Friday, September 07, 2018

Chatbots a gamechanger in learning? The BIG debate at LPI

This was the debate motion at the LPI conference in London. I was FOR the motion (Henry Stewart was AGAINST) and let me explain why.
1. AI is a gamechanger
AI will change the very nature of work. It may even change what it is to be human. This is a technological revolution as big as the internet and will therefore change what we learn, why we learn and how we learn. The Top Seven companies by market cap all have AI as a core strategy; AppleAlphabetMicrosoftAmazonTencentFacebook and Alibaba. AI is a strategic concern for every sector and every business, even learning.
2. Evidence from consumers
Several radical shifts in consumer online behavior move us towards chatbots. First the entry of voice activated bots into the home and connected the the IoT (Internet of Things) – Amazon Alexa and Google Home. Second the rise of ‘voice’ as a natural form of communicating with technology – Siri, Cortana and other similar services. Over 10% of all search is now by voice. Third, the switch from social media to message/chat apps – chat overtook social media in late 2014 and the gap is growing – chat is the home screen for most young people.
3. Pedagogy in chatbots
Most teaching is through dialogue. The Socratic method may have been undermined by blackboards and their successors through to PowerPoint, but voice and dialogue are making a comeback. Speaking and listening through dialogue is our most natural interface. We’ve evolved these capabilities over 2 million years or so. It’s natural and we’re grammatical geniuses aged 3, without having to be taught to speak and listen. Within dialogue lies lots of pedagogically strong learning techniques; retrieval, elaboration, questions, answers, follow ups, examples and so on. It just feels more natural.
4. Evidence in learning
An exit poll taken by Donald Taylor, from Learning and Technologies conference this year, showed Personalised learning at No 1 and AI and No 3. The interest is clearly strong and there’s lots of real projects being delivered to real clients from WildFire, Learning Pool and so on.
5. Chatbots across the learning journey
There are now real chatbot applications at points across the entire learning journey. I showed actual chatbot applications in learning in the following areas:
   Onboarding bots
   Learner engagement bots
   Learner support bots
   Invisible LMS bots
   Mentor bots
   Practice bots
   Assessment bots
   Wellbeing bots
If you want to know more about these actual projects, I'd be glad to help.
6. They’re learners
An important feature of modern chatbots, compared say to ELIZA from the 1960s, is the fact that they now learn. This matters as the more you train and use them, the better they get. We used to have just human teachers and learners, we now have technology that is both a teacher and learner.
7. It’s started
Technology is always ahead of the sociology, which is always ahead of learning and development. Yet, we see in these many projects, even with relatively primitive technology and emerging trend – the use of technology delivered chatbot learning. In time, this will happen. Resistance is futile. 
Objections
Nigel Paine chaired the debate with his usual panache and teased questions out of the audience and the real debate ensued. The questions were rather good.
Q Has AI has passed the Turing test?
First, there are many versions of the Turing test but the evidence from the many chatbots on social media all the way to Google Duplex, shows that it has been passed. Not for long, sustained and very detailed dialogue, but certainly within limited domains. Google Duplex showed that we’re getting there on sustained dialogue and the next generation of Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home will have memory, context and personalisation in their chatbot software. It will come in time.
Q AI can never match the human brain
This is true but not always the point. We didn’t learn to fly by copying the wings of a bird – we invented new technology – the airplane. We didn’t go faster by looking at the legs of a cheetah, we invented the wheel. The human brain is actually a rather fragile entity. It takes 20 years and more of training to make it even remotely useful in the workplace, it is inattentive, easily overloaded, has fallible memory, forget most of what its tries to learn, has tons of biases (we're all racist and sexist), we can’t download, can’t network and we die. But it is true that it is rather good at general things. This is why chatbots are best targeted at specific uses and domains, such as the eight species of chatbot I demonstrated.
Q Chatbots v people
Michelle Parry-Slater made a good point about chatbots not replacing people but working alongside people. This is important. Chatbots may replace some functions and roles but few suppose that all people will be eliminated by chatbots. We have to see them as being part of the landscape.
Q Chatbots need to capture pedagogy
Good question from Martin Couzins. Chatbots have to embody good pedagogy and already do. Whether it’s models of engagement, support, learning objectives, invisible LMS, practice, assessment or well being, the whole point is to use both the interface and back-end functionality (important area for pedagogic capture) to deliver powerful learning based on evidence-based theory, such as retrieval, effortful learning, spaced-practice and so on. This will improve rather than diminish or ignore pedagogy. In all of the examples I showed, pedagogy was first and foremost.
Q Will L and D skills have to change
Indeed. I have been training Interactive Designers on chatbot and AI skills as this is already in demand. The days of simply producing media assets and multiple choice questions is coming to a close – thankfully.
Conclusion
Oh and we won the debate by some margin with a significant number changing their minds from sceptics to believers along the way! But that doesn't;t really matter, as it was a self-selecting audience - they came, I'd imagine, as they were curious and handsome affinity with the idea that chatbots have a role. My view is goat these debates are good at conferences - by starting with a polarised position, the audience can move and shift around in the middle. The audience in this session were excellent, with great questions, as you've seen above. Note to conference organisers - we need more of this - it energises debate and audience participation.

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