A few years ago I wrote about a study that highlighted the tremendous value derived from collaborating and sharing expertise in the healthcare industry. This was supported by a second study that explored the role digital technology can play in this knowledge sharing.
The digital tool in question was an enterprise social network, but a recent paper from researchers at New York University highlights how artificial intelligence can also play a major role.
How Virtual Teammates Help Us Learn
The researchers developed an e-learning curriculum whereby students were paired up with an AI teammate that they could learn with and from. The authors believe that this virtual classmate was a valuable aid to the learning process, with the components of their system made available for free on the team’s website.
“Until the turn of the century, it was conventional for doctors, nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals to be educated independently of one another,” the authors say. “The problem, was that this model created a culture of fractured communication between medical professionals of different disciplines. Now we realize the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, provided the pieces fit together.”
The study saw some students given the virtual colleague to learn alongside, whilst others completed the training in the traditional manner. This involved a 4 hour face to face seminar and a group learning session. They were also paired with (real life) peers from other schools to complete the e-learning modules.
The modules themselves required learners to develop an understanding of collaboration and teamwork across departmental and professional teams.
Changes in the knowledge of each student was measured using tests that were administered before and after each module. The students were also quizzed for their attitude and team working ability.
The Benefits of Virtual Support
The data revealed that there were distinct differences depending on the type of learner (ie a nursing student or a medical student), and the type of outcome they were hoping to achieve, such as new knowledge or a change in attitude.
For instance, for nursing students it emerged that students with a virtual peer gained significantly in areas such as team work, conflict resolution, communication and interprofessional working.
When it came to the medical students, those with a virtual peer did as well as their more traditional colleagues in things such as knowledge acquisition and team working, but they outperformed them when it came to leadership.
The findings remind us that a virtual classmate is often just as effective as a human one, and can indeed be more effective in certain circumstances. We’re seeing a growing number of AI based virtual assistants emerging, whether it’s the sports coach I wrote about recently or the AI nurse that emerged earlier this year.
It seems likely, therefore, that we will soon be entering the world of the AI classmate.