Stefan Drew

Are Bots Better Than Trainers?

This is a  topic that’s bound to cause controversy, but one that’s surely worth considering if the responses I had from my last article are valid.

And, if bots are better than humans at training, does it apply to college courses and even to schools?

The Advantages Bots Exhibit

Let’s start with some of the advantages that bots exhibit. They work 24/7, never take a break, don’t ask for pay rises or go sick.

They are also unemotional and patient. They never get sick of repeating themselves countless times and, when the student fails to understand, can take them back to an earlier stage to go over the topic again. They can even demonstrate the ideas or concepts in another way if the first failed. Better still they can determine the learning style that works best with the students and base the learning around the students preferences.

This is why people like Bill Gates are excited by the potential of AI (Artificial Intelligence) being integrated into training programmes.

The Disadvantages Bots Exhibit

Bots are totally unemotional. This is stated by many as being a negative. People relate to people and skilled trainers are sensitive to the nuances of behaviour and all the other features that being a human is all about.

There are many other disadvantages but perhaps this is the one that bots will not overcome in the foreseeable future. No doubt you could add many other issues below ….. please do. But for now I’ll leave you with the biggest issue of all.

Are Bots Such a Huge Change?

Think back to the 1980s. Distance learning was really taking off. Mostly it was based around poorly written work books that took ages to get over some small point. But many people proclaimed this a s the way forward. This was a system that was available 24/7, never took a break, didn’t ask for a pay rise or take time off sick … in fact they were exhibiting many of the advantages of bots!   Except of course they were vastly inferior and didn’t adapt to the individual.

The thing is, as a species, we look for improvement in all things. And training and education aren’t immune from this. Bots are certainly an improvement on the old-style workbooks.

Indistinguishable from Real People

Getting a machine to perform as effectively as a human is impossible surely. Let me give you an example.

Georgia Tech employed Jill Watson last year to act answer questions students had outside of classes. Jill was there to answer what she could and only pass the really difficult stuff on to the professors. The students loved her. She promptly provided good answers and the only drawback was she was only available online. It wasn’t possible to book a meeting with her.

The reason the students couldn’t meet her was simple. She was an advanced chatbot. Students were amazed when they discovered this. This bot passed the Turing Test and shows what advanced teaching bots can do. It shows they can become effective teachers.

Three Ways Advanced Bots Can Improve Learning

Bots Exhibit the Qualities of a Good Trainer or Teacher

Good trainers and teachers spend as much time asking questions as answering them, Regurgitating answers and explanations isn’t enough. As teaching professionals we need to stretch our students with questions that help them understand. An advanced teaching bot can do this. And they have the time and patience to do it really well.

Advanced bots can also call on techniques that will tax the best human minds. For example, they can use gamification to motivate learning!

Bots such as IBM’s Watson AI can match the students’ questions with existing training materials. And if the material they want isn’t in their knowledge banks some bots can search for it online.

Once understood the bot moves on but can then jump back days later with a question designed to check longer term understanding and to track progress. This is real assessment!

And to add the human touch bots can keep leader boards and give out gold stars (or their bot equivalents)!

Bots Identify and Fill Knowledge Gaps

To progress in any role we need CPD. Often a full course is not needed as the learning required may be to understand and implement a small but vital change in a piece of equipment or software. That might mean a micro learning session and it might even be one that the equipment of software identifies as a learning need in the operator!

Equipment focused bots can be designed to help us keep up to date with changes as they come on stream. This isn’t new. My computer, and the apps and programmes I use, often tell me about updates and sometimes invites me to undertake training.

Imagine a situation where the piece of equipment used is mission critical; say in an operating theatre. Wouldn’t we want the operator to be updated when software systems upgrade to the next version?

Advanced bots can now be designed to assess the employees’ weaknesses and propose CPD needs. If that need is subject to legal requirements it can ring bells etc. until the member of staff is updated. Think food hygiene, health and safety, first aid etc. and the sense of this is apparent.

Bots Increase Information Retention

None of us remember everything we hear, see or do, but bots can help us to retain more by reminding us via related questions or exercises over time. And AI means that pointless repetition is minimised.

Having said that pointless repetition is minimised, in future clever bots will actively engage us in ongoing training and learning relevant to our needs. For example, where production line productivity suffers over time the bot could deploy to both improve machine settings and to train the operatives as required. The two will integrate for maximin productivity.

Bot Limitations

Of course, there are some things that bots will never be able to do … provide empathy for example. Or become a wine taster or food critic. But even surgeons now rely on bots, more and more, as they are better than humans in some cases.  

However, well designed and implemented bots can empower people to do better in so many walks of life and roles .. if we let them..!

And there is a final consideration. Many schools are further advamnced along this road than FHE. Our furture students expect this level of sophistication in the classroom

See some bots in action

Request The Really Simple Guide to Bots by clicking the link .. and experience a bot sending you to a webpage AND to Facebook Messenger (if you use it).

Or just pick up the same information as an Amazon book where bots will also recommend other products to you .. all based on machine learning of your preferences.

Is this creepy or everyday? You decide .. and tell me below.

About Stefan Drew: FHE Marketing Consultant Stefan Drew was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and for the last decade has worked with colleges, universities and private providers throughout the UK, Europe and the US.


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