A few years back, a lot of customer service units started to incorporate interactive voice robots to welcome callers, get some data and forward the call to the appropriate agent if the request could not be completed by the robot itself. It was a step up from ‘push 1 if you wish to …”, since that took a lot of time if your grievance didn’t rank in the first few options on the dial.

The vocal robot was supposed to ‘listen’ and take you directly to the required information. That’s if it understood what you were saying. Around that time, a hilarious video of two Scotsmen trying to get an elevator to take them to the eleventh floor went viral. A lot of people could relate because voice recognition was not yet at the desired standards.

Chatbots are close cousins of voice recognition but have the advantage of mainly functioning with written text, which makes it easier to communicate and get the desired answers quicker and with significantly less pain.

Chatbots across the ages

It’s every generation’s prerogative to feel as if they have moved things along in everything from society, medicine, and computer science, more than their predecessors. But as with all great things, the groundwork has been laid down long before.

The first chatbot was developed in 1950 with the Turing Test. Computer pioneer Alan Turing believed that if a text-based robot could fool 50% of people, it could be considered “intelligent.” So, in order to pass the Turing’s test, a computer had to be able to carry on a conversation that was indistinguishable from a conversation with a human being.

Today we have several intelligent assistants that most people are familiar with – Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa. In 2016, Georgia Tech’s Jill Watson was presented by a tech professor to his students as his teaching assistant. He didn’t mention that Jill was an AI teaching assistant, and many students admitted they didn’t realize they were not interacting with a real person.

Chatbots have great potential for online learning

While the use of these AI products is widely spread on various sites for the purposes of interacting with clients, e-learning designers found that there is great applicability for them in online education as well.

These new conversational learning technologies can greatly enhance the learning experience as they can carry out relevant conversations without cognitive bias, mix-ups, or the possibility they forget some of the information.

Even though it is not the same as human to human interaction, it comes a lot closer than traditional e-learning as it allows for and even encourages participation. Unlike a facilitator asking the participants to think about a certain aspect, when a chatbot asks a question, it expects an answer and it responds back. Also, a chatbot can provide immediate correct answers to questions and most are programmed to offer relevant follow-up questions or prompts.


Read more: The case for using (some) Machine Learning and AI in online training


Uses of chatbots in online training

Aside from being trendy and cool (which, we have to admit, they are) chatbots can be used to personalize the learning experience and act as guides through the learning process. Also, they can be very useful when it comes to answering learners’ questions.

Where Learning and Development is concerned, chatbots can mimic a learning experience very similar to one-on-one training, as they make dialogue possible and can provide point-of-need training support by delivering relevant content – from links to online learning modules or articles to videos and informative infographics.

They can be easily set up to work in context, knowing what the learner’s function is, what information has already been covered, and even what the preferred learning method is. The user experience is greatly improved as chatbots are more intuitive than applications that need a bit of getting used to before smooth navigation between screens, tabs, and various menus.

Integrating chatbots with corporate LMS

Incorporating chatbot technology into the existing LMS architecture will offer valuable data concerning the learners and thus aid the learning process by providing a much-needed interactive component.

L&D specialists can process the gathered information and turn it into relevant improvements of all programs. Spaced repetition can also be achieved with the use of e-learning chatbots as they are easily programmed and give instant feedback.


Read more: The role of an LMS in applying spaced repetition


Furthermore, these AI conversational agents can act as intermediaries between end-users and the LMS. Learners can get direct access and have better control over their materials and pacing. No more complex interfaces or sign-in procedures needed in order to enroll in a course, not to mention a much more personal feel to the whole experience.

Basically, the benefits of adding chatbots to the LMS are as great for the employees who get a more exclusive feel as are for the company that gets a clearer image of organizational learning.

Closing thoughts

Chatbots provide quick and easy access to information and are often a lot cheaper and faster than having trainers ready to step in whenever e-learning users require. Since chatbots are automated solutions, they can be useful to a large number of learners at the same time. And if they are geographically scattered and in different time zones, it’s of no consequence. Chatbots are an integral part of the e-learning future.

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