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The biggest problem with online education today is online engagement. We have built learning on fundamentally flawed software working as a distribution chamber for learning content. Upload and push for distribution. The Learning Management System (LMS) is a way of electrifying the old delivery models in education where the lecturer orchestrates it all. But something in the EdTech industry is about to change for the better.
I was invited to Online Educa Berlin to host a session on agility and innovation in higher education. In my session I advocated for that educational institutions should dare to take a bet on startups to increase their rate of innovation. Facilitating startups into your own institution can really progress innovation, but you have to be careful. Issues like ownership to the end product, directions on where the company should go can kill off a promising collaboration. I advocated for educational institutions to stick to their core operations and to know their limits when working with technology development.
There was a noticeable change of theme to this year’s conversations. From being a vision and a distant idea, the topic of chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) for education suddenly became specific. There has always been certain amounts of misconceptions, and a fair bit of hype associated with AI. We tend to dream of its potential rather than discussing its practical implications. Now, solutions are emerging that will show to be valid. Several recent events are encouraging a proliferation of chatbots. For instance, Facebook Messenger opened its platform to allow developers to create bots and Slack provides its user to a marketplace of bots. Also, several industries beyond education is looking at chatbots, with will both add to speed of innovation and user adoption.
Chatbots and AI are conceptually different. Chatbots uses predefined rules to answer and provides automatic, immediate responses to known problems. AI may perhaps be more enticing and futuristic than the current state of chatbots; there are still few successful use cases to show for. It’s more complex to setup and run. Chatbots, however, are considerably cheaper to develop and the growing community are coming up with use cases the education industry can use right now. Here are some applications worth looking at:
Duolingo bots. Language education is identified as one area where chatbots can immediately prove valuable. The language app Duolingo is experimenting with a beta version of chatbots for virtual language tutors. Duolingo Bots are powered by artificial intelligence and react differently to thousands of possible answers.
The NYC-based startup x.ai has the potential to improve student experience by optimising time spent sudying. x.ai is a personal assistant who schedules meetings for you. You chat with Amy like a real person to coordinate meeting with others. Amy emails with your guest to find the best time and location, knowing your schedule and preferences.
Differ.chat. Differ is the end result of a research project and startup collaboration with my employer BI Norwegian Business School and EdTech Foundry. What started up as a conceptual exploration of online engagement resulted in a complete courseware bot that is designed to take the role of a virtual teaching assistant. In such an environment, the new role of the lecturer to come up with activities that trigger student engagement.
The bottom line is that students love messaging platforms and spend a lot of time on them already. So this is where I come back to why the traditional LMS-providers should be worried. Messaging systems fuelled by the right type of chatbot has the potential to replace the LMS. Chat becomes the main interaction in learning environments. Creating student engagement in digital spaces doesn’t require a faster, better LMS, but scrapping the LMS altogether. And if this industry don’t change, we might look back to 2016 as the beginning of the end for this industry.