As eLearning professionals, we’re always eager to see how new technology can be assimilated for training purposes. And when Amazon announced their newest gadget, Echo, we wondered how it would impact eLearning at large. For the smooth price of $199, Amazon Echo promises to bring you Alexa, a voice-activated robot who can answer all (most) of your questions. But upon deeper inspection, it appears that while Alexa might be helpful to a certain clientele, it might not be as revolutionary to eLearning as we’d hoped.

Echo Applications

We have to admit that some of Alexa’s capabilities are pretty cool. Completely voice activated (but not wireless), Alexa can hear your questions and comments, and can sync with your other devices to complete simple jobs and reminders, such as:

  • Giving you a weather report.
  • Adding an event to your calendar.
  • Looking up info on the fly (“Alexa, when did the Civil War end?”)
  • Setting timers.
  • Making music playlists.

In the Echo commercials, the device is advertised as a multitasker for the family: Different members ask her to do a wide range of tasks, proving that Amazon Echo is a must-have for any busy family. But what about the busy eLearner?

Echo for eLearning

Creative chief learning officers might see a place for Amazon Echo in the training room, but we found that the device is better suited to a more traditional K-12 learning application. Still, Alexa is not without her applications for training, since she can:

  • Remind the trainer to address a certain topic at a later time (“Alexa, remind me to cover dress code when we talk about the office code of ethics.”)
  • Set timers for quizzes in the classroom.
  • Grab quick in-the-moment info, like the size of a certain product or the background of a competing organization (“Alexa, how long has ABC Corporation been in business?”)

Amazon Echo’s strongest point is that it’s always on and Alexa is always listening, so you don’t need to fumble with other devices or take too much time setting up tech for a training session.

Better Devices?

The main argument against Amazon Echo? It’s the fact that you likely already have devices that can complete similar tasks –if they need to be completed at all. If you use an iPhone, Siri can find information, set timers and create reminders easily. And, if you need more than a Wikipedia-based description, more in-depth research on your computer is probably more appropriate.

While we’re excited to see innovation and technology make their way into the eLearning sphere, it’s important to avoid getting swept up in the excitement of something new. Sure, Amazon Echo is a cool gadget that might have a useful application for families or K-12 classrooms, but for eLearning design and development, Echo might just end up being extra noise.