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How Voice Technology Can Support Education & Learning

With the role of voice assistants rapidly shifting in the daily lives of consumers; my question is what role do voice Skills play in ed-tech, education and learning? Here are my top five predictions.

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Voice assistants in education

The role of voice assistants in modern lives is changing. Rapidly.

With no sign of it slowing down any time soon, my question is how will it affect the way we learn? Will it be used as an educational tool in schools, colleges, workplaces?

We recently undertook the challenge of developing an Alexa Skill that could teach children how to read, particularly how the platform could teach them phonics reading methods. Which got us thinking; what is the future of voice in learning and education? Could it be a prominent platform used in education?

I decided to dig a little deeper and find out the different ways voice could aid education. Here are my top five:

  1. Access voice and learn anytime, anywhere
  2. Is Mrs Alexa your new classroom teacher?
  3. Voice needs to be physical
  4. Conversational learning is key
  5. A new platform for those who need assistance
Alexa in Education

Source: Amazon’s Alexa in higher education

People of all ages are already using digital platforms from blogs and YouTube to social media and podcasts as a main source of information, learning a diverse number of new skills outside of the traditional classroom.

Who is to say that Voice couldn’t do the same. Or even assist with classroom learning?

One of the best examples I came across was the implementation of an Alexa Skill in Saint Louis University in America, who undertook an ed-tech initiative that put an Alexa-enabled device in every student space throughout the university’s campus.

1. Access voice & learn anywhere, anytime

If you are anything like me, you demand to know answers at any time and will use whichever device is closest to you to find out what you need. According to eLearning Infographics, at least 56% of modern day learners want to be educated at the exact time and place they need it, with:

  • 28% learn on the way to and from the office
  • 30% during breaks and lunch
  • 48% in the evening and weekends
  • 41% at their desks

They also only give content 7 seconds of their time to decide if it’s for them or not!

So how can voice educate users that are constantly on the go? Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistants, Apple’s Siri and other voice services allow us to access a huge network of information not just from our homes, but whilst we are on the move, at work or even on holiday.

It can offer us different daily bite-size learning activities to keep us engaged whether we are on a 40-minute commute to work or have a spare 15 minutes in the evening.

Role of Voice in Education

2. Is Mrs Alexa Skill your new classroom teacher?

Do you think your children will be taught in a classroom by Miss Alexa in the next couple of years?

Introducing a new technology like voice into the classroom could help pupils become far more engaged with a topic that they are learning. It also provides teachers with a chance to make education more interactive by using voice to gamify learning, for example:

I recently went to visit a primary school as part of a research project to find out how teachers currently educate children to read in a classroom environment. We got talking about the future of technology and how voice could impact classroom teaching. One teacher said how much children loved Alexa, however, they did struggle to see how it could work in a classroom unless it was one-on-one learning.

Imagine a classroom full of 30 children shouting questions at Alexa - it would be a nightmare!

So the reality is that Voice isn’t quite ready to take a class full of children.

Keeping them all engaged or even understanding them all while they’re talking to a voice-enabled device at the same time may be a bit of a mission for the technology and for the teacher to control. Teachers have to do more than teach; they need to manage the room, see the different learning capabilities and show compassion to each and every child.

Voice technology may not be able to do this just yet, but who is to say that there won’t be a Mrs Alexa acting as a support teacher in a classroom environment in the near future. In the meantime, there are devices, such as the Amazon Echo, which have a great variety of skills that could help support learning at home or even be your homework buddy!

Here are some examples of Alexa Skills that could be useful for children at home:

  • 1-2-3 Maths teaches the user how to add, subtract, multiply and divide in different skill level modes for easy, medium and hard equations.
  • The Times Table Quiz skill allows you to test your knowledge of the times table with a set of 10 randomly chosen questions.
  • Spelling bee gamifies learning to spell between friends.
  • Science Buddy is an interactive way for kids to learn about science quizzing on topics such as biology, physics and earth science. 

3. Voice needs to be physical

Who has been that person, in a science class, who has nearly nodded off when their teacher has just been speaking at you for 45 minutes?

With learning today, we need to engage or even have that physical element to help us take in information. We have already seen ways how voice can help us learn on the go but how can it educate us without being physically there? (And without just talking at us and sending us to sleep?!)

The Lego Duplo stories on their Alexa Skill is a great example of this.

The skill guides children through short, interactive stories where they can play with their lego toys and bricks whilst listening to commands from Alexa. It also encourages children to learn numbers, colours and develop language skills through creative play.

Here at 3 Sided Cube, we also looked into how Alexa could teach children in an interactive, engaging way. During our Innovation initiative, our team built a voice assistant called StoryCircle, which looked at the concept of how Alexa could use phonics to teach a child how to read whilst the user also had their physical book open in front of them.

With the voice assistant alone, a child would potentially be able to repeat the word and learn the pronunciation however wouldn’t be able to see how the spoken word is written and how they work together.

So even though Voice can aid learning, it couldn’t fully be in control of learning without having a physical element to it.

Alexa Skill Story Circle

4. Conversational Learning is Key

Voice technology is all about interaction and funnily enough, so are people! That is the beauty of voice; it is the closest technology to human interaction. As humans, we tend to remember at least 20% of what we hear, versus 10% of what we read.

This makes Voice a great platform for conversational learning, particularly when learning a language. When you practice or learn a language independently, it can be difficult to hear what you are doing wrong so having a voice Skill that can help support your learning could be a really useful tool to have.

There are many language-based voice Skills available on devices such as the Amazon Echo that can teach you almost any language from Spanish, French and German right through to Chinese. Helping you fine-tune your pronunciation by enabling users to listen and speak to the Skill rather than reading and guessing the pronunciation!

Alexa Skills such as Daily Dose allows you to learn multiple languages whereas Skills such as Chineasy and Learn Japanese focus on particular languages by providing the users with a range of modules from beginner to expert.

5. A Platform for People who Need it the Most

Voice technology opens up a whole new way of learning for those who have struggled in the past. Technology in the past has been clunky for those who have sight issues with the likes of screen readers that would read out every piece of information on the screen including the URLS.

Although accessibility technology is improving, voice can level the playing field. With platforms such as Google’s Home and Amazon’s Echo giving easy access to information just with voice controls, we can remove the need for interactions with screens and keyboards.

It can also be a really useful platform for people who suffer from learning difficulties, for instance, those with Dyslexia. Voice is a great platform to help those who may find it hard to write down sentences, have trouble spelling or difficulties with memory.

Here are some useful Alexa Skills that could help:   

  • Note taking – For those who have difficulty writing things down, note taking can help a user verbally outline what they are trying to get across
  • Listening and memory recalling – Skills have been created to read out a small passage and then will ask you questions to test your comprehension and memory.
Alexa Skills in Education

The Future of Voice in Education & Learning?

While the future of voice assistants and the role they play in education and learning looks promising; devices like Alexa and the Echo Dot will never take over or replace classroom learning entirely.

I see the role of voice in education being more of a tool to support and aid individuals or communities who have a specific use for them; whether it’s communication for those who struggle with social interactions or a more engaging platform for younger children to learn on.

The potential of voice in education is yet to be fully revealed, but one this is for certain; if educational experts collaborate with voice skill developers, incredible things will happen.

Published on April 11, 2019, last updated on April 11, 2019

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