Wearables part 2: transforming workplace learning


Image: Future Workplace

When we think of wearables in the workplace, we think Google Glass, FitBit and smartwatches, but the parameters of this technology are going to expand well beyond what we can imagine today. And it has tremendous potential to transform learning processes in organisations.


Contact lenses that can project heads-up displays. Virtual reality goggles that place you firmly in a digitally-generated immersive environment. Sensors implanted in the skin that capture and transmit health data. Exoskeletons that allow people to lift five-times their weight and move heavy objects around a warehouse.


How might these approaches be used to drive innovative learning?


These kinds of real-world use cases prove that wearables are emerging as the new game-changing gadgets with the potential to revolutionise not only workforce performance but processes for creating and sharing a wide range of training and development content.


For this edition of our wearables series, ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN caught up with Chris Bishop, Strategic Partner at Future Workplace – an organisation analysing how companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Hitachi and Disney are harnessing wearable technologies, including smart glasses, badges, virtual reality headsets and wrist displays, to revolutionise how work gets done.


Bishop shared his unique insight into the largely uncharted territory, describing wearables as the “next phase of merging human and machine for mutual benefit.” When trying to explain those benefits to organisations, Bishops attempts to frame the concept in familiar terms: “When I explain wearables to organisations, I compare this trend to the early days of the Internet and then social,” says Bishop, who will be hosting a workshop on how to create the 2020 learning organisation at OEB 2014.


“I was a web producer in New York in the early 90s when this crazy thing called the Internet – and the World Wide Web – appeared.  People asked: ‘So what’s the value? Is this going to improve business models and will we make money using these tools? Will it be more than clicking around for hours on end wasting time looking at Web pages? Will there be a way to use this so it has social, cultural and economic impact?’ Well, fast forward 20 years, and I now have the Web on my watch. We can’t imagine not being without it, and it’s certainly driving revenue. We will see the same pattern emerge for wearables.”


Although Bishop believes there will be a significant shift from mobile to wearables, he says they won’t initially replace certain devices; instead they will become part of the ecosystem that ties technologies together. “It may be 18 months to two years before we see wearables that have functionality closer to what a phablet or smartphone can do, but it will definitely head that way. For now, they are additional tools,” Bishop says.


Many other use cases emerging across the employee spectrum involve HR, sales and Learning and Development. For HR, wearables can be used not only to enhance the recruitment phase but also for on-boarding. An HR department could bring a new hire up to speed with a wearable, allowing them to quickly assimilate by learning about the company’s history and culture as well as their products and services in a much more engaging way. Introductions, orientations and training materials can be preloaded onto a device with facial recognition software, making it that much easier for someone to remember everyone’s name and where to show up on those typically overwhelming first days at a new job.


For example, Virgin Atlantic used Google Glass to help concierges with attendant checking. The devices provided staff with better on-demand information, freed them up to be with customers and gave them the ability to retain eye contact. Overall, passengers responded well.


Meanwhile, Disney has been offering MagicBand Wearables to its resort guests to authenticate entry to rides, hotels and restaurants, as well as for payment transactions. It has saved time, shortened queues and allowed patrons to be wallet free. It’s also a brand-booster – a feature, at this stage, unique to Disney resorts.


Bishop says the examples given highlight that these devices shorten cycle times to improved productivity and represent exciting new tactics that can be exploited for innovative corporate learning and development initiatives.


Wearable devices could take customised learning to the next level, introducing virtual experiences, instant behaviour feedback, coaching and information sharing. “Wearable devices in Learning and Development will continue to expand and be refined as companies harness these technology options to win the talent war, strengthen their company brand and drive innovation,” Bishop says.


There are currently many other use cases that might also be recast in an academic or business learning context.


Surgeons are using Google Glass to transmit a surgery step-by-step in real-time all over the globe. This provides an opportunity for students to ask questions and learn in an entirely new way.


And there are even more extraordinary examples where the lines are blurring between mobile and wearable and even implantable/consumable technologies. Google is working on a nanoparticle that is swallowed and then tracked with a wrist-worn sensor. The data collected is used to increase early detection of impending heart attacks, cancers and other diseases based on the person’s biochemistry.


“Wearables are not everywhere today because they aren’t yet solving real problems and they aren’t yet integrated with our lifestyles, ” according to Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. But with new developments bringing awareness of the potential of wearables to the mainstream, it may not be long before strapping on a wearable device becomes as everyday as turning on a computer.


Register here for Chris Bishop’s workshop on the 2020 learning organisation and hear more about the tools and learning programmes including wearables and how they are being used by a digitally literate workforce.

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