Monday, December 11, 2017

There's a bot for that! Chatbots to stimulate learning and reflection

I try to explain to Erik, a colleague what a chatbot is: "with a chatbot you can have a conversation in a messenger program, like Facebook messenger" Answer: "OKeee, so it is the virtual employee on a website who answers your questions?" "Mmm, ha, yes, these are also chatbots, but there are many more types of chatbots, think of CNN's chatbot on Facebook who will tell you about the latest newsitems via chat". "Ah, so it's another way to get news? I'm not on Facebook messenger myself so I do not know what a chat is."
the Dutch Eva Jinek Chatbot with background news
Actually it is not so easy to explain what a chatbot is to someone who has no experience with it. Perhaps the best way to start understanding this phenomenon is to follow a number of them, and get a feeling for it. Choose from my list below with nice chatbots or choose yourself from the long list of bots on the website There’s a bot for that.
  1. Use the Duolingo bot to learn a language. For Spanish, French, German. Via the Apple appstore
  2. Poncho de Weather cat will tell you the weather and crack a joke via Facebook messenger
  3. Work on your health with the Healthybot. Works through Slack
  4. You can get relevant HBR articles via Slack 
  5. The Heston bot voor Skype will bring your cooking skills to Michelin stardom.  
Why are chatbots hot? Messenging programs are are chat programs such as Facebook messenger, Whatsapp, Skype chat or Slack chat in which you chat one-to-one with someone. Communication in sessenging programmes are surpassing the number of communications in social media. About 1.4 billion people used Messaging Apps in 2016. This means that they are already chatting a lot and are for instance every day on Facebook's messenger with friends. It is a good strategy to go to people where they already are, so they do not have to develop new habits or get to know new platforms.

Chatbots to support learning & development You can be very creative thinking about possible solutions with chatbots! Personally I am thinking there is huge potential for the following categories:
  • Reflective or coach bots. Bots can support reflection very well. I work with colleagues on a 'confessional' bot based on the principles of 'the confessional box'. The interesting thing is that sometimes reflection works better with a bot who doesn't judge you. This is also used in therapies. Read for instance about Eliza the therapeutic chatbot.
  • Educational bots. There are bots who can show you new things and teach you something like about art. In the Netherlands for instance there is the KBlab chatbot who will send you a piece of art from the Dutch Cultural Heritage collection every day with some explanation. 
  • Language bots. To learn a language you can converse with bots in your preferred language. See duolingo bots.
  • Helpdesk bots. Of course, you can also use a chatbot similar to a customer bot on a website but now helping your employees. For instance let a bot explain how to use a platform. 
  • Teacher or facilitator bots. These facilitate online courses. A chatbot can help you with the online sessions and guide you through the program. Read the interesting experience of Helen Blunden.
  • Quantified self bots. There are bots who ask you for information and return it to you at certain time. This can be very insightful for self reflection. An example of this is He will asks you at the end of every day how your day was. After a week or month you can see the overview and reflect on it. On which days did you feel the best and why?
The bot or not test by the VPRO
Are all chatbots clumsy? A nice test by the Dutch VPRO is bot or not. On the site you could chat and were brought into contact with a person or a chatbot. You wouldn't know. You'd have to guess which one you had in front of you. I got it wrong! 18% of the bots are convincing enough. Bots are getting smarter in conversation. For this you need artificial intelligence, so that the bot can learn from the answers and become smarter. However, not all chatbots are driven by artificial intelligence. Here's an article explaining 4 different type of bots.You can create an simple programmed chatbot with programs such as Flow.xo, Dialogflow or Chatfuel. In 2 times 4 hours we were able to built a simple version of the confession bot.

Want to know more? Are you curious? In November, Ennuonline collected a video, article or blog every day about chatbots for learning. You can find this list embedded below or via listly.