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Chatbots for Learning: Expectations vs Reality

As most educators, trainers and facilitators are now having to move their classes online, they are also looking for better ways to engage their virtual learners. eLearning, live Zoom classes, educational videos are digital tools that might already be used. While live online classes will provide the teacher-student interaction that is very much needed, time limitations exist, just as in physical classrooms. eLearning and videos provide learners with the ability to learn anytime, anywhere, on any device, but these tend to be very much one-sided, with the learner passively watching and navigating through the online content.

Could chatbots be the answer to extend learner engagement and participation outside of the classroom, whether physical or virtual? How could educators leverage chatbot technology?

Chatbots could be very effective in a teaching environment, if they are used right, and if they are viewed as a digital teaching assistant. Just as we do not expect to hire an assistant and instantly expect him (or her) to be super productive, neither should we expect that of our digital assistant. Instead, a phased approach is recommended, to get used to the limitations of the chatbot, get acquainted with how to set-up and keep the bot knowledge and workflows updated on a regular basis, and to get learners to interact with the chatbot in the way that we want them to. Prior to introducing the chatbot to the learners, it might also be a good idea to solicit feedback from learners on how and when they would see benefit in having a chatbot for learning. This would help to prepare students, as well as provide insights on how much you can start leveraging the chatbot in and out of your classroom.

 

Chatbot as administrative assistant

Whether you are a school teacher, lecturer or a corporate trainer, all of these roles require a fair bit of administrative work. These tasks are fairly time-consuming, often repetitive, but are usually necessary. Examples include detailing how assignments should be done and submitted, providing resource links, reminders on required pre-reading, classroom logistics … these are the perfect tasks to start off your new digital assistant with.  

 

Chatbot to run assessments and pop quizzes

Some chatbots include assessment functionalities, for example, asking learners multiple choice questions, and letting them select their answers. The great thing about chatbots is that they are able to carry out personalized assessments to multiple learners at the same time.

 

Chatbot to run student surveys

Some AI-powered chat platforms have embedded form features, which are ideal for conducting student surveys, whether for student feedback, or to gauge student competency levels. The best part about running these surveys on a chat platform is the interactive user interface, which gives a perception of ‘having a conversation’, rather than just filling up another form.

 

Chatbot as virtual tutor

For the right subject, a chatbot can be a great virtual tutor. Subjects which are theory and concept heavy are great candidates. Learners can ask the chatbot for definitions on theories, chat about relevant examples, and ask clarification questions as needed.

 

Chatbot as mentor

New students or employees can benefit from having a chatbot as a virtual mentor, who provides them with a structured orientation or onboarding process. The students and employees can also feel free to ask any questions (even those they might be embarrassed to ask a ‘real’ person), without fear of being judged.

 

Benefits

The benefits to having a chatbot as your virtual teaching assistant justify the time and effort it might take to set-up and maintain the chatbot.

One of the biggest benefits is the analytics that most chat platforms can provide. You can easily track commonly asked questions and usage trends, which can provide great insight into how to improve your course or programme.

In addition, chatbots are intuitive and easy to use, and are designed to act ‘like a human’.  

Needless to say, the cost of a setting up and maintaining a chatbot would be much less than hiring a human assistant. Chatbots do not have sick days, they do not lose their tempers and they are able to work around the clock.

Of course, there are several downsides to losing the human touch, and just like a human assistant, if you do not spend the time to ‘train’ the chatbot, then learners could have a negative experience with the chatbot. It is all about having the right expectations, getting learners ready to embrace the use of the chatbot and taking the time to ease the chatbot into its new job and achieve its full potential.

 


 

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