eLearning TrendWatch: Automation

In this edition of eLearning TrendWatch, the topic is automation. We are all painfully aware of how time-consuming sometimes downright tedious the learning content creation process can be. It should come as no surprise that learning professionals often find themselves wishing that content creation could somehow be automated. eLearning TrendWatch: AutomationThink of how much great content could be created! It’s enough to make a learning professional drool. Well, hang on to your hats because automated learning content creation may not be as far-fetched an idea as you think.

Of course, your other option is to see if your LMS provider has its own bank of learning content to draw on. For example, eLeaP provides High Quality Business Training Courses For Everyone and Effective, Affordable Training Packages where you can quickly access hundreds of courses through a customized library of topics. When it comes to automated eLearning content creation, it’s safe to say that we’re a long ways away from automating the entire eLearning content creation process. What we’re talking about here is developing algorithms that generate the needed content.

Learning Content Automation

Algorithmically created content is already a reality, though it has yet to be widely used in developing eLearning content. Automatically generated content has been around for decades, such as screen-savers. No one is creating each drawing or picture that appears on the screen. Instead, that is all being governed by the operation of an algorithm, which just a set of computer instructions that the computer executes to then create the desired outcome. Once the screen-saver algorithm kicks in, the pictorial content is automatically generated and change as it runs. Obviously, the algorithms needed to automatically generate eLearning content would need to be much more complex than a screen-saver algorithm! The Big Ten Network, for example, uses algorithms to automatically write sports news stories. The content generated can feel somewhat crude or formulaic, but it works. Would you want to use such a tool to automatically generate a 15-lesson course on management skills? Probably not, but there are still some specific areas in eLearning where automation really could play a time saving role.

Learning Assessment Instruments

This is one area that’s ripe for automation. Creating quiz and test questions from the learning content you’ve developed is something that can suck up a lot of precious time, but you know you have to do it. There are LMS platforms today that can do this. The system has to be able to access the content, and then by applying the right algorithm can automatically generate questions and exercises based on that content.

Personalization

Imagine being able to automatically generate or at least customize course content based on the assessed skills of the learner. This would allow you to instantly present content that is matched up with the appropriate difficulty level of the end learner. This kind of automation is relatively easy to achieve simply developing the full range of content possible and then tagging it in ways that the LMS engine can then assemble it based on the skill level of the learner.

Algorithms can automatically generate content, but their ability to do so is still somewhat limited. It raises the large question of to what extent algorithms can replace human creativity. Fred Zimmerman, however, is making a go of it in the publishing world. He’s the CEO of Nimble Books, and his “combinatorial publishing” method generates useful books in seconds for extremely little cost (we’re talking pennies here). He notes that it also doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Content creation could be partially generated automatically in collaboration with humans.

The Nimble Books model still depends on the system being able to access a huge a body of pre-existing content in the form of articles and other sources. Obviously, this data bank of content would need to be public domain material to avoid copyright infringements. By entering a set of keywords to define the topic, the generator draws from the body of content, selecting the material, organizing it with a logical table of contents, and even automatically generates a book cover (right now just a simple word cloud), then automatically publishes it through Amazon. His process is rooted in open-source software and runs entirely in the cloud. He’s not producing masterpieces by any means, but he’s cranking out titles that plenty of people find useful.

Automated eLearning content creation is still in its infancy, but it’s an emerging field that I’ll continue to track in future editions of the eLearning TrendWatch.

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