Learning Trend 5: Wired for Speech

Each decade has brought with it a new interface to interact with our computers and electronic devices. Where once we typed into a command line beside a blinking green cursor, today we use a mouse with a visual graphical user interface or swipe, tap and pinch our commands into our screens.

More recently voice has emerged as a way to engage and interact with devices. The rise of voice as a user interface [VUI] has taken off exponentially and can be found today in phones, TVs, radios, and an increasing array of smart home gadgets like microwaves, lighting and heating systems as well as being gradually integrated into the product and services design of a range of industries from aviation to healthcare and banking.

Voice interface features can be optional as a method of interaction, say when you click the microphone icon on Google search and speak your query into the search bar or voice first as with the Alexa powered Amazon Echo or Google Home where voice is the primary input mode.

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Smart speakers are becoming an integral part of our lives as voice controlled virtual assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana become part of our daily routine.

“Global smart speaker installed base to top 200 million by end of 2019.”¹


Voice technologies are growing in sophistication with device ability to recognize different users’ speech patterns. This allows voice assistants offer individualized experiences to different users in different ways and so can offer customized services to specific queries, directly linking a user for example to their Google Play, Spotify or Netflix accounts.

All of these developments are supported by a variety of maturing smart technologies including Text to Speech (TTS) and natural language processing.


Within the workplace, having a virtual assistant to talk with may optimize efficiency, freeing up hands and body to continue with the task at hand. Gartner, Inc. predicts that a quarter of digital workers will use a virtual employee assistant [VEA] on a daily basis by 2021.³


If voice makes sense in the workplace as an employee assistant, it also brings the concept of learning as you work, or ‘learning in the flow of work’ as it’s often been referred to, closer to reality. Chatbots or educational assistants have already made an impact in educational spheres. Several research universities introduced Echo Dots to help students with queries around campus life. ⁴

Voice interfaces offer potential for education where learners might turn to them for information and facts, clarification or questions, or in a more active teaching mode provide interactive material to follow lectures in the shape of interactive games and exercises to help embed learning. In the workplace, voice based digital assistants might help with providing:

  • Reference material – quick access via voice led UX to appropriate standards and procedures.
  • Instructional Assistance – what form do I need?
  • Performance Support – what’s the correct order of tasks in this process?
  • Coaching and Mentoring – role play scenarios with personalized feedback.


How people interact with voice technology is very different from how they work with other interfaces e.g. a graphical one. People’s expectations of a conversational interface, even though they realize it’s artificial, is that they are communicating, not just using voice technology. This new area of design, VUI [Voice User Interface design] has similar departure points to other design areas, like clarification of user goals and end points, user testing and so on. The bits in between, however, are somewhat different, including scripting of potential dialogue flows, key words assignation, and branch planning to cover different conversational eventualities.

Personality and emotion become an important element in voice designed applications and the role of emotion within this conversational interface design cannot be underestimated. We believe the interest in audio will continue. Moving from consumer electronics and driven by the growth in smart speakers, voice will migrate into every experience including workplace learning. Flipping the interaction model towards  conversation potentially offers many areas of interest. Today much learning in the workplace is about solving problems or rapidly locating a nugget of content and for this, voice will enable learning. However, much of these conversations still sit in the realm of questions and answers or basic instructions so we may have to wait a little longer for some higher level voice-based learning applications to emerge.


Consider possible applications for voice in current learning or work challenges. Could voice based digital assistants help your people with reference material, quick instructional assistance or performance support? Could you use voice-led UX to access content, coaching and mentoring?


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1. https://www.canalys.com/newsroom/canalys-global-smart-speaker-installed-base-to-top-200-million-byend-
2. https://www.cmo.com/features/articles/2018/9/7/adobe-2018-consumer-voice-survey.html#gs.bbje5u
3. https://www.information-age.com/virtual-employee-assistants-gartner-123478012/
4. https://www.chronicle.com/article/Hey-Alexa-Should-We-Bring/244129