According to the latest European Survey on Language Competencies, in 2012, English is by far the most taught foreign language in nearly all European countries at all educational levels. Furthermore, it is a key skill for employability: the European Commission Study on Foreign Language Proficiency and Employability (2015) revealed that over four in five employers interviewed and three quarters of advertised online vacancies stated that English was the most useful language for the jobs discussed in all sectors and in almost all non-English speaking countries.
But, even if many VET providers offer English language courses, that critical skill on the job market is not mastered by all learners. Therefore this need in training from many European learners has allowed the development, in the last years, of a large amount of mobile learning apps and programs, some of them meeting quite a big success such as Duolingo or Babbel.
Their success is not surprising considering that learning of a language is indeed adapted to mobile learning as it uses frequent and small lesson, allowing the learner to integrate a new vocabulary at a good pace but those commercial apps are somehow elitists. First most of them rely on monthly payment or subscription, but even when they do not, the elitism problem with such program is that they leave the learner alone to face difficulties: they do not provide explanation and only a scares support. Therefore the students that are gifted or know where to find such support can do well using such tools but for the vast percentage of others (most of the regular learners, learners with learning disorders, socially disadvantaged learners) the tool is ineffective and results in them giving up and in discouragement on their own capacity to learn a foreign language.
The tool is nonetheless useful is used within a frame where students receive the proper support, even more if that system can guarantee the certification of the learning process.
Such a tool can now be created by schools without a large investment thanks to the democratization of chatbot. The chatbots are computer programs using Artificial Intelligence (AI) which can conduct conversation. Their usage has increased enormously in the last 5 years with the internet of things but also with the integration on massive messaging platform such as Facebook Messenger or WeChat.
As they are conversational agents and can be used on mobile phones, they are very easy to use for youngsters and virtually anybody else and have a great potential as an educative tool as they have all the tools needed for teaching pieces of information, evaluating whether learners understand the information given and send feedback to teachers to help them understand what learners understand best and where they have more difficulties, so teachers can adapt their classes for a better group and individual progress.
Based on the need for English skills in the job market for VET learners in particular, and thanks to the accessibility of chatbot creation, this project has the objective to create a chatbot and supporting material for trainers to be used in the VET sector in order to provide an innovative tool to support the learning process of the students in English language, whether in individual setting or in accompanied learning.
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