Friday, November 04, 2016

What can you learn from a chatbot?

I have my office on the first floor of our house and therefore I use a Wifi homeplug to strengthen the WiFi signal from the groundfloor. A week ago, suddenly the signal dropped. The homeplug didn't work anymore. I looked back at my mails and discovered that I had bought it at and that there is a 10-year warranty. I was quite happy to find it but at the same time thought: oooh how to send it? How to get a warranty reparation?  I went to the customer service page of to see what I had to do. And I bumped into the virtual assistant. My experience with this type of assistants is rather frustrating. However, this one gave me a sensible answer. My question: "I have a defective product which is guaranteed, what should I do" was understood as a warranty question. He wanted to look up what the product was and offered me to sign and go to the product (together!).
So he sent me to the page with information about sending a defective product. It was clear how I could return the product with a label on the envelope. That page I had not found myself! Thanks to Mr. virtual assistant. They are slowly getting better?

What is a chatbot?
chatbotThis virtual assistant is a fine example of a chatbot. A chatbot can converse with you to perform a task. Other examples of chat bots are:
  • The invisible boyfriend. You can create your own type of boyfriend and to practice with him through SMS texts in dating.
  • Slack is a teamtool with various chatbots like the busybot. Busybot lets you divide tasks Slack. Its sends you a reminder on a date that you set yourself.
  • The telegram MUSIC bot or youtube bot helps you find music or video.
  • In Facebook Messenger you can get CNN news via a personalised chatmessage. If I type 'discrimination' I get 3 articles (see image)
  • The brain bot op Twitter. Answers every question by googling it. 
Why are chatbots interesting for learning professionals?
If you define learning broadly as "the process that leads to improvement in the capacity of people '(see Illeris) with a cognitive, emotional and social component you could say chatbots help you find the right information, and hence the cognitive component (think of the CNN bot helping you find articles). From a performance approach chatbots are very suitable for just-in-time support, such as help in dealing with a new tool. There is also a chatbot in Slack where you can ask questions about the working of Slack. Is it not the same as Googling? Then we come to the social component. Many companies invest in chat bots because messaging apps (like whatsapp) are currently used more than social networks. Messaging apps are used to enter directly in a conversation with someone. In that regard, chatbots are a more social form of googling. Chatbots are your new friend or colleagues on whatsapp or Slack.

Should I find an interest in chatbots as learning professional? 
The development of chat bots for learning purposes is still in its infancy stage. If you want to lead technological learning innovations you may experiment with it. Otherwise you can follow it from the sidewalk. Just the fact that I learned about chatbots made me see chatbots everywhere! It is true that there are still many concerns, like the quality, security and costs. That is also reflected in the video of Craig Taylor, the facilitator of the MOOC "learning beyond the next button" in which learned about chat bots.

A few examples of chatbots for learning in organizations
In this online MOOC we brainstormed and exchanged about applying chatbots in organizations. Some possibilities:
  • Answering questions. Use a chatbot in the most frequently used IM tool in your organization to answer questions a routine sort of "Ask HR". Or "MOODLE chatbot". This ensures that HRD professionals can focus on interesting questions.
  • Practice interpersonal skills with a chatbot. Similarly as practicing with the invisible boyfriend you could practice a difficult conversation with an office bot.
  • Learning languages. This seems a very logical. Instead of conversation lessons, chatting for an hour with your chatbot. Duolingo is offering this.
  • Curating content. A chatbot is curating a topic and can offer the most important questions.
  • Provide feedback. Employees often need feedback. A good chatbot could also provide feedback. An example is the chatbot Your Face on Skype. It will ask you to upload your photo and get your feedback based on your photo. This feedback is not very high quality because I was told: "You're a 37.2-year-old woman You look remarkably cheerful.."
Eventually, you could analyze chats again to see patterns in the questions and conversations with bots. Another good read is chatbots for learning. I don't know how expensive it is to develop a chatbot. But as a start, you could, of course, examine the chat bots which already exist alert employees to the possibilities of using existing chatbot services supporting their practice.