The Promise of Voice

The Promise of Voice

Using VUI (Voice User Interface) to Improve Learning

I recently met with a long-time friend and colleague who has been in the learning space for many years, and they asked me what I thought the most disruptive/impactful innovation would be in learning over the next 3-5 years. This is a challenging question, as there are changes happening in methods, processes, modalities, formats and a litany of other areas related to learning. But, after giving it some thought, I believe the one thing that will radically impact the approach to learning is ‘Voice’.

Now you may be thinking, ‘how is it that someone who has been in the field of learning for almost 30 years would proclaim voice as the biggest disruptor in learning?’ But I would reply with, ‘What is old becomes new again.’ Let me elaborate on my answer. Voice, voice technology, artificial intelligence and voice user interface will all work together to radically change how we access information, content and knowledge to improve understanding and application.

By way of background, voice is changing the way that individuals interact with technology. “Technology trends come and go, but we think voice is here to stay,” Colin Morris, director of product management for Adobe Analytics, said in a statement. “Consumers continue to embrace voice as a means to engage their devices and the internet. It’s a trend that has fundamentally changed the face of computing.”

Many of you likely purchased a ‘smart speaker’ for your home in recent months. Products such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple HomePod. A recent report by Adobe shows that by the end of 2018, nearly 50% of all households had a smart speaker. The information you receive from them is nothing new; however, the ability to interact in a simple and just-in-time way increases the appeal and likelihood of using these devices. While many started out using them for basic commands the types of questions and interactions are growing. In the chart below, Adobe Analytics illustrates the growing ways in which individuals are interacting with their devices.

Adobe Analytics
Adobe Analytics

A great example of voice being used in a ‘live’ corporate setting is the recent pilot that Kentucky Fried Chicken has completed. KFC has begun testing a system in the U.S. that cuts back-of-house employee training time down from four to five weeks total to about one week. The chain’s new voice training — being tested in a handful of U.S. and Canadian stores — is proving to not only be better for employees’ on-the-job confidence but may also soon be a boon to the brand’s bottom line.

The company shared how it works by sharing, “Imagine if you were one of our cooks and you were in the back-of-the-house with your hands in flour, making our hand-breaded chicken. Then, all the sudden you have a quick question to ask, like, “How do I rack the chicken or put it in the fryer?”

Now, with voice training, that cook can ask that question, and the device will not only answer with audio but visually show the solution as well.

So, now that we have covered the rapid adoption of voice interface and devices, and some practical ways it is being used in corporate environments, let’s look at how they could accelerate the access to content and learning:

1. Just-in-Time Information

This is the first and most logical way that individuals will utilize voice in a work environment, and admittedly it is as much about referenceable material and reminders as it is about a more training-specific activity.

Examples:

Store….
REMEMBER that the fiscal year end for client XYZ is June 30th.
REMIND me next Monday to complete the balance sheet for month-end.

Retrieve…
What were 2018 annual revenues for ABC, Inc.?
What are the annual NASBA CPE requirements for 2019?
Who is the CFO of ABC, Inc.?

2. Learning requests/reminders

Voice interaction should greatly improve the access and interaction with available content and learning activities?

Examples:

Requests….
Make me a learning playlist on design thinking.
Show me articles on data visualization for professional services.
Show me in-house courses on coaching others.
Tell me which courses have I started that I haven’t yet completed?

Remind….
Remind me next Tuesday at 6pm to complete the Ethics Training course.
Remind me two weeks before a training course is due.

3. Context/Role Specific content

Likely the most impactful use of voice for learning is the ability to identify and link the elements of named user’s voice, role, and device(s)s to the request made.

Examples:
Show me my required learning curriculum.
Display learning help based on my current screen.
What training are others in my role completing.
Recommend training based on current projects.
Based on my last performance conversation, show me useful courses.

4. Dialogue and event-specific recommendations
One of the more controversial topics surrounding smart speakers and voice user interface is the ability/need for the speaker to constantly be listening. However, in a business environment, this could prove to be very useful in serving up training and information.

Examples:            What should I be learning this week?

Based on your meeting at 3 pm yesterday, you may want to consider the Intro to Finance course. I have added it to your learning page.
Based on recent conversations you’ve had, I would recommend the following article, Excel – How to create pivot tables.
In preparation for your scheduled coaching call tomorrow at 2 pm, I will email you 4 quick tips on how to have effective coaching conversations.
I see you are meeting with Bob tomorrow, Bob recently completed the Management Fundamentals course you signed up for.
Five high-performers in your role all completed the course on Big Data. Would you like me to add that to your learning list.

The good news is that the AI, technology, and voice user interfaces have been, and continue to be, developed. However, defined knowledge bases and system integrations still need to be developed to integrate corporate systems (ERP, LMS, LCMS, etc…) as well as define the system of choice for voice interface.

An article in Information Age in early 2017 stated, ‘Machine learning algorithms and recommender engines will work behind the scenes to automatically surface the right experts, ideas or knowledge at the right times. And with a few simple voice commands, employees will be able to connect with the people, content, and applications they need.’

While there is still much work to do, in the years ahead voice will radically change how learners will access and engage with learning content.

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