Alelo Inc. and the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) at the University of Southern California have partnered to co-develop highly effective, economical virtual role-playing learning technology that teaches competency, communication and collaboration across generations, cultures, mindsets and organizational levels. Virtual role-playing (VRP) provides personalized learning interactions with artificially intelligent, computer-based characters programmed to teach, challenge, encourage and engage in life-like scenarios.
The context for the project is the challenge faced by training modalities to ensure that every learner quickly achieves the target level of competency and retains it over time. Live coaching can be very effective but its high cost typically limits it to executive training. Self-paced courses based on slide-show presentations, videos and websites are less expensive than live instruction, but not very effective, and often boring and not engaging. Training solutions based on virtual role-playing close the gap between the superior results of live coaching and the low cost per learner of self-paced instruction.
Partially funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the goal of the Alelo-ICT VRP Builder project is to develop novel, commercial-grade course authoring tools that people without technical expertise ‒ such as teachers, instructional designers and even students ‒ can use to create virtual role-play learning courses. The Virginia Department of Education will coordinate the evaluation of the authoring tools in Virginia public schools.
The VRP Builder will integrate advanced machine-learning and training-authoring technologies developed by ICT’s Dr. David Traum and Dr Anton Leuski into Alelo’s patented Enskill® software platform used to create and deploy interactive role-playing simulations on Web browsers, smartphones and tablets. The system will generate content automatically from examples, and will get better and better as people add more examples to the knowledge base.
Dr. Lewis Johnson, Alelo’s chief executive, explains, “For over a decade we have been developing highly effective virtual-role playing learning solutions grounded in pedagogy and social-science research, but we are limited by the need for advanced technical skills in instructional design, interactive media, dialog design and validation. The VRP Builder will disrupt today’s training world by significantly reducing course-development costs and turnaround times, thus lowering the barriers that have prevented virtual role-play learning solutions from large-scale adoption.”
“The Virtual Role-Play Builder is an excellent conduit to transition ICT’s technologies into commercial products,” adds Clarke Lethin, ICT’s managing director. “Numerous government agencies have long supported our research and validation of highly advanced virtual human technologies. Now we have the opportunity to start moving them into widespread educational use.”
Dr. Scott Payne, former president of the Computer-Aided Language Instruction Consortium (CALICO), points out, “Alelo’s machine-learning approach can greatly accelerate the creation and adoption of avatar-based language-learning content. It promises to be a game-changer. ”