Recently I co-hosted a webinar, “Voice Devices and Beyond in the Classroom.” As the title implies, the content focused on the benefits and challenges of using smart technologies such as voice assistants in an educational setting. The attendees consisted of educators and others who have a vested interest in making learning more immersive and meaningful. During the webinar, my Moonshot colleague Mark Persaud and I took a live poll of attendees. The results were eye opening:

  • 95 percent of all participants would like to use voice in the classroom.
  • About one third own a voice assistant personally.
  • 54 percent would like to use immersive technologies such as voice in the classroom, but they don’t know how.
  • Zero percent said they don’t want to use immersive learning.

What do the results say?

  • There is an appetite for using smart technologies such as voice assistants to teach students.
  • But educators don’t know how to get started.

What does getting started mean, though? Over the past few days, I’ve been answering that question through a series of blog posts. I believe that smart technologies fueled by artificial intelligence hold vast potential to change how we live, work, learn, play – for the good. But for smart products to make a breakthrough, their designers need to do some learning themselves. They need to design products that build both functional trust and emotional trust.

Earning Trust through Early Learning

As I wrote in “Designing Intelligent Products Requires Designing for Relationships,” designing for functional trust means ensuring that smart products communicate clearly to people important features such as the ability to de-activate Alexa when we don’t want her in the room listening to us. Trust is even more important with early learning. These experiences must inspire curiosity with children but also secure trust with parents.

But how do we earn that trust? The answer is to design for relationships, which means making people more comfortable being around their smart devices. After all, we’re asking educators and parents to trust voice assistants to help teach their kids. Designing for relationships requires designing for emotional trust. This means a lot of things, such as getting details like tone right. A voice product that helps teach children may require a more friendly, approachable tone. A voice product that helps adults learn adopt a physical fitness regime might require the tone of a coach who encourages but also pushes.

So how do we as designers help educators get started? We build functional and emotional trust. Educators need more than instruction. They need trust.

During our webinar, my colleague Mark Persaud and I walked attendees through an example of how we’ve designed a voice-base product, Encyclopedia Britannica’s Guardians of History, that helps 8-to-12-year-old kids learn history through a gamified adventure. As I mentioned in “Designing Intelligent Products Means Designing for Relationships,” to pull off an experience like that, we had to think carefully about the emotional component of the experience. Asking kids to interact with a device that will make them enjoy learning was a big ask. We needed for the voice-activated experience to impart the right kind of encouraging tone to keep kids engaged as they solved tasks. Using a robotic voice would not develop trust. We worked hard to get the narration down right, employing encouraging, upbeat voices with just enough dramatic flair to keep the kids engaged. To learn more about Guardians of History, read “Why Guardians of History” Is a Lovable Voice Experience,” by Moonshot co-founder Mike Edmonds.

Co-Creating through Community

During the webinar, David Green, a teacher at North Shore Country Day School, discussed how he uses Alexa in the classroom to help kids explore the world around them. He played an audio of kids interacting with him as a teacher and Alexa. How inspiring! The kids were engaged, curious, and excited. It was clear that Alexa was helping David, not replacing him, and that Alexa was fostering community in the classroom rather than isolation. That’s how we’ve designed Guardians of History, by the way – by co-creating an experience with parents and kids. This approach has ensured that kids to explore history with their parents in the room to share the experience.

Smart products hold great promise to make teaching smarter. Educators just need help getting started. Designers can play a big role by building for functional and emotional trust in a learning environment.

Amish Desai

Amish Desai

Head of Experiences