Conversational UIs and the Future of Learning

All at once, it seems like my various newsfeeds have been taken over by articles about Conversational User Interfaces. This is a platform that allows you to essentially chat with a non-human responder. Conversational UIs are budding concept in the tech world that, if it  passes the “novelty” stage and really catches on, could greatly influence how we interact with content on the internet. Especially as the technology evolves and reaches near-AI capabilities. As Ted Livingston, founder of kik puts it” Chat apps will come to be thought of as the new browsers; bots will be the new websites.”

One example of this is a fairly new app called Quartz. Quart is a news app that walks you through the latest 3–4 top stories of the day in a conversational fashion. It’s UI resembles that of a messaging app so it feels like this conversation is happening over text. You are sent a headline, and then you are given two options: One variable will trigger the app to elaborate more on the story, while the other will trigger it to skip to the next one. Each story is in essence a tree of content with a fork at each stage.

David Gasca writes “It’s a pleasurable return to the basic role-playing-game via app + push notifications. This combination of script-based conversation combined with the mobile phone form-factor have a psychological impact that I believe is hard for our minds to distinguish from someone human on other side.”

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As I was trying this app out I started thinking about my students during internship when I was getting them to read news stories about the election. I wondered if they would have engaged with that more if it was delivered in this sort of fashion? The familiar messaging UI, but more so, the give-and-take responses might help students become more engaged.

So what implications might the concept of conversational consumption have on the learning process and how we engage our learners in schools? Well, we could think about some of the ways delivery of content has evolved over the years. In my university classes there is a decidedly decreased focus on textbook reading and a much greater emphasis placed on group discussions. We might read a short article, or watch a video  as a starting point and then get together and wrestle through ideas as a group. We learn conversationally. Just like how Quartz allows you to consume the new conversationally, what if we could consume textbooks conversationally? Perhaps the tech could even advance to the point where you can ask it questions, that way learning content could be guided more by curiosity, and allow us to chat our way to a richer life.

 

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