Optimizing learning with advanced digital tools
Multiplying learning impacts through artificial intelligence-powered courses
Education and upskilling
Economic and human resource management studies show that more Canadians are re-evaluating their working lives and considering a job or career change, which is sparking their interest in education and upskilling. As employers look for new ways to retain and attract talent, they are considering new incentives, including more training and development.
Interest in the graduate-level online leadership courses offered by Athabasca University (AU) through its Leadership and Management Development program has increased amid the workforce and training transformations driven by the COVID- 19 pandemic.
“Individuals who take the courses are typically middle management with perhaps an undergraduate degree or equivalent work experience, who are looking to develop skills to help them take on a new leadership role within their organization or elsewhere,” says Richard Dixon, the program’s director in AU’s Faculty of Business.
Adapted from AU’s online Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, courses are designed for experienced managers and professionals who want flexible options for upgrading their skills in bite-sized courses. Using asynchronous pedagogy, students go online when it works for them and proceed at their own pace over a 4-week period. Students can also use the courses as transfer credit towards AU’s MBA, a Leadership and Management Development certificate of completion, or a Graduate Diploma in Leadership and Management.
“Individuals who take the courses are typically middle management with perhaps an undergraduate degree or equivalent work experience, who are looking to develop skills to help them take on a new leadership role within their organization or elsewhere.”– Richard Dixon, program director for Leadership and Management Development program
Professional development options for employers
Employers are paying attention to programs like this too.
“Increasingly, AU’s Faculty of Business is also working with organizations who want to provide their employees with industry-customized versions of our courses to build their leadership and management skills,” Dixon says. “For example, we are working more with medium-sized companies that understand these kinds of professional development opportunities can help them retain their people.”
Other clients for customized courses include public-sector organizations and organizations that regulate or represent specific professions or industry members.
Using virtual innovation to bring professional ethics to life
Bringing innovation to online learning and customizing content for partner organizations, the Learning and Management Development courses are enriched through AU’s use of artificial intelligence (AI).
The Alberta Institute of Agrology is one of the partners that has benefitted from the innovative AI-powered courses. The Alberta Institute of Agrology is the professional regulatory body for more than 2,700 people working in 19 agrology-practice areas in the province.
Ethics are central to agrology practice, says David Lloyd, CEO and registrar of the Alberta Institute of Agrology.
“Our members conduct more than 80% of the environmental reclamation and remediation work in Alberta. They are experts in soils, vegetation, water, animal science and other areas related to their responsibilities to ensure food safety and security and environmentally sustainable animal production,” he says. “It is critical that they are guided by ethics in their practice within the context of legislated professional standards, legal obligations, and duties to serve the public interest.”
Making a complex decision in a simulated learning environment
The Alberta Institute of Agrology and AU collaboratively developed a tailored version of the Leadership and Management Development course, Ethical Decision Making, which was first delivered to articling agrologists in 2021. Dixon and two specialists from the Alberta Institute of Agrology are coaches for the course. It includes an AI simulation that puts participants in a realistic scenario where they respond to pressures that challenge their professional ethics. The technology is from Ametros Learning, which uses IBM Watson natural language tools.
Students can test their ability to manage these complex decisions through the AI simulation.
“It puts each learner in the experience of being a junior agrologist with a fictitious consulting firm helping an energy company with wellsite reclamation,” says Dixon. “They respond to various AI-powered characters representing the industry client, their peers, and supervisors, who try to persuade them to cross the ethical line.”
“This course is having an incomparable impact on young agrology professionals, preparing them to exercise their roles in the field through competent and ethical practices.”– David Lloyd, CEO and registrar of the Alberta Institute of Agrology
After participating in the AI scenario, students discuss their experiences with their coaches and peers, a highly valuable combination, says Cassandra Haraba, Alberta Institute of Agrology’s director of regulatory governance and a co-developer and coach for the course.
“The learners are recognizing substantive misconceptions they had about how they would behave in these situations, and this course is allowing effective correction of these misconceptions early in their career,” says Haraba. “Each learner has unique experiences with the AI characters, depending on how they react, and sharing their insights amplifies the learning impact,” she says.
“The learners also realize that the Alberta Institute of Agrology’s Code of Ethics is their safety net, which they can use day to day when facing ethical challenges.” “This course is having an incomparable impact on young agrology professionals, preparing them to exercise their roles in the field through competent and ethical practices,” adds Lloyd.
Learn more about AU’s Leadership and Management Development program.
This article originally appeared in a Technology and Education feature produced by RandallAnthony Communications and published in The Globe and Mail. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.