Microsoft Makes Its Office 365 Learning Tools More Inclusive

Microsoft's collection of software helpers for classroom learns new tricks and eyes more Office apps.

Microsoft Learning Tools

Microsoft is rolling out new Learning Tools, the software maker announced on Jan. 22, in time for the Bett education conference in London Jan 24-27.

Learning Tools, a suite of AI-assisted software helpers found in Office 365 Education, transforms the Office UI and adds text-to-speech functionality, among other capabilities, to improve reading comprehension and help students better focus on learning material. And according to Eran Megiddo, corporate vice president OneNote, Wunderlist and Education at Microsoft, the technology is catching on.

The Learning Tools are "used by over 7 million users every month," Megiddo told eWEEK. What's more, although the technology is in Office apps that are available for the general public outside of the classroom, it is "predominately used in the education market," he added.

Now, Microsoft is moving to make Learning Tools even more inclusive with features that allow students, regardless of ability, to engage more fully with educational content, Megiddo said.

The updates are intended to help teachers connect with students and help ensure that none of them fall behind. "If you're not engaged, there's not a lot of learning happening," he said.

In February 2018, Microsoft is adding a Dictation feature to Word, Word Online, PowerPoint, Outlook Desktop, OneNote for Windows 10 and OneNote Online. As its name suggests, Dictation turns speech input into text, allowing slow typists or students with limited hand dexterity to author Office content using their voice. Members of the Office Insider early-access program will be able to take Dictation for a spin this month.

Read Aloud, available on apps such as Word for iPad, is making its way to the desktop version of the Outlook email and calendar client. When it arrives in the coming months, it will offer 30 text-to-speech languages. Again, Office Insiders will have early access to the feature in January.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is working to bring Immersive Reader mode to more apps and markets. Immersive Reader alters the Word, Outlook Online and OneNote interfaces for a more focused and clutter-free reading experience.

"To further support students of different backgrounds, Immersive Reader now supports an additional 10 new languages," Megiddo in a blog post. "It is also coming to even more platforms in 2018 and will soon be available on Word for Mac, iPhone, and Android, as well as Outlook Desktop and OneNote for iPhone, iPad, and Mac."

Microsoft also has updates in store for classrooms that use Teams for Education, the company's chat-based collaboration tool that is tailored to the needs of educators.

Students can now keep track of their school assignments on iOS and Android flavors of the Teams mobile app. Students can view their upcoming assignments, receive notifications about their latest assignments and turn in their homework.

Furthering Microsoft's aim to knock down language barriers, Teams is getting a new on-demand language function. It can convert text in a chat or channel to the language of a school's Office 365 setup.

Teachers gain new assignment analytics capabilities, allowing them to see which students have viewed an assignment and turned it in. Other new features include Decimal Grading, reusable Team templates and Join Codes that can be used to quickly invite students to a class.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...