Learning is a type of teamwork

A very interesting article by Andrea Thomaz about (of all things) talking robots provides a compelling discussion about how learning is a type of teamwork.

In many ways learning is just another type of teamwork. In the best situated learning interactions, the teacher and the learner are working together as a team. A good instructor will pay attention to the learner and appropriately structure the task, give feedback, and make suggestions. Then the job of the learner is to make attempts at the activity being learned, but at the same time to communicate their internal state (understanding, confusion, attention, etc.) to help the teacher know where the learning process stands. This tightly coupled interaction enables the learner to leverage from instruction to build the appropriate representations and associations. So when this process is meant for a human teacher and a robot learner, all of the issues of human-robot teamwork and collaboration that Fong is addressing, about understanding people as people, and being able to fluidly communicate with them, are relevant and necessary for successful Social Machine Learning as well.

Andrea is insightful in pointing out that much of the teamworking depends on the student to provide feedback signals to the teacher, who can then adjust their teaching style to the student. Whether in a formal educational setting, on-the-job training, or a coaching situation, it is important to be clear about what is expected of the teacher/trainer/coach, and what the “student” can do to maximize their learning.

Fairly simple things can make a big difference for learning teamwork. Be sure to let a new team member know that they should speak up when something is unclear or they need more information. Ask probing questions when going over important material. A simple, “Was that clear as mud?” can keep the feedback loop flowing.

It is also helpful to understand the learning styles of the people involved, so that the lessons can be adapted to team members. A friend sent me a link to a simple online test that will quickly show your primary and secondary style, as well as tips for how persons with different styles can best learn. The online test can be found here: http://www.berghuis.co.nz/abiator/lsi/lsitest1.html

What do think, can we learn a bit about learning and teamwork from talking robots?

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