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How to Select AI Vendors and Tools

Updated: Apr 3

Navigating the AI landscape is becoming increasingly challenging, not only due to the constant hype and noise surrounding it, but also due to fast progress in model capabilities, paired with new products and vendors emerging onto markets at a high pace. These trends show no sign of slowing down, at least not in the near future; in fact, it seems the noise surrounding AI is only growing louder, making it more difficult to distinguish what is genuine, significant, and practical.


This complexity is additionally exacerbated by numerous marketing efforts and articles from companies that have only recently begun to engage with AI. These companies often suggest that their AI innovations are groundbreaking, adding to the confusion for those seeking to gain an overview of the market and product capabilities.



As L&D professionals, we need a clear path to choose the right tools that empower our learners and prepare them for the future, equipped with the right skills. This guide aims to do just that, and for simplicity,  we have organized what to look for in a vendor into three overarching categories.   


At The Thinking Effect, our goal is to get the conversation started, and we hope this will lead to more refined thinking that will help us all navigate the future of learning and AI.


Choose Vendors Who are Human First

  • Ethical Guardians: Look for vendors with transparent AI governance and ethical practices. How do they ensure responsible development and avoid crossing boundaries? An effective and simple way to approach and judge this is to simply ask: Can they articulate their "red lines"?

  • Open Box:  Choose vendors who can explain how their AI works, how decisions are made, what data is used, and who offer demos or trials for you to test drive. Remember, you should be able to use the tools yourself before trusting them with your learners.

  • Privacy Sentinels: Your learners' data security is paramount. Choose vendors with robust security measures and clear data privacy policies.  


Choose Vendors/Tools with Growth Potential

  • Extensibility:  Pick tools with a robust API to integrate with your learning ecosystem. If they don’t already have a vision, then they may not be thinking systemically. 

  • Constant Evolution:  Choose vendors who actively develop and update their AI, releasing new features and improvements regularly (monthly if possible).  We noticed vendors who released compelling updates monthly last year are still leading the pack. A good thing to ask is also what a vendor’s road map looks like for the next 3 months.

  • Collaborative Spirit: Look for vendors who value partnerships and feedback. Choose those who work with other AI players and are open to co-creating with you to refine their tools. 

  • Data Analytics: Look for tools that can capture extensive learner data. This data can be used to improve the learner’s skills and experience, and help learning leaders determine where best to invest future budgets and resources. Of course, also ensure their data privacy policies are vetted.


Choose Tools that Meet Your Learner and Business Needs

Remember the three tool categories we discussed at the beginning of 2023? They're still relevant and easy to remember when evaluating tools:


Asset Creation Tools - Speed up the design and development of engaging learning materials like images, videos,  animations, audio, music, and scripts.

  • These tools can be real time-savers for busy L&D teams. They can also significantly cut design and development costs, which stakeholders are keen to achieve this year.

Optimization Tools - Analyze data to personalize and improve the learner experience. Think of them as behind-the-scenes wizards, crunching numbers to deliver insights and recommendations.

  • These tools are crucial for creating real personalized and adaptive learning experiences, which optimize learner time and potentially accelerate speed to proficiency. 

Experience Tools - Make learning interactive and engaging. Imagine bots offering coaching, feedback, or additional resources on demand.

  • These tools enhance learner motivation, improve learning effectiveness, and make learning feel experiential.


Now, let's be honest, L&D pros love sparkly things.  Shiny does not typically equate to learning efficacy, however.  So, as you evaluate tools in each of these categories, ask how the tool will:

  • cut design and development costs

  • reduce review cycles and time of subject matter experts

  • accelerate upskilling and reskilling


Remember, AI is and will continue to replace knowledge-level learning. So, focus on tools that will develop higher cognitive skills.  In other words, let AI teach what people need to know while you guide them in applying what they know to real-world situations.


Final thought. AI is a Tool, Not a Magic Wand!

The most sophisticated AI tool is powerless without a well-defined learning strategy and human expertise. Simply put, AI should augment your existing efforts, not replace them. Focus on creating a holistic learning ecosystem where AI and human ingenuity work together.


Bonus Tip: Stay curious! The AI landscape is constantly evolving. Attend industry events, network with fellow CLOs, and subscribe to The Thinking Effect to learn from other L&D professionals.


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