In my previous chatbot blog, I looked at the positive impact chatbots have on both the student experience and common operations across higher education institutions. Now, we are seeing sophisticated AI support lifelike conversations, presenting another evolutionary step. As the world continues to become more digital, the value on these new technologies increase exponentially.

We’re getting used to talking to our devices. Half of the respondents to Accenture’s digital consumer survey said they use a digital voice assistant– an 8% increase from last year. Just five years ago, voice search was rarely used on the internet – today there are 16 billion voice searches each month (representing 10% of all traffic), with an expected increase to 200 billion searches per month by 2020. As the appetite to use voice in our personal lives and at home continues to grow, there is an expectation it will be available elsewhere too – higher education included.

So why is demand for conversational AI growing?
  • Voice is more natural, faster and friendlier
  • AI offers higher accessibility / adaptability to a wider range of users
  • Easy integration with existing telephony systems, eliminating the need to drive users to new channels
  • Reduced administrative costs

Additionally, conversational AI can have a positive impact across many aspects of the student experience. Trials of Amazon’s Echo Dots at three universities discovered that students sought answers to a wide range of questions including teaching hours, exam dates and even cafeteria menus.  One computer science department analyzed the courses and times that led to the greatest student success and then used a virtual assistant to provide scheduling information based on that data. At another university, freshmen were given a virtual assistant to engage them, answer their questions and provide guidance on completing enrollment activities.

These examples show a well-implemented conversational AI can have many, far-reaching benefits. These range from providing better services to ensuring retention to driving better learning outcomes. Data captured could conceivably be used to improve on-campus services based on questions being asked by students or helping advisors to focus interventions on at-risk students who may be thinking about quitting a course of study. But to gain insights and drive outcomes like these, you need both the right technological capabilities and a holistic approach that evaluates how AI impacts across the whole operation – people, processes and data.

Conversational AI will change how people work across campuses today. Rather than simply being another technology tool, it’s more useful to think about it as a new member of the team. That means it needs training and development, just like any other colleague. As AI takes on activities traditionally performed by people, institution staff will need to adapt their work to focus on newer, value-add responsibilities, as well as think through ways to further develop their “AI Teammate.” To achieve the best outcomes, an emphasis must be placed on training humans and machines to peacefully coexist, learning from, rather than competing with, one another as they work together on providing the best experience for students.

Interested in learning more about building a new type of team? Getting started quickly with conversational AI is easy. Getting started well? That’s much harder. But it’s worth the effort.

We’ve developed some ‘golden rules’ for conversational AI – I’d be very happy to discuss them with you, and how you can use this promising technology to help shape your approach for the future.

Jonathan Fry

Managing Director – Consulting, Education Lead

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