For many years, e-learning designers have relied on chatbots — those handy little digital “helpers” that pop up to answer questions or provide additional information. With the introduction of faster internet connections (5G and beyond) and better development tools, chatbots are no longer just digitized voices behind animated avatars.

What Is a Chatbot?

Chatbots are rules-driven services, sometimes powered by artificial intelligence (AI), that help individuals communicate in an online environment. In an e-learning context, AI-powered chatbots make learning more intuitive by helping learners choose, consume and understand content. Rather than clicking buttons, selecting drop-down menu items or tapping on a screen, with chatbots, learners can navigate content through gestures and conversational interactions.

Moving Beyond Search Bots and Voice Assistants

Traditionally, when learners wanted to find out more about a particular subject within an e-learning course, they clicked on a button, and up popped a search box. They typed a keyword or search term, and the platform served them a list of possible matches.

Then came the next step. Anyone using mobile devices from one of the three leading manufacturers is familiar with their digital assistants: Google Assistant, Siri and Cortana. When integrated in e-learning, virtual assistants can play a helpful role in enhancing the learning experience.

Both text search boxes and digital assistants deliver scripted responses. While voice-assisted training environments leverage some degree of machine learning to deliver an enhanced experience, that ability is limited. The interactions are still initiated by pushing buttons, tapping or typing on screens, and scrolling with a mouse. While pre-programmed talking avatars certainly help to put a human face to digital learning, their contribution does little to personalize the learning experience.

Now, using AI, e-learning developers are moving away from the traditional graphical user interface (GUI) and toward conversational user interface (CUI). AI-driven e-learning is set to radically change the face (and voice!) of online learning.

AI-enabled E-Learning Essentials

To successfully embed AI and chatbot technology into the new e-learning paradigm, course developers will need to keep the following four design pillars in mind:

1. Conversation-focused

E-learning designs will pivot from programmed responses to fixed commands to chatbots that converse as naturally as human beings. Using natural language processing (NLP), the AI will first ask learners how they need help and then “learn” from those interactions so the chatbot can assist learners proactively.

2. AI-focused

With AI, chatbots deliver a learning experience based on past interactions. With the help of deep machine learning (DML), chatbots contextualize what a learner wants to accomplish, using context and content to reach data-driven inferences. For example, if a chatbot discovered that a learner consistently performed poorly when performing a specific task in a software program, it would deliver refresher courses or other content to build those skills.

3. Pervasive Learning

When creating AI-based e-learning, designers will need to ensure that the chatbots can function:

  • Across devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones and wearable devices).
  • At any location (e.g., at work, at home or at the gym), because learning shouldn’t be location-bound.
  • In multiple modes (i.e., hand-scripting, speech, keyboard).
  • On demand, anytime that an employee wants to learn something.

The pervasive capability of chatbots adds a convenience element to e-learning that is currently lacking.

4. Proactive Learning

Chatbots are more proactive in enabling learners to consume content more effectively and efficiently. Different people like to learn in different ways, and over time, chatbots can learn employees’ preferences. By proactively simplifying, sequencing and recommending content based on an individual learner’s capacity and preferences, chatbots can make e-learning more “freestyle.” You likely won’t have a single curriculum or course outline, because the chatbot will customize a unique one for every learner.

AI-enabled Chatbots Are Here

The use of AI and chatbots isn’t a distant dream. In fact, consumers use chatbots for all kinds of applications, such as weather bots to provide on-demand forecasts, news bots that customize feeds based on personal preferences, and scheduling bots that coordinate meetings based on multiple calendars.

Conversational AI platforms (CAPs) are the future of e-learning. From recruitment and hiring to training and professional development, CAPs provide a uniquely personalized experience for each user.

Getting Started With AI-enabled Chatbots

If you are interested in starting down the path of integrating chatbots into your e-learning environment, start with a simple chatbot application. Then, as you become more familiar with techniques and technologies, you can start incorporating AI and DLP features into your e-learning courses.