Voice activation technology: Will it transform the way we learn in 2020?

Libby Webb sounds out the latest advancement in eLearning.

Reading time: 3 minutes

In the last few years, we’ve observed prolific advancements to artificial intelligence and other technologies, all of which have been developed with the aim of giving us seamless and easy-to-access experiences with technology.

Voice activation is one such technology that has been developed to make almost any task hands-free, meaning you can multitask when you need to the most. But what impact could it have on digital learning?

Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana are all examples of devices that use voice activation technology to perform simple commands. From setting an alarm and telling you the weather, to switching off the lights downstairs, the potential of voice activation technology is immense.

Transforming our lives daily, voice activation (also known as speech recognition) is set to also make a huge impact in the L&D world, substituting BBC news briefings and novelty ways to electronically control the devices in your home with topical learning content, business updates, recommended reading and more.

What is voice activation technology and how does it work?

Voice activation refers to the ability of a machine to receive and interpret dictation, to understand and carry out spoken commands.

With speech recognition, we could go beyond that, introducing learning into the flow of life

With smartphones, smart cars and smart home appliances intruding on nearly every aspect of daily life, it’s common for us to assume that speech recognition is fairly straightforward.

But with an estimated 6,500 languages spoken globally today, coupled with differing accents, intonation, inflection and pronunciation, the technology used for a computer to understand language as precisely as a human is extremely complex.

Speech recognition software programs analyse the sounds received by a transmitter and perform specific tasks based on the information given to them. Personal assistants (like Amazon’s Alexa) then decipher the information being input via voice and will then attempt to perform what has been asked of them.

The software used for this requires analogue audio to be converted into digital signals, and for a computer to decipher a signal it must first have a digital database (or vocabulary) of words and syllables, as well as the ability to compare this data to signals.

Using voice activation for eLearning

In 2018 Google expected that, by 2020, 50% of internet searches would be carried out by voice and approximately 30% of searches would be done without a screen at all.

But even today, L&D departments report that one of the biggest obstacles to a successful training programme is a lack of motivation among learners. Employees old and new are readily equipped with the age-old excuse “I’m too busy to learn.”

Industry analyst Josh Bersin discusses how organisations should encourage their employees to bring learning into the flow of work. But with speech recognition, we could go beyond that, introducing learning into the flow of life.

Take Amazon Alexa’s Flash Briefing Skill, for example. This allows users to receive the most recent news updates from all major news outlets. For eLearning, this skill could be customised to feature all the learning content and updates from a singular organisation.

So just as one might use Alexa to play a favourite album on Spotify, a learner with the app could access all their latest learning material with a simple voice command, ensuring their learning needs are catered for alongside their busy schedule.

During their commute to work in the morning, while they’re cooking dinner, or even putting on a load of laundry.

And for the diverse workforce, for those with learning difficulties or disabilities, the inability to read, for example, voice recognition could transform the way they learn, aiding their professional development and allowing an organisation to reach the members of their workforce who have previously missed out.


About the author

Libby Webb is a content writer for Learning Pool


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