to work. 

“Have we reached peak Generative AI yet? We haven’t even gotten started,” notes Dr. Jules White, Director of the Initiative on the Future of Learning & GenAI at Vanderbilt University. “GenAI hasn’t even been integrated into all the tools we use daily. The chart is about to go straight up—it’s about to change everything.”

If Dr. White is right (and I wholeheartedly believe he is), L&D leaders, here are three reasons why you should prioritize GenAI skills training for your organization in 2024.

1. GenAI positively impacts the business and your employees

If every employee at your organization used GenAI, you’d see:

  • Increased revenue with McKinsey estimating that GenAI “has the potential to generate $2.6 trillion to $4.4 trillion in value across industries”

  • Improved customer support with a report from Stanford Business finding positive impacts on productivity, customer sentiment, and increases employee retention

  • Greater innovation and productivity with research from EY finding that four out of five desk job employees see AI’s value at work, believing it will make them more efficient (82%), more productive (81%), and able to focus on higher-value work (81%),

But none of that can happen without every department understanding how GenAI’s capabilities can be most beneficial to them. That’s what Microsoft’s working on right now.

“We’re reimagining our core teamwide processes in light of GenAI and making investments in AI-powered authoring tools,” Elisa Graceffo explains. “There is a level of business process audit that different functions should be looking at organization-wide.” 

Automating certain tasks and workflows with GenAI opens the doors to more strategic thinking. Last year, BCG and the Harvard Business School found that with a hand from AI, individual contributors boosted their efficiency by 25% and saw up to 40% better results with their clients. 

For this to happen, L&D leaders need to design customized learning initiatives, so employees across departments can create use cases for their role. Start by drilling into tasks they can automate or complete more efficiently, so they can deeply connect with GenAI’s value.

2. GenAI isn’t about replacing people—it’s about making better decisions

When GenAI increased in prominence, more and more people started talking about it. They wondered, Is it really here to stay? Is learning how to use it essential or a waste of time? What risks might it pose to my organization?

Others were concerned about ethics and data privacy, and rightfully so. Early GenAI discourse focused on how students could use it to “cheat” by having the tool write papers or complete assignments for them. Others harped on ChatGPT making mistakes or delivering inaccurate information.

Dr. Jules White asks us to think of GenAI as “augmented intelligence” instead: “When you look at it as an augmenter or an exoskeleton for the mind, GenAI allows you to do more than you could before, be more creative, and solve bigger problems.”

Until everyone actually knows how to use GenAI like this though, it’s only natural that many employees will worry their skills and experience will become obsolete, and they’ll lose their jobs to GenAI. This couldn’t be further from what’s happening

Instead of becoming a robotic competitor, GenAI is upskilling and enhancing workforces that have adopted it early to help them make better business decisions. 

The real value of GenAI is when companies start thinking about how many business decisions we make every day. Thinking through the ramifications of every decision and alternative approach is more valuable in the long run than automating. We’ve never had anything like this in computing that could help leaders make better decisions.

—Dr. Jules White, Director of the Initiative on the Future of Learning & GenAI at Vanderbilt University

3. GenAI supercharges organizational productivity

The third of many reasons that now’s the time to figure out how to implement AI training is team and organizational agility. Employees who know how to use GenAI become more productive with GenAI. Collective productivity turns into more revenue and less waste as an organization.

For example, a recent Stanford study on customer support agents found those who used an AI chatbot to help them find answers to customer questions resolved 14% more issues per hour.

When GenAI takes the lead on more repetitive tasks, like digging through your knowledge base for answers, your workforce can spend time on work that matters. Large language models (LLMs) can examine information from every angle and give employees all of the context they need to think more strategically.

Learn how to increase productivity with generative AI skills training.

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Addressing your hesitations about GenAI skills training

GenAI presents business leaders, and specifically L&D leaders, with an uncommon opportunity: Everyone in the organization can benefit from a shared foundation of upskilling.

Before you start designing training, you need to answer:

  • What business outcomes will GenAI training help us accomplish?

  • How will employees be recognized for their learning efforts?

  • How will GenAI impact each employee and functional team?

Here’s where you can start as you build out GenAI skills training.

Encourage experimentation

Employees may hesitate to use GenAI because they’re intimidated by the technology. Or, they’re worried they’ll make a mistake at work. Prioritize psychological safety within any learning initiative, so your employees can feel safe to experiment and maybe even fail a few times.

Elisa Graceffo says it well: “Spark the imagination in fun and creative ways; this can be very powerful for helping individuals learn GenAI. It’s all about imagining the art of the possible and prompting even more willingness to move forward.”

Practically, this looks like designing prompt engineering workshops that focus on low-stakes outputs, like vacation itineraries, new air fryer recipes, or music recommendations. Then, you can move toward tailored training that focuses on job outputs.

“The simplest value of GenAI is proposing questions to ask and knowing how to ask them in a prompt,” shares Dr. Jules White.

Measure impact early and often

Just 20% of L&D and HR leaders have a measurement plan for AI skill development at their company—yet the most critical aspect of any learning initiative is driving outcomes and tying them back to business strategy.

Here’s your first step: Identify your learning objective. What business need are you trying to address? Next, set your metrics to hit this objective. This is the point when you can start to design your learning program.

Let’s say you want to measure the impact of GenAI on employee productivity. Establish a baseline of productivity with a survey to understand how productive employees believe they are without GenAI training. Then, measure learning adoption—how many employees are enrolled in target courses? How many complete these courses? Lastly, at a determined interval, perhaps three months after your initiative first launched, re-survey employees to see how their productivity has evolved.

Include leadership-oriented training

As I mentioned earlier, GenAI adoption needs to start at the top; employees should see their leaders discovering the value of GenAI alongside them. But executives need different GenAI training than individual contributors.

So, where should L&D leaders start?

Leadership-oriented GenAI training needs to help the C-suite do two things: 

  1. Understand basic LLM strategies, so they can speak with a level of expertise on the subject with the broader organization.

  2. Establish ethical use policies and AI guardrails, so they can communicate and model the importance of responsible use with all employees.

Consider offering executive leadership a GenAI course designed just for them, like Navigating Generative AI: A CEO Playbook which is taught by Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda.

Mind training pitfalls

Avoid the potential GenAI training disasters early on, like teaching employees complicated GenAI technical jargon. 

Folks claim to be purveyors of AI training, yet they talk about complicated, irrelevant subjects. Get your workforce in front of an LLM and show them how to do basic prompt engineering with relevant examples.

—Dr. Jules White, Director of the Initiative on the Future of Learning & GenAI at Vanderbilt University

Another major blunder waiting to happen? Generic, impersonal training. 

Your employees will want a clear answer to this question: How will AI improve my role and experience at this company? 

Deliver tailored training that illustrates meaningful GenAI outcomes, and your employees will connect with the material on a foundational level.

Case in point, Trina Lima, the Global Learning Strategy Lead at Sanofi (a global healthcare company) is already doing this with a handful of non-GenAI upskilling initiatives. Trina and her team crafted role-specific, custom training for Sanofi’s Trade team using Course Builder, a Coursera tool with AI-assisted authoring. The course focuses on data analysis and decision-making—two fundamental parts of the Trade team’s work—and incorporates both Sanofi’s private content and material from Coursera’s industry experts. 

Sanofi’s results speak for themselves: “We saw course enrollments surge within the Trade team as a result of this personalized approach,” Trina shares, “which motivated us to extend access to the AI-assisted authoring tool for L&D leaders to adapt training for specific teams across the organization.” 

In short, employees crave tailored training that ties to business outcomes. Don’t assume GenAI is “a new enough” topic that you won’t need to craft role-specific learning opportunities to drive employee engagement.

Facilitate the CEO and CLO conversation

Organizations adopting GenAI can take two different paths. The first leads to an excited CEO who can’t wait to integrate GenAI into the tech stack. They’re pulling in the CLO and urging them to upskill specific job functions because it’s a huge business opportunity. 

On the second path, CEOs are waiting to act. Employees are asking CLOs for GenAI training content and learning it independently. In 2023, someone enrolled in GenAI content on Coursera nearly every minute. In 2024, this rate has quadrupled, with four people enrolling in GenAI content every minute. While this interest is, of course, appreciated, the learning content and experimental tactics of employees haven’t been vetted by L&D leaders. This leaves business leaders asking questions like:

  • What are my employees learning? 

  • Where are they learning it? 

  • Are ethics baked into this training?

CEOs and CLOs should align—and keep up the conversation—to determine their strategy around GenAI and how to roll it out to the larger organization.

Lead the way with Coursera’s Generative AI Academy

With content from industry leaders such as Amazon Web Services, Google, Vanderbilt University, DeepLearning.AI, and Microsoft, Coursera’s Generative AI Academy is designed to provide both executive and foundational GenAI literacy training. Give your managers and individual contributors alike the chance to get hands-on GenAI experience with guided projects and applications so they can see how GenAI would work best for them. 

Unlocking Productivity:

The Business Leader’s Playbook to Generative AI Skills Training

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Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.