How to Use Chatbots in E-Learning

Damian Hehire-learning, technology

How to Use Chatbots in E-Learning

Chatbots are becoming more and more common in our lives. Personal assistant chatbots, for example, are all around us. You might have Siri on your Phone, Cortana on your computer, and Alexa on the Amazon Echo device sitting on your kitchen counter. In addition, more and more companies are deploying chatbots to provide technical support or to help with the sales process. What about chatbots and e-learning, though?

You can enhance your e-learning courses with the chatbot technology that exists today. In addition, there are developments that will become available in the future that will make e-learning chatbots even more powerful and useful.

What Are Chatbots in E-Learning?

Let’s first explore what chatbots are. Chatbots are computer programmes that converse with people to achieve a particular goal. This conversation can be by voice or text chat. Basic chatbots have predetermined conversation pathways but more advanced versions use artificial intelligence, i.e. the chatbot improves with each human interaction.

In e-learning, you can use chatbots to provide a more personalised experience. When used properly, they can replace some of the functions that would have been traditionally performed by a course tutor in a classroom environment.

Not only do chatbots replace these functions, they do them better. This is because chatbots are more accurate than people at many tasks. In addition, a chatbot can have a meaningful conversation with hundreds or thousands of people at the same time whereas a tutor can only have one conversation at a time.

Let’s look at some of the uses for chatbots that you can deploy now.

Personalised Learning Pathway

One of the great benefits of e-learning is you can structure the course to cater for learners with different needs and abilities. In other words, learners can do some modules and not others and/or they can progress through modules at varying speeds.

A chatbot can help ensure a learner progresses along the right pathway, doing the modules they need while progressing through parts of the course they are comfortable with quickly. This usually takes the form of the chatbot having a conversation with the learner to get an understanding of their abilities.

Crucially, the answers the learner gives can determine which question the chatbot asks next. This lets it build a comprehensive picture of the learner as well as devising a highly personalised learning pathway.

In the future, chatbots with artificial intelligence will continue to monitor the progress of the learner, assessing whether the pathway needs to be altered. A situation where this might occur, for example, is when a learner overestimates or underestimates their ability during the initial conversation with the chatbot.

Tutor’s Assistant

Learners regularly need to ask questions and, usually, those questions are very similar. Often the questions are administrative but there can also be content-related questions as well. Very often the answers to these questions can be found in the material you provide, but for various reasons, learners still ask them.

Chatbots can handle these commonly asked questions. From the learners’ perspective, the experience can be just like talking to a person. There are many examples of this, including one developed by computer science professor Ashok Goel for his students at Georgia Tech in the US.

He named the chatbot Jill Watson as he developed it using IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence platform. He didn’t tell his students Jill was a computer programme, though, and they didn’t discover the difference until they finished their exams.

Course Feedback

It’s also possible to use chatbots to get more meaningful and actionable feedback from learners who complete your courses. Again, this is because chatbots have the ability to respond to answers in different ways. For example, they can explore a learner’s answer in more depth if it will help with future course and learner development.

Artificial Intelligence – the Future of Chatbots and E-Learning

While the above uses of chatbots in e-learning are powerful in themselves, developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning will make them even more useful. Here are two examples:

  • Grading and assessments – assessments in e-learning courses usually take the form of a multiple-choice quiz. This is because it’s easy to automatically grade. What about other types of question or assessment structure such as those that require writing a much longer answer – or even an essay? At the moment, those questions need to be assessed by a person but there are advances being made in complex machine-learning algorithms that will soon make it possible for chatbots to complete this type of assessment.
  • Learning techniques – another area where artificial intelligence will have an impact is in implementing learning techniques and best practices. Spaced repetition is an example. It reinforces learning by going over learned items repeatedly, with the interval between these reviews gradually increasing. A chatbot with artificial intelligence will be able to fully customise the spaced repetition experience for every learner.

Chatbots are not going to replace teachers, tutors, or other training professionals. They do present opportunities, however, to improve e-learning courses for the better.