Recently I had my first experience of chatbots in learning.
Note: If you can’t be bothered reading all this, scroll down to the bottom of the post and watch my video instead.
I had been curious about these little critters (not exactly a critter but how could you deny that this little robot on the left isn’t all that cute?…Well, before it becomes gargantuan, takes over the world and destroys every human being…WHOA…now that was something you didn’t need to see into my head….but I digress).
Where were we?
Right. Chatbots. Note that they are one word. Chatbots. Not “Chat Bot”. Don’t make that mistake like I did because it makes you look like an old funny duddy. It’s similar to calling “Twitter” or “Facebook” – THE Tweeter or THE Facebook. Just don’t go there.
The first time I was introduced to Chatbots was by my friend Jamie Good (@JGoodDFC). I admired Jamie. He went out on a limb on this one and did something completely new, different and refreshing.
He also threw down the gauntlet with his statement “chatbots are the future of learning”.
I stopped. My ears pricked up, my eyes scanned the online environment quickly for any uproar, dissent and pitchforks in Learning and Development. I waited. I watched. I checked out what he was doing and what he was saying learning about the chatbots. He was actually creating them so he was doing something that I hadn’t seen others in our field do yet. Most of all, he shared regular updates through many different posts like this one on how they used bots in Slack at his place of work. (For some reason this is showing as a dead link but it isn’t. It’s directed to a LinkedIn article).
While I went on my daily life using my smart phone like it was an extension of my body, my heart and my brain. I started to notice that I had set up notifications and what I considered “alerts” in various social media and productivity accounts and had information pushed to me every day.
Using sites like Skype and Slack, I started to noticed these little bots everywhere. They were in fact, all around me but I had failed to pick up on them. These pesky little critters had integrated themselves into my workflow and I hadn’t noticed. I just read and flicked them away like an annoying mosquito.
In the meantime, in my last role working for a large corporate, one of the digital transformation teams wanted a test group of people to participate in a new product idea. As is usually the case, I volunteer for LOTS of things especially if they are outside my own field and I went along. Although I cannot provide details of the product being tested here – suffice to say that it would save lives – the idea would be developed as a chat bot. That was my other (more practical, real life) example of how chatbots can be developed and deployed. I also learned the PERCEPTION that we humans have of communicating with a bot…especially at times of stress and emergency. You may have your own opinions and views here – I certainly had mine and my gut was being wrenched as I tried to fight what I thought was right. In times of stress, do I want to talk to a human or a bot?
Well anyway, that’s when the penny dropped and although I’m no expert in this area, I did then understand the power of these chatbots when it comes to pushing links, resources and other information to you when and as you need it. After all, I’m on my phone pretty much my entire day. If it saves me time having to search, find, locate for web based resources then surely that’s a good thing?
So I contacted Jamie and asked for advice. I asked if he could direct me to any chatbots he could recommend. I realised that I had seen chatbots across different networks already so chances are that you’re probably already seen one or interacted with one anyway. I used the chatbots using Facebook Messenger which over time seems to now have become my default way of communication with people because EVERYONE seems to be on it.
If you want to see more of Jamie’s recommendations for Chatbots, check out his post The Endless Potential and Use of Chatbots.
Doing a Course Delivered By a Chatbot
A few weeks ago, I came across a post by Hubspot on a 4 day course on Four Days of Facebook: Learn How to Grow Your Audience Fast.
Disclaimer: Before you tsk tsk me on this topic matter, I must add that I was not interested in the topic matter, nor Facebook or Hubspot. In fact, it was going to be delivered by chatbots and the PROCESS was way more interesting for me.
(Oh, it turns out the course was also developed and facilitated by Hubspot’s Learning and Development Manager which was also a LOVELY surprise as in my experience, I don’t usually see Learning and Development representation on front facing customer programs for business).
So I registered through the Facebook Messenger app and the chatbot kicked into gear by asking me a heap of questions that are usually the questions asked for any course enrolment process.
They sent me links to Google scheduled times when their webinars would be made available to public, links to resources to read before the course and links to their website.
Over the course of four days, the bot delivered to me links to the sessions, the objectives of each session and what would be delivered along with the readings.
I set aside time each day (and snapped my progress on Snapchat – see below) of what I was learning. Much of the material went over my head and it gave me an appreciation of what people are doing to use Facebook as a marketing tool but I was more interested in how this chatbot was streamlining the process course enrolment, registration and my own learning.
Now the disadvantages of this particular course was that it wasn’t “social”. By that I meant that they hadn’t integrated some activities of people doing the course to interact with each other. Sure, they had a Facebook group but let’s face it, you can’t exactly have a deep and meaningful with a chatbot because they’re going to reach a point where the responses die off and all you’re faced with is a gif, or a call to action which may be a link to more resources.
The conversation stops there.
However, it was enough for me to get a taste of how chatbots could replace the email campaigns that some companies have when promoting or delivering their events (for whatever purpose – not just training). It’s a nicer user interface than getting emails with links to certain sites because it is pushed out to you in a mobile responsive and mobile friendly way.
Although I’ve only just started exploring, I’m no expert. I started using a site called ChatFuel which you can create your own bot to sit with Facebook without the need of knowing how to code.
I may come across as haphazard in my approach but trust me, I’m a fairly methodical person who usually sits and think about the steps and processes required to get from Point A to Point B. Developing a chatbot looks easily and I know that for any instructional designer out there, this is going to be basic for them because it uses a process flow.
Come up with a task and then work backwards ANTICIPATING the various responses that a user is likely to generate and have a response ready for these.
In a way, you have to map the entire user experience first before you delve into development so the more you have on paper, the easier it would be to create one. Chatfuel creates chatbots for Facebook only but there are a myriad of different sites out there for different applications so it’s a matter of experimenting and trialling them out.
I’m still exploring chatbots and one day soon, I will attempt to create my own as a test for a simple basic process or activity that people can do.
Jamie developed his chatbot to take away learnings from events but there would be other ways to consider using chat bots.
Off the top of my head rattling these off now would be:
- Push resources around a particular topic for personal learning
- Pre-event resources and information
- Event enrolment and registration
- Post event feedback and evaluation
- Pushing activities to complete (eg 31 Days to Building Your Personal Learning Network – I just made that up but there’s no reason it can’t be done – just remember if you develop this, attribute me please for that idea… It’s only polite)…
- Scheduling events
- Giving updates to events every day (eg weather report; upcoming presentations by speakers; what to bring into sessions; reminders…)
- Suggestions for reading and book lists for personal learning or capability development
So I can see a whole heap of user cases for chatbots in learning and this is something that Learning and Development can definitely be involved with when exploring them for business uses.
After all, much of the networks corporates are already using inside their company use bots already – within Microsoft applications. Seek and you will find. You can start here with the Microsoft Bot Framework Development site.
Just don’t do what I did and flick them away like an annoying mosquito…