Amazon announced the launch of the Alexa Learning Lab, a new resource designed to help developers build easily with Alexa. While the Alexa developer console offers developers a variety of resources, to date, there has been no easy “learn as you code” way to build with Alexa.
“We want to be able to help all developers no matter where they are in their technical journey to learn to build Alexa skills,” says Santosh Gowda, senior product manager at Alexa. “This is especially true as we make more features available with every passing year.”
Alexa Learning Lab, a new resource that Amazon announced at Alexa Live 2022, is helping do just that. The Alexa Learning Lab is a new approach to learning skill building concepts. It also provides real-time feedback to help accelerate the learning process by providing real-time feedback powered by artificial intelligence, and providing a wide variety of courses.
Gowda, who leads product development for the Alexa Learning Lab, was an Alexa customer long before he joined Amazon. He has a passion for building his own smart home skills and has automated his entire home using Alexa. Gowda used this experience, along with his background in education technology, to determine what Alexa skill developers need to successfully learn and evolve. “We want developers to be able to not only read through the learning materials but to practice what they learn and be able to try out features as they go,” says Gowda.
Using Alexa Learning Lab to “See as You Code”
One benefit of Alexa Learning Lab is being able to see what you code right away, making it simpler to experiment and learn through trial and error. Alexa Learning Lab simulates the code in real time, shows how the code will look, and provides feedback when something is wrong.
For instance, Alexa Learning Lab offers a course in building a responsive display—a task where it’s especially helpful to see your work come to life in real time. Developers can use provided templates to quickly add a visual, such as a headline, to their voice skill. Since the results update in real-time as they code, they’ll know right away if they’ve succeeded. “The developer can quickly go in, write up the code to create a sample skill headline page, and see the results,” says Gowda. “It’s all right there.”
Learning from real-time feedback powered by artificial intelligence
Another game-changer for developers using Alexa Learning Lab is getting real-time feedback on their code. The feedback is made possible by many of the conversational AI technologies that power Alexa. Developers can modify and submit code as many times as they want. So, they’re free to make mistakes and learn as they go.
“The Alexa Learning Lab is a testbed,” says Gowda. “There’s no judgment. The system is there to guide them and provide feedback, such as, ‘Hey, you probably didn’t include this item. You need to do this to fix the error.’ And so on.”
In the past, developers would have had to take as many as twelve steps before they could see how their code performed. These steps included reading technical documents, coding the skill, and setting up voice within the skill.
“Developers needed to be far along in their skill development journey just to start experimenting,” Gowda explains. “Today, they can practice within the e-learning environment itself. They don’t have to compile, build, or publish in order to see how it looks on a specific device.”
“It’s a learning environment, not a coding environment,” says Gowda. “That’s the key differentiator.”
A wide variety of courses
Currently, Alexa Learning Lab offers four course options, which focus on how to add visuals to a voice skill for multimodal devices with screens, such as the Echo Show or those found in the in vehicle infotainment systems found in newer cars. Through these courses, developers learn how to use the Alexa Presentation Language, a visual design framework for building interactive voice and visual experiences across the device landscape.
“We want to be at a place where Alexa Learning Lab is the go-to spot for learning how to build any kind of Alexa skill,” says Gowda. “We are continually optimizing and plan to release more courses.”
To keep improving, Gowda and team pay close attention to developer feedback, while at the same time, instrumenting data and collecting data and metrics on how developers are engaging and learning to continually optimize the experience. For instance, while some loved the practice feature available in Alexa Learning Lab, others found the practice tasks to be too advanced for their skill level. “We have dialed it down to be more suitable for beginners,” Gowda says. “We are learning a lot from these insights and using them to better cater the courses to our developers’ needs.”
Gowda’s team is also . We are using the data and the feedback to identify problem areas and continuously optimize them
Technical curriculum developers, who create courses that teach developers new skills and concepts, will play a key role in continuing to improve Alexa Learning Lab. To understand whether a course is effective, curriculum developers need to know if learners are successfully completing the course and applying what they’ve learned.
“Our goal with Alexa Learning Lab is to give technical curriculum developers the tools and data to continuously optimize their learning curriculum,” says Gowda. “In turn, developers can use that curriculum to learn and evolve.”
Gowda is confident that the Alexa Learning Lab will be a game-changer for developers by helping them more efficiently learn and connect concepts to create successful Alexa skills.
A pilot in 2020 that involved 200 participants sought to measure the effectiveness of the Alexa Learning Lab in helping developers create multi-modal skills with the Alexa Prexsentation Language. Developers were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first group took advantage of the experience that provided them real-time feedback. The second group leveraged exisiting tutorials and learning methods, without the ability to practice in their learning. On average, developers belonging to the first group completed the post-training assessment 10% faster, and were nearly three times as likely to complete the course.
“A skill is like a recipe,” says Gowda. “A lot of things need to come together—including the developer’s own ideas and designs. Alexa Learning Lab provides the ingredients and teaches how to use them. So, it’s a great resource for developers looking to uplevel their skills.”
Visit the Alexa developer portal to start using the Alexa Learning Lab today.