Knowledge Avatars™ Virtual Learning Assistants™
by Emiliano De Laurentiis
Knowledge Avatars™, or online virtual experts, are more than traditional training products.
They are designed to have the best teaching strategies, the best motivational strategies, and the most efficient learning environment design. They incrementally improve the skills in your organization by teaching, evaluating, and providing feedback, so that learners are continuously developing their skills in a natural learning mode.
Knowledge Avatars start out as a knowledge map of an expert’s knowledge in a particular area of expertise. Think of the knowledge map as a program that defines what concepts the expert knows and how those concepts are related to each other. This knowledge map is the blueprint that defines the Knowledge Avatar and dictates how it will present the information.
Any single Knowledge Avatar will usually incorporate several experts’ knowledge, forming a super-expert. For example, a “sales” Knowledge Avatar would contain sales expertise on improving sales and it would also contain the expertise of the best pedagogues to produce a super-teacher. So, on the one hand, this Knowledge Avatar would incorporate strategies on producing better sales, and on the other hand it would also incorporate best teaching practices such as patience, interesting examples, many activities to practice the new skills, and plenty of nonjudgmental feedback. These multiple virtual experts merged into one program gives the learner the best of several worlds.
There are many individual differences in how people learn. Knowledge Avatars take these differences into account by presenting information in different ways and by accommodating different learning styles. For example, some people prefer to see the forest, then the trees, going from the general to the specific. Others, prefer to go to the details first, and then assemble it in their minds as an integrated whole. Some people prefer to learn one concept at a time – a linear approach. Others, want to learn several concepts in parallel. These individual learning styles will even change depending on the learner’s life circumstances. Someone who is revisiting the information after having already learned it will want to be able to jump directly to whatever concept they need a refresher on. A first time learner might prefer to take it more slowly, one concept at a time.
The use of text, voice, video, or stills will have different meaning to different people. Some people attend better to text – others to video. Wherever appropriate, Knowledge Avatars use multiple modes of content presentation to accommodate these individual differences.
Direct and frequent feedback is another important element. Knowing how well they are doing, as they are learning, gives students the motivation to continue learning.
Complete control over what and when they are learning is an important feature of Knowledge Avatars. Control is a strong motivator because learners feel they are being constructive in their learning. But control is also a huge time saver because the learner can learn “just-in-time,” or “just-as-needed,”resulting in faster turnaround to applying the new skills on the job.
As online virtual experts, Knowledge Avatars are always available. They are there whenever someone needs a refresher on a concept, or whenever there is time to learn, such as at a break between meetings. Busy schedules, frequent interruptions, and changing circumstances are taken care of because the Knowledge Avatar’s expertise can be accessed as needed, in small chunks, and in any order desired. Wireless personal digital assistants, such as some Palm Pilots, even allow people to access Knowledge Avatars from a taxi cab!
Knowledge Avatars constantly evaluate the learner’s knowledge and provide direct feedback about how well the learner is doing. This “knowledge of results” is an essential component of getting real results from skills training. Not only is it important for the learner to know that they are passing a “test”, it is also important that they know specifically what they are learning. When content is new, it is not always clear to a learner what exactly they have learned. By giving them very pointed activities to test their new knowledge, the learner gets the feedback they need telling them that they have achieved the criteria for a particular task. Frequent feedback is also a great motivator. Learners should never have to wonder whether or not they truly understand the concept. If a good live tutor were sitting next to the student, the tutor would provide frequent feedback about whether the student is on the right track. Knowledge Avatars provide that feedback which acts to encourage the student to continue learning.
All Knowledge Avatars have Pedagogy Master™ built into them. The Pedagogy Master is itself a Knowledge Avatar about what constitutes a great teacher. The information in a Knowledge Avatar is not presented in any ad-hoc way. Rather, it is structured to enhance its learnability. The knowledge’s structure is made visible to the learner in the form of a knowledge map. Being able to see the complete map of the body of knowledge that they are about to learn is similar to seeing the forest from the trees. The Knowledge Map allows them to see each concept and how they relate to other concepts in the new knowledge world they are about to enter. Each concept is taught with the idea of providing a good generalization of the concept, ample examples, activities to test the learner’s knowledge, immediate knowledge of results from the activity, and then additional examples and activities to take care of any knowledge gaps. This learning loop, done for every concept, allows the student to move ahead, with confidence, that he or she has the prerequisites to tackle the next challenge presented to them in their learning experience.
Knowledge Avatars also produce a “flow” experience. In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the flow experience is described as a state where the person is completely absorbed by an activity. This state, where the task is both challenging and rewarding, results in a suspension of time and a feeling of great elation. The essential ingredients to produce such absorption in a task include: 1) a feeling that the task is possible, 2) clear goals, 3) immediate feedback, and 4) a sense of having complete control over one’s actions. These ingredients are incorporated into Knowledge Avatars, making learning fun. A sad result of our institutionalized form of learning is that much of the fun is taken out of learning. Knowledge Avatars, whether they are used in an institution, or by a self-directed learner, enhance the learning experience by incorporating the key ingredients that produce flow.
Knowledge Avatars are practical, results-oriented, online virtual masters that incorporate the expertise of various experts. At the very least, they are great teachers. Then, on top of that, is grafted whatever additional expertise your organization needs. By their very nature and structure, Knowledge Avatars can grow organically with your organization’s needs, producing more and better results.
© 2004 by Emiliano De Laurentiis. Trademarks owned by Knowledge Environments, Inc.