Chatbots: The Marvels of Technology

Using Chatbots in Learning

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, computers were often pictured in popular media as being a technology that (usually) wanted to help mankind. Characters would interact with these machines by simply talking, and the computers were able to talk back and hold entire conversations. At the time, real computers didn’t have the capabilities of their fictional counterparts.

“I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.”
~ HAL 9000, 2001, A Space Odyssey

Fast forward to today, when many of us talk to computers every day. Whether it’s interacting with an automated phone system; asking a smart speaker, such as Amazon Echo, a question (and receiving an answer); navigating to a destination in your car with a “Hey Google…;” or accessing your phone by saying “Hey Siri…;” computers are able to interact with us in a way that once was just fictional.

One of these marvels of technology is called a chatbot, which is a computer program that performs automated tasks and holds conversations with a person. A chatbot is driven by artificial intelligence, automated rules, natural language processing, and machine learning (which is a fancy way of saying it has a lot of brains on the back end that power it and make it seem like a person rather than a machine). You can converse with chatbots using text or voice, and get a response based on what you ask.

You’ve probably already interacted with a chatbot, as many retailers and other online stores have a chatbot on their websites to help with customer questions. But did you know this technology can also be used in a corporate learning setting?

Chatbots in Learning

Chatbots in learning are used as both training and performance support. They can provide just-in-time information; are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; and are always ready to answer a question, along with offering a word of encouragement. Chatbots can also introduce learners to key learning tasks and facilitate microlearning.  

With a chatbot, learners can feel supported and not be afraid to ask a question (there are no “dumb” questions to a chatbot). They engage with you so it feels like you’re having a natural conversation. Chatbots are also mobile friendly.

Chatbot Benefits

Organizations can benefit from using chatbots, since chatbots can reduce workload for human resources, IT, and other departments. If set up correctly, chatbots can be used to answer the most common questions those departments are asked, such as: Can I change my health insurance? Where are my product sell sheets? How do I fill out a timesheet? A dashboard can track common questions, learner engagement, and evaluate skill development, so the training department can better fill in gaps.

In the end, these marvels of technology can improve on what trainers and e-learning already do by supporting and streamlining training for faster and better outcomes. For example, you could turn an hour-long presentation into a series of 10-minute microlearnings served up by the chatbot. 

Basic Steps to Create a Chatbot

I get a lot of questions as to the “effort” it takes to create a chatbot. While there are some basic chatbot programs out there that can be used and are rather inexpensive, based on learning needs it may be best to consider creating a customized one. The basic steps to consider when creating a chatbot for learning are:

  • Determine if the chatbot is really necessary. Just because you can create one, doesn’t mean you should. You should have a tangible reason for one. Ask yourself: What problem or need will adding a chatbot solve?
  • Once you determine that a chatbot is indeed needed, define what you want it to do — what’s its function? — and then personalize it by giving it a name.
  • Build out the conversation flow between the learner and the chatbot. Start small; then, build up your diagrams to define the learner experience.
  • Consider the phrasing of questions. What are other ways a learner may ask the same question? Put yourself in the learners’ shoes… will they ask about a timesheet, how to fill out a time report, or a timecard? Write down all the alternatives.
  • Build specific scripts. Identify your questions and responses, as well as any other interactions, such as a greeting. Be sure to draw in the learners by giving your chatbot a personality (making sure it’s a friendly one) and end interactions on a positive note.

We have come a long way, from a fictionalized version of computers that can talk with you to a world where this is an everyday occurrence. Embrace the change and consider adding a chatbot to your training solution. If you plan and design it right, it should help you and your organization grow into the future.

Check out the Innovative Learning Group webinar I conducted with my colleague Matt Kurtin, “Smart Solutions: Learning Tech Bytes.” The section on chatbots runs from 0:01:58 to 0:14:10.

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