E-learning is a huge trend in 2020. Lockdown, massive transitions from classical education in schools to remote tools, corporate training via Zoom and Skype — this is a reality of modern learning. These tendencies began long before the pandemic, but it took worldwide isolation to make us realize all potential and issues of e-learning.
It’s not perfect — learners often don’t feel like they have enough feedback. Asking questions, getting personalized attention, working in groups — all that became harder without face-to-face contact.
Luckily, chatbots are here to save the day. A chatbot is a virtual conversation partner that understands users’ needs and helps solve them via conversational interactions. Chatbots talk to users in a similar way to how humans converse. It’s a useful tool for sales, customer support, navigation, but also, for e-learning.
To get you a better idea of what chatbots can do, let’s take a look at examples.
- Microsoft Bot Framework: an intelligent bot that can be integrated into Skype, Microsoft Office Suit, email, and even Azure. Bots in Microsoft serve personal as well as corporate needs. They organize calls and meetings, help to keep track of assignments and ensure organization.
- Disney built a chatbot with Zootopia characters where users could chat with cartoon detectives and solve crimes. Not only does this chatbot already border education and entertainment. but also it is highly engaging.
- NBC built a chatbot that aggregates news and provides content on demand. A user sends a request on what information he’d like to see, and a chatbot provides a digest.
Chatbots are actively adopted for scholar education and corporate training alike. In 2017, Leeds Beckett University published a chatbot that helps students choose the right university course. Via a Facebook messenger, every student can consult the bot on course curriculum, scope, advantages. Obviously, the applications of chatbots in online education go even beyond this example- they are now integrated into different types of e-learning software.
Companies and education organizations can turn their educational content into learning systems and smart assistants. Chatbots, powered by AI and Machine Learning, can go through large clusters of data, and select insights which are most relevant for the conversation. As a result, they would be even more knowledgeable than human consultants.
Obviously, at the first stage, such chatbots will require training. Developers need to go through each dataset thoroughly, making sure it provides the right content for chatbots learning. However, once the assistant processed several clusters, it would be ready to distinguish useful information automatically.
The beauty of chatbot technology is, first and foremost, in its high personalization capacity. If an assistant is equipped with natural language processing algorithms and machine learning, it will easily analyze the patterns of users’ speech and change the learning style accordingly. Ideally, in the future, we might see a reality where chatbots adapt to different learning styles as well — be it visual, audial, kinesthetic, or mixed.
For now, most chatbots offer customization options, the more advanced ones are even capable of switching between modes automatically. Chatbots can understand the level of expertise of a learner, change the tone of the conversation, and pick information that is well fitted to a particular level. Obviously, such solutions are high-tech and difficult to develop without professional software development expertise.
We have already seen chatbots penetrating finances, medicine, and media as personal assistants. They help manage money, find out possible causes and treatments, select media digests. In learning, chatbots are already capable of tracking learning progress, assigning points, and consulting students — just like in the tool released by the Leeds University.
School and university students often struggle with keeping track of their curriculum tutors, grades and academic assignments. To keep everybody in the loop, Lancaster University developed Ask LU, an AI-based chatbot that responds to students’ questions about the studying process and campus infrastructure. The scope of the assistant spans beyond purely academic questions: students can also ask about washing machines near or on the campus, find support offices, or free computers.
Chatbots allow companies and learning institutions to get a bigger-picture view of the learning process. This is especially valid for corporations that practice e-learning on a regular basis. Many of them are aware that the hardest part in motivating employees to study is organizing the process. It needs to be accessible, comfortable, and universal. Assistants provide real-time updates and available information in an orderly manner.
In our typical understanding, the role of chatbots is limited to answering users’ requests. We aren’t accustomed to seeing the bots take the initiative — but it’s possible in education platforms. Chatbots can perform the functions of not only assistants and information sources, but be the one to help check knowledge and grade. Based on users’ responses, they can come up with smart questionnaires that provide the most efficient way to review knowledge.
Chatbots can be implemented to do online tests, written exams, hold discussions, and assist with spaced repetition. It’s possible that AI and natural language processing technology will allow chatbots to be an objective dragging method. Obviously, students’ performance can be tracked by human teachers, but as chatbots will progress it’s likely that supervision will become less necessary.
Chatbots are likely an essential innovation in e-learning. For one thing, they have a lot of universal applications, like the ones examined above. On top of that, they have a lot of unique advantages that classical learning simply doesn’t offer.
- Accessibility: a chatbot doesn’t have weekends or working hours. Students can turn to assistants anytime and anywhere.
- Objectivity: unlike human teachers, chatbots can be biased towards a particular student. Potentially, it creates space for a lot more objective way of knowledge assessment.
- An innovative self-study tool. Self-education is a huge trend for several years now. People grow out of established courses and institutions and instead prefer to take initiative over their educations. Chatbots can help them, systemize their self-educational activities.
- Motivational factor. Chatbots don’t have to be limited to aggregating information. They can also encourage learners to perform better, provide useful tips and insights, and remind not to slack off via push-notifications.
- Available as mobile apps, web tools, and on social media. There are many mediums through which learning chatbots can be accessed. We already saw an example of an app, created by Lancaster University, and a messenger bot, built in Leeds. The next innovation might likely be a VR chatbot.
Chatbots in e-learning are used to increase the interactivity of learning, help learners organize their studying process and provide them with real-time insights. In the future, chatbots’ role can be expanded to tutoring, quizzing, knowledge assessment, and even creation of new studying methods.
If you are considering building an e-learning solution or have an educational product, implementing a chatbot is definitely worth consideration. It’s a long-term investment that saves time and expenses, increases learners’ motivations, and improves the educational experience.