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Voice User Interfaces and Training

Voice user interfaces and training with Myra Roldan

“Alexa, play the podcast Train Like You Listen from Spotify” .

Voice-activated digital assistants are household items for many of us. Smartphones, speakers, even watches can be voice-activated to help us with any number of things. My mom and her 81-year-old neighbor spent the weekend setting up and activating skills for several smart speakers in her house. They set up entertainment, reminders, asked questions, and set up some safety features. What else can we do with devices with a voice user interface?

On episode 30 of Train Like You Listen, Myra Roldan, author of Design A Voice User Interface, sits down with us to talk about how she leverages voice user interfaces as a training tool. In this short podcast, Myra helps us to understand more about what a voice user interface is and some examples of how they can be used to train in a variety of situations. For more information from Myra, be sure to visit her website

Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.

Transcript of the Conversation with Myra Roldan

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to the Train Like You Listen podcast…a short podcast about all things Learning & Development.  I’m Brian Washburn, co-founder and CEO of Endurance Learning and today I am joined by technologist, Myra Roldan, who maybe you’ve seen as a presenter at a conference…whether its an ATD conference or a Learning Guild conference or any, sort of, L&D-focused conference.  She has definitely been a prominent speaker.  Myra, thank you for joining us today.

Myra Roldan: Yeah, thank you for having me!

Brian Washburn: I’m excited.  And as you know, we start each of these podcasts with a short 6-word introduction.  Today we’re going to be talking about a topic that’s near and dear to you, which is voice user interface.  When it comes to a 6-word biography, when i think of this topic and myself, my biography might be “Alexa, remind me of today’s date.”  Here in the age of COVID I’ve kind of lost track of time.  How about you?  What would be a good 6-word biography for yourself?

Myra Roldan: Yeah, so i’m a fan of 6-word memoirs so this is right up my lane, right.  So my 6-word biography…I actually have two.  I’ll give you my main one, so “Life’s a journey, let’s be crafty…”  “…let’s be creative”, like plugging your descriptor word in there, right?  So that’s kind of it…be creative. 

Brian Washburn: Yeah.  Do you have a 2nd one?

Myra Roldan: Yeah.  So my 2nd one… So I love “Meet the Robinsons”..the cartoon movie… “See a need…fill a need.”

Brian Washburn: Nice.

Myra Roldan: That’s my… yeah, that’s my 2nd one.

Brian Washburn: (laughing) I like it.  So let’s jump into some questions here and just so that we can get everyone on the same page, what IS a “voice user interface”?  Like what are some examples of how it’s used to make life better in the real world?

What is a Voice User Interface?

Myra Roldan: Yeah, definitely.  So “voice user interface”…. So let’s start by defining that.  So a “voice user interface” is a program that allows humans like ourselves to interact with the computer, or computer program, using our voice, right?  That’s it.  Plain and simple.  If you have a smart speaker, like an Alexa device, or, you know, Siri on your phone, or Google Home web browser or either Google search browser you can use voice, think of the VUI as the engine that propels the car forward.

How Can Voice User Interfaces Work in Training?

Brian Washburn: So I think that anybody who has a smartphone, who’s familiar with Siri or Alexa or things like that…that makes sense.  Now you’ve recently released a workbook suggesting that this can be a game-changer in the Learning & Development space.  How do you see this working for those of us who aren’t computer programmers or coders or engineers who make this happen?

Myra Roldan: Yeah, so i’ve been preaching this for like the past 3 years…right now, yeah, going on 4 years…trying to push this whole, like, voice interface/design piece.  I believe that in the learning space, because we have such short attention spans and because people, as we know, retain 10% of what they’re learning when we create like e-learning or put them through a course… With voice – that can become part of their brain, because we are so bombarded with information that we have to release information from our brain and then we need another mechanism to retrieve it and a voice interface, or a digital assistant, can become that second brain.  So we don’t always have to remember, like, the details.  For example, if you work in corporate, a lot of times you have to do an expense report or file some kind of report and so…I don’t know how many…like every time I have to fill out an expense report I have to, like, look it up…see what I have to do…  Where I can have a digital assistant say, like, “How do I file my expense report?” and so that immediately…it can trigger my brain.  The voice assistant can be programmed to say, like, “these are the steps,” right? Or “Go to this page and do this.”  And if she is integrated into a web browser or to my computer, she can pull up the website for me.  So from an instructional design perspective, you don’t have to be a coder.  I say that we need to really worry about the design piece of it.  And make sure that that interaction is seamless, and its useful and relatable.

Brian Washburn: So you’ve, kind of, given this example of expense reports, and i’m with you…any time that I need to fill out an expense report or maybe a vacation request form I need to figure out “Where can I find this?”, “How do I fill out field G…what does that even mean?”…in that certain line of the expense report…”What’s the code – the budget code –  I need to use?”  So you’ve given us that example.  Can you paint for us, like, a picture or two of ways that you’ve used this maybe to solve a real-world training problem.

Myra Roldan: Yeah, so, first of all we have to define what we think training is, right?

Brian Washburn: Yeah, yeah.  Great point.

Myra Roldan: So everyone… when you think about, like, training people think e-learning course, or live-instructor led course or some kind of schooling, right?  That’s the general picture we paint when we think about training.  But training really is more than just building a skill, right?  Training can be about giving information.  Training can be about describing something.  It can be about building a micro skill that you need immediately. So I worked with a real estate company to…who were doing home shows… to build those model homes and you can go into the model home and pick your plan and stuff.  And so we created a voice skill.  Where we put the devices inside of the homes, in different rooms where people who were coming in to learn about the models were being trained on the features that they could request.  So they could ask the device “can you tell me more about the bathroom?”  or “can you tell me more about, like, my options for flooring?”… “can you tell me more…?”  So the device really filled in that human piece, where you had someone that was repeating that same stuff over and over and over and over again.  And that person was able to focus on, like, financing and the paperwork and, you know, whatever … instead of focusing on, like, “oh, do you want spanish tile…” or “do you want, I don’t know, like hardwood floors?” right?  Or “these are your options.”  And it was an unusual way to – right, because it was a different need.  But it’s still training…it’s still helping people learn about specific things, right.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, and it’s fascinating.  It’s different than, you know, a lot of times folks say, well, sometimes giving people what they need in their moment of need is the way to go, right?  So let people Google something or use YouTube, but what you’re talking- like Google or YouTube – is stuff that already exists that you have to find and kind of retrofit into your needs.  What you’re talking about here in this voice-user interface is a much more dynamic solution that seems like it, kind of, gives you – or answers your question – answers the exact question that you have, when you have it.  And so my mind is just racing in terms of different sorts of applications it could be used for in just, kind of, the work setting…if not real life.  You know, i’m tired of work.  This seems to be a technology that really requires learning & development professionals to approach a project design with a very different – maybe “fearless” could be the right word – mindset. 

How To Get Started with Voice User Interfaces

Brian Washburn: What advice or suggestions do you have for somebody who’s listening to this right now and thinks it’s a good idea but isn’t quite sure where or how to get started? 

Myra Roldan: I really focus on design, right, so I think people get too caught up in, like, “I need to write this – I need to create this skill and it’s going to be fantastic.”  But they don’t take that step back to think about who’s their user, who’s going to use that skill, what’s the goal, what’s the expected outcome?  Like really defining those design pieces ahead of time can help you really figure out what is the problem that you’re trying to address.  That’s what you really need to get down to because its also not a silver bullet, right?  You may have to couple this voice-user interface with, like, a traditional live course or an e-learning course.  Or it could be a micro learning situation where – so when I run the workshop I created this fictitious company called “Adulting 101”.  And so we – our goal is to help young adults learn basic life skills, like, you know, how to boil water or how to do laundry.  We walk through those steps and I always – like, I just recently did it.  And I started off by just asking people “how do you… specific task?”  So, my favorite task is “how do you make toast?”  And so how do you take those steps? And how do you turn that into a conversation with someone?  When you’re trying to guide them through with no visuals, right, in order to ensure that they can complete this task.  So, it’s about taking those steps back and really looking at the ultimate goal and what you want someone to be able to do at the end…and taking those little basic skills and figuring out, like, how do you make it work in a conversational style?

Brian Washburn: I really appreciate you taking some time out just to talk to us a little bit more about something that – and you mentioned it – and i’m on board with this idea that this can really be a game-changer in terms of how people learn and how people get information to solve their problems.  Myra, thank you for, kind of, just blessing us just with a brief taste of this.  I’m going to end here with a little bit of a speed round so our listeners get to know you a little bit more.  Are you ready for a few quick questions?

Myra Roldan: Yes, always, ready. 

Brian Washburn: Alright excellent.  So, like I said, you present a lot at a lot of different conferences about a lot of different topics…what’s your go-to food just before you step up for a presentation?

Myra Roldan: Oh, man, I’m an ice cream girl all the way.  Like give me some ice cream and I’m good to go.

Brian Washburn: Even in the morning?

Myra Roldan: Yeah, I don’t care what time it is.  Give me some ice cream.

Brian Washburn: I love that.  That might be the best answer to that question I’ve ever heard.  What’s a piece of training tech that you can’t live without?

Myra Roldan: Oh, training tech?  Man, I have to say pen and paper.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, and it’s great – sometimes people think technology has to be something digital but technology – as I learned it in middle school – doesn’t necessarily need to be computers.  Pen and paper is a good one.

Myra Roldan: Think about it – a pen is like a computer.

Brian Washburn: That is true and we probably wouldn’t have computers if it weren’t for the mighty pen. Is there a book or a podcast that L&D folks should be paying attention to?

Myra Roldan: Alright, so i’m going to be honest.  The podcast that I listen to…I’m a true crime and paranormal kinda girl, so I don’t think that’s useful for L&D.  As far as books go, I read a lot of different genres and I really feel like marketing books are great because they’re not trying to push a theory on you – a learning theory on you.  They’re just sharing us to, like, “what are some methodologies that marketing people use that are efficient?”  And right now I’m reading a book – and it’s a data analytics book but it’s towards marketing.  It’s about finding big trends. And so its… I really feel like you need to go outside of the L&D world because it’s so saturated with the sameness and homogeneity of messaging that you need to look outside.  Read an engineering book.  I love “Wired” magazine.  I love, you know, “Technology Today”.  I don’t read a lot of L&D books. (laughing)

Brian Washburn: Yeah.  Well, and it’s interesting.  I had Mike Taylor on here a little while back and he’s all about what lessons can Learning & Development folks take from the advertising and marketing field because there’s a lot of crossover.  But going back to your podcast thought and true crime…one of the things that I think that L&D folks can take away from something that isn’t even related, like you were talking about with books.  Podcasts, and  – there’s a lot of true crime podcasts – it’s the storytelling –

Myra Roldan: Yes!

Brian Washburn: It’s what makes it compelling listening.  And there’s a lot of lessons to be learned in there for L&D folks who want to make their content more compelling I think as well.

Myra Roldan: Yeah, wait.  And so when you think about it…so like I have 2 favorite podcasts that I listen to.  One is And That’s Why We Drink and the other one is Aliens, Theorists Theorizing. Like, they’re the most ridiculous podcasts ever, but what captures me every single time – and I can listen for hours – is the storytelling. I think that’s a HUGE piece, because if it was a bad narrator or just like a dry, ughhhh, like, lifeless, like flat storytelling I wouldn’t listen to it.  These people are animated and they interject and they go off-topic, and they….and that, to me, is entertaining.  We need to learn from that, alright?

Brian Washburn: Absolutely, absolutely.  Now the last question I have for you, but do you have any shameless plugs to leave us with before we sign off today.

Myra Roldan: Yeah, yeah… a few.  So I’m going to speed round this.  So my workbook, you can get it on Amazon…

Brian Washburn: What’s the name of it?

Myra Roldan: Yeah, it’s called “Design a Voice User Interface Workbook” and you can search for it under my name – Myra Roldan – or you can go to, so I have a short link for that.  I’m going to be at DevLearn in October.  I’m doing a session on Human-Centered Design, productizing your courses and productizing your team, also.  And we’ll do some design thinking and some product development.  I’m also going to be at ATD Core.  That one is the week after DevLearn and that will be virtual and there we’re going to – I’m going to do a mini-session on, um, I did this, kind of, mood-mapping back at ATD over the winter or early spring.  I’m going to be doing another session on that and machine learning at DevLearn.  So, yeah, I have a lot of things going on so just check it out. (laughs)

Brian Washburn: (laughing) Awesome.  Well, Myra, thank you so much for joining us and giving us some time here.  And thank you to everyone else for listening to Train Like You Listen. It is a podcast that can be found on Spotify, Apple iTunes, or anywhere where you get your podcasts.  And if you like what you heard, we’d love if you could just go ahead and give us a rating.  Let us know, and let everybody else know how well you like the podcast.  Thank you so much for listening.  We’ll find you again next week.  Until then, happy training! 

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