How many apps have you downloaded on your smartphone only to rarely, if ever, use them? By one account, the average person uses only nine apps per day out of the over 80 they have downloaded, and 25% of apps are used only once! App builders everywhere are trying to figure out how to make their apps more compelling and more engaging to break into that rarified air of regular daily usage but it’s certainly not easy.

In many respects, corporate learning and development (L&D) teams have a similar challenge: How do you create a learning experience that can engage a learner in regular enough intervals to be effective? Working to solve this question has brought up new techniques like gamification and microlearning as well as moving to learning experience platforms (LXPs) from the more traditional learning management platforms (LMSs).

A common goal for any learning experience designer, however, is to make the user experience as frictionless as possible. The more clicks you require the user to make, the less engagement you will have. It’s the same principle that made Amazon’s trademark feature, “1-Click” so devastatingly disruptive for the overall retail industry. The key takeaway? Make it easy for the user.

For this reason alone, L&D teams need to invest some time into at least familiarizing themselves with how to deploy chatbots in their organization’s existing collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams or Slack (other popular platforms include Google Chat, Zoom and Webex Teams, among others). The COVID-19 pandemic that shook the world in 2020 did drive the mass adoption and innovation of such platforms among corporations. Today, most learners regularly rely on being able to instantly message colleagues as part of their daily routines.

A chatbot can be viewed as nothing more than an automated, computerized colleague that serves a specific purpose. And because certain collaboration platforms make it very easy to incorporate a chatbot, interacting with a chatbot is as easy as messaging a colleague. Talk about frictionless! There’s no separate URL to go to, no separate login required, no confusing user interface to try to navigate … it’s just simple messaging!

And what would you have the chatbot say? Hollywood movies would have you think that a chatbot can say anything (think C3PO  or Jarvis from “Ironman” or HAL-9000 from “Space Odyssey”). Artificial intelligence (AI) is far from being able to have the emotional intelligence (EQ) these fictional characters portray, and so that is not the goal for your chatbot. Instead, chatbots can be easily programmed to help learners look up what an acronym stands for or where to find a job aid. Or, a chatbot can be programmed to follow up with learners with training reinforcement messages that include practical tips, links to articles and videos and even holding them accountable to their learning commitments.

Even the aforementioned engagement techniques of gamification and microlearning can be carried out and delivered by a chatbot. Chatbots can be programmed to either passively wait for a learner to engage with it when they need help (just like a customer service chatbot you often encounter on your bank’s website) or to proactively message learners on a triggered schedule which can be particularly effective for training reinforcement.

And how will learners react to messaging with a computer rather than a human being? Some worry that the experience can be off putting and ineffective but the explosion of chatbot usage and the improved technology therein has shown broad efficacy. The bottom line is that if a user feels like a chatbot interaction is useful and valuable, they will be happy to engage with it, despite the fact they’ll never be able to invite it to lunch.

When it comes to security and privacy, our increasingly regulated environment means bringing in any new technology into a corporation’s technology stack is onerous, rigorous and time consuming, which can frustrate training managers who are ironically asked to move quickly to meet today’s dynamic work challenges. Chatbots can make that technology approval process easier because they will be installed and monitored within your existing collaboration platform of choice. You can also micromanage who has access and what data they will be able to see.

As corporate learning teams get more familiar with chatbot technology, they will discover the need for new skill sets to build conversational learner journeys. Perhaps instead of authoring a slide-based eLearning course, instructional designers will be programming chatbots with fun, engaging conversations, learning how to write the perfect nudge or reminder … and maybe someday, designing an experience that actually has a learner and their chatbot enjoy a virtual lunch together!