Edwin is an English language learning course that functions through Facebook messenger. It provides each user with a personalized program that includes both an AI tutor and professional English tutors to help prepare them for standardized English on a foreign language test. Using machine learning, natural language processing, and speech technology, Edwin brings personalized and adaptive learning plans to students around the world at a reasonable price.
I was definitely wary of having an AI tutor, thinking it would be a clunky experience without great student-instructor interaction, yet I was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly and effectively Edwin worked. Because there was no unscripted chatting between me and the AI (the user always selects pre-written responses), it never felt like a poorly-replicated human conversation; it was clear I was talking to a bot, but one that felt single-minded in intention yet not too mechanical.
Although English is my native language, I demoed the course as a competent English speaker, between beginner and fluent, aiming to prepare for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). After learning my interests and intentions, Edwin got to work, helping me learn vocabulary and offering tips for reading comprehension and listening exercises.
Using Facebook messenger as a platform made the program easy to follow; it was engaging with images, fun cartoons, and emojis sprinkled throughout our conversation. I felt guided, but never rushed, taking instructions and exercises at my own pace. The voice-recorded audio and assurance that qualified human tutors would read and grade my work convinced me that the course was powered by more than just AI.
Currently, the early access cost of an Edwin course is $50 and the regular price is $250, making the service affordable compared with the typical cost of personal tutors.
I like the ease of accessing Edwin through Facebook messenger, but with current privacy concerns, I am wary about giving my Edwin account access to Facebook profile information. Some potential users might be dissuaded by this and prefer a separate app.
Though I thought my AI teacher was good overall, I think there are ways Edwin could be improved pedagogically. Oral instructions, examples of test-taking tips, less obvious hints, and more meaningful vocabulary images could all strengthen Edwin. Also, providing explanations regardless of whether the user answers correctly would be helpful for users who make a lucky guess and don’t actually know the answer.
As someone who has taught adult ESL courses, I started Edwin as a skeptic. However, though AI might not always be the best teacher, my experience with Edwin was very positive overall. It seems like a high quality program at a low cost.Image: by Melanie Hering