Learner engagement through chatbots

“Mom, can you please help me with this subject?”, “Honey, it is almost eleven, first try yourself and I will help you tomorrow okay?”. In the current crisis the majority of students receive their education remotely. Their teachers have limited time in their day. This makes the student more and more dependent on their parents to actively discuss the study materials. However, not every parent has the time or tools to start this conversation supporting their children in the learning process. 

The power of conversations

The first years of your life you only learn things through interactions. That actually never stops. Learning is an active process. Once in school, interactions are necessary for learning. A teacher can not simply transmit knowledge to their students, but a teacher needs to actively involve its pupils and let them create their own experience. To transform those experiences into learning we need reflection. This often occurs in a conversation. Humans are storytelling animals and through those reflective conversations we construct our view on the world. It helps to externalise understanding to the outside world and at the same time to assess your own thinking patterns.

A good learning conversation

A good learning conversation starts with the needs and interests of the learner itself. There are different dimensions in the conversation that help the learner to work out and transmit their ideas. One of the first things is participation. This means that the learner has the opportunity to engage through transmitting their ideas to others. Furthermore the interaction plays an important role. It lets the learner connect the information they give and receive. They need to explain to the other what they mean and process the information and questions they receive of the other party about their assumptions. 

The role of a teacher

One step further, on a cognitive level, they are challenged to reconsider knowledge and skills they already have due to the new knowledge and questions they receive. To let a good conversation emerge, the role of the teacher is essential. The teacher should be a guide, challenging the learner with questions. On top of that, it is important that the teacher is aware of its own assumptions. He should be there in the critical moment when a conversation is needed. However, teacher-student interactions suffer from a skewed in power relation between students and teachers in a traditional classroom. This creates a barrier to spontaneous interaction, questioning and student initiated inquiry. 

Chatbots to the rescue 

Every cloud has a silver lining. Chatbots are here to support us where human interactions no longer can. One of the biggest advantages of a chatbot for the current generation is that the bot can give the instant reply they are used to. In other words, the chatbot can do what no human tutor can: it is always there in these critical moments. Ready in the dead of night or available anytime in these times of crisis to provide the student with the tools to process new knowledge. 

Besides being available anytime, it is also available as long as you want to engage the learner by providing a personalized learning environment to the students by analyzing their responses and how they go through the learning content. An example of this can be found in our little Helpr friend STU, who sports modules around study skills with text in combination with quizzes, images and videos or a combination of these.

screenshot of STU skills assistant
STU explaining how to mind map.

To conclude

Of course chatbots have their limitations. They can not engage in developing a shared understanding of the world between human and machine. Simply, because we humans don’t speak in the same language like our computers. This explains why a chatbot can never fully replace a teacher. 

However, a chatbot can be an engaging tutor supporting the teacher. The chatbot is always there, right in time to help. Regardless if you are a night owl or an early bird, it will be waiting for you. It helps you with preparing classes and facilitates you with aftercare whenever needed by providing tools to engage in the learning process. This way every learner gets the opportunity to actively develop their own knowledge due to reflection and critical questions. So, a chatbot can help provide the conversation that every learning experience needs.