Virtual Learning Assistant: Using empathetic design to create change [prototype]

[Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash]

Context & Statement of a Problem  

The design thinking challenge provided us with an opportunity to take a more empathetic approach to the needs of learners. Using the design thinking process, in step 1, we have identified that there was a significant gap in supporting learners after one-off/sporadic online training sessions in both professional and academic environments that both Eunice and Marta are part of. Currently, there is a lack of follow up opportunities between instructors and adult learners, an absence of a learner-centred community or networking opportunities, a high level of difficulty in tracking the transfer of knowledge, and little support to assist in growing learners’ knowledge and skills as they complete their training.  Through our first-hand experience, we have observed that our students do not engage in the intellectual risk-taking during the training sessions and rarely engage in the follow-up questions. To address this problem, we have designed a tool that will engage learners and open possibilities for engagement and intellectual risk-taking.

Our design thinking process. [This is an interactive image, please click on the dots to interact with it].
Prototype description and features 

As a solution to our problem, we will leverage the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to build a Virtual Learning Assistant (VLA) prototype in the form of an application for mobile devices. This app will be designed to support learners after each training session to ensure they continue to stay engaged and optimize their learning opportunities.

Features of the Virtual Learning Assistant include: 

  • Short exercises, tasks, and challenges to help reinforce concepts, automated prompts and questions pertaining to the material, such as reminders, question submissions;
  • Discussion hub for learners and instructors to post questions, comments, and useful resources; 
  • Network with classmates and instructors regarding work-related issues that can help leverage their knowledge and expertise; 
  • Access to networking opportunities before, during, and after training sessions.

 

Please click on the image to see the features of our prototype.

The theory behind the prototype

    • Our training sessions usually take place at the beginning of the semester, before learners are able to engage in a real-world problem (1st principle identified by Merrill, 2002), and before they are able to apply and integrate their knowledge (4th and 5th principle). Based on the five principles of instructions outlined by Merrill (2002) and taking into account the specifics of the one-shot instructions and problems that were identified above as well as in the literature  (Massenberg, Schulte, & Kauffeld, 2017), we wanted to provide students with the opportunity to integrate their knowledge from the training sessions proactively, especially as they face real-life challenges.
    • In addition: Crichton and Carter (2017) suggest there are three primary ways to structure a design challenge: (1) as an inquiry question; (2) a problem to be solved; (3) a scenario to play out. Instructors will design short exercises, tasks, and challenges based on the 3 areas of to encourage exploration, engage in risk-taking, and creative/critical thinking (Crichton and Carter, 2017). 
    • Following the principles of the self-determination theory, this design will increase learners’ intrinsic motivation by addressing three major needs of a leaners: competence, autonomy, and relatedness (Chen, 2007)  by (1) increasing their knowledge base through follow-up questions and iterative learning; (2) using independent self-paced learning, allowing the prompts from the VLA; (3) creation of an online support community.
    • Using the principles of the empathetic design outlined by Mattelmäki, Vaajakallio, and Koskinen (2014), we understand that it can be challenging to utilize the information right away. As a result, we want to provide an innovative and relevant solution to our learners to help them meet their educational goals and responding to their needs after attending training sessions.

Questions for your feedback:

  1. If presented with an opportunity to download a Virtual Learning Assistant app after a 1-day workshop/training session, how would you utilize this application? 
  2. What features of the VLA app you would find most effective or useful. Why? 
  3. What kind of challenges can you foresee by using this app? What can we do to eliminate/minimize those challenges? 

 

We would appreciate your feedback prior to December 5th, so we can begin Part B of our assignment. Thank you in advance for your assistance!

 

This blog post was prepared in collaboration with Eunice Leung.

 


References 

Chen, K.C. (2007). Self-determination theory: implications for motivation in online learning. In T. Bastiaens & S. Carliner (Eds.), Proceedings of E-Learn 2007–World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education (pp. 6745-6750). Quebec City, Canada: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved from https://www.learntechlib.org/primary/p/26853/  

Crichton, S. & Carter, D. (2017). Taking making into classrooms: A toolkit for fostering curiosity and imagination. Open School/ITA. Retrieved from https://mytrainingbc.ca/maker/en/toolkit/Taking_Making_into_Classrooms.pdf

d.School Public Library. (2019). Retrieved from https://dlibrary.stanford.edu/

Mattelmäki, T., Vaajakallio, K., & Koskinen, I. (2014). What happened to empathic design?. Design Issues,30(1), 67-77.

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43–59. doi:10.1007/BF02505024

Plattner, H. (n.d.). An introduction to the design thinking: Process guide.Retrieved from https://dschool-old.stanford.edu/sandbox/groups/designresources/wiki/36873/attachments/8a846/ModeGuideBOOTCAMP2010.pdf?sessionID=8af88fee76ecd1fb7879c915073461486c425622 

8 thoughts on “Virtual Learning Assistant: Using empathetic design to create change [prototype]

  1. (No subject)

    SN

    Susan Nassiripour

    Tue 12/3/2019 8:00 AM

    Inbox

    To:

    Susan Nassiripour (snassiripour@hotmail.com);

    Hi Marta and Eunice, I like your idea very much as for me personally, if I attend a training seminar, I may not have many questions during the training, but then questions may come up for me once I put the training to use. 

    If presented with an opportunity to download a Virtual Learning Assistant app after a 1-day workshop/training session, how would you utilize this application? 

    Your app makes use of AI which tells me it will be a valuable resource when I have a specific question that I want a quick answer to. Even though I take notes during a training session, I imagine the app would also prove valuable any time I want to review any of the content I learned that day.

    What features of the VLA app you would find most effective or useful. Why? 

    I imagine the most useful tool for me would be being abe to network with other learners and instructors. Others with more experience than me would be able to share their knowledge and it would be useful to discuss specific issues that come up. 

    What kind of challenges can you foresee by using this app? What can we do to eliminate/minimize those challenges? 

    Even though I would personally see the value in this app and most likely use it often, others may not see the value in it. How would you ensure participation and that questions don’t go unanswered. What will encourage learners to provide answers to others. And when using the AI portion, what would happen if a learner poses a question that the app doesnt recognize?

    1. Hi Susan,

      Thank you so much for your feedback! It is truly appreciated!

      We have duly noted that we would need to find ways to encourage participation and interaction between students. Also, while harnessing the possibilities that AI provides, your comment made me reflect on the limitations of AI and how we would need to take it into account when designing this app.

      Thank you again! You have provided us with some helpful points to consider in our critique!

      Marta

  2. Hi Eunice and Marta, I think your VLA captured what learner needs and wants in the 21st-century learning. The rich features and functionalities in the app provide a continuum to learning – a necessity in our world today. Here are my thoughts on the questions you posed.
    If presented with an opportunity to download a Virtual Learning Assistant app after a 1-day workshop/training session, how would you utilize this application? I would utilize the VLA to connect with other learners in the community to exchange ideas and learn from them. I also like the reminders to keep me on track of my learning goals. We are bombarded every day with information and things to do so it is nice to have an alarm to help me reach my learning goals.

    What features of the VLA app you would find most effective or useful. Why? Networking and learning from others are important to me; hence, I have gravitated to the idea of using the app to connect with other learners.

    What kind of challenges can you foresee by using this app? What can we do to eliminate/minimize those challenges? Have you considered how learners that are visually impaired, deaf, colour-blind, and with a learning disability will interact with the VLA? What about the marginalized learners that have limited access to a good wi-fi connection?

    1. Hi Sharon,
      Thank you so much for your thoughtful feedback!
      We really have not considered the accessibility issue at this point in our design process! I am very thankful that you brought it up since it is so important when designing any product or tool!
      Thank you again for helping us with such valuable information!
      Marta

  3. Hey Eunice & Marta,

    Your VLA App intrigues me and here are my thoughts and answers to your questions posed,

    1. If presented with an opportunity to download a Virtual Learning Assistant app after a 1-day workshop/training session, how would you utilize this application?
    First off, when I think VLA combined with AI, I picture an actual virtual individual to assist the learner through some type of learning process. Your description of the App is more of a platform to engage with course content, students, and instructors. You idea is really great in that it is multi-faceted in regards to the types of tools the App can provide to students. The first thing I would do when utilizing the App, is probably engage with course content as required. I like the idea of challenges and exercises to engage students towards course content. As instructors, we always want to think of ways to engage students with course content, I think you can accomplish that with this App.

    What features of the VLA app you would find most effective or useful. Why?

    The useful part of the App is 2 parts. Part 1, the App has the ability, if platform is laid out well, to engage students to course content. Part 2, the App can encourage collaboration between student-student and student-instructor. This is encouraging and some students may find it useful via an App platform. Why? because an App platform can be engaging at anytime of the day. Whether the student is at school or even at home studying at night – there is no barrier of location to seek clarification, thus one can arguably say may increase effectiveness of learning. Although, more clarification and evidence is required to support this claim. For your prototype, I would like to see a more conclusive explanation for how this VLA styled App is lending to the empathic design process. It is clear that collaboration can be achieved through this App, is that where you are going with that piece? A question to ponder as your write up your full paper on this App.

    What kind of challenges can you foresee by using this app? What can we do to eliminate/minimize those challenges?
    One of the biggest challenges to an App, is that students have to have the right technology in order to engage with the App. I would suggest that the App not just be smart phone combatable, but also can be engaged through one’s computer. It is generally accepted that one needs a computer to learn and computers can be accessed on campus if a student does not have one. However, it is not arguably accepted that one needs a cell phone to learn via App, and not all students may have phones – albeit, these days most do.

    1. Hi Mark,

      You gave us a lot to think about! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions!

      I appreciate your comment about VLA being a multi-faceted tool! I think having access to many different features from one app can make it simpler and easier for students to approach learning!

      We haven’t considered utilizing both computers and smartphones as platforms for VLA. But I think it’s an excellent idea, that would expand our network of learners!

      Thank you again!

      Marta

  4. If presented with an opportunity to download a Virtual Learning Assistant app after a 1-day workshop/training session, how would you utilize this application?
    I think that there is always a challenge to transfer knowledge from a learning session to real life. In an intense one-day session, retention can be low. It’s a result of our natural brain function and limitations.
    With that in mind, I would suggest an APP with an interface that reflects real-world challenges and problems. Ie: instead of organizing according to subject, have your headers and hot buttons identified with text that empathizes and identifies with the users’ day to day challenges. For example: “Help! I’ve locked myself out if my office.” It’s a silly example but you get the idea. Use humour and humanity to humanize your AI interface. It may help your learners on their journey.
    Jeff

    1. Hi Jeff,

      Thank you so much for commenting!
      I love your idea of using humour and users’ everyday challenges to make the app more appealing and helpful for users!

      Very much appreciated!

      Marta

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