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Ubiquitous learning and a smarter planet

More and more I am hearing and reading references to a smarter planet. This is the idea that one day (possibly in the not too distant future) there will be ‘smart buildings’, ‘smart furniture’, ‘smart clothing’ and so on, each having its own digital intelligence embedded within it, and all able to talk to each other. This notion is called ‘ubiquitous computing’, and in Adam Greenfield’s book ‘Everyware’ he talks of it as ‘Ever more pervasive, ever harder to perceive, computing [that] has leapt off the desktop and insinuated itself into everyday life.’ In fact, Donald Clark alluded to just such a future last week in his opening speech at Defence Academy’s Blended Learning Day conference when he spoke of ‘interfaces disappearing’.

In many ways learning is going the same way. Not so long ago, the library was the place I hung out for personal study – I would look up references, do my reading, and then if I wanted to highlight or write notes in the margins you would find me at (or in the queue for!) the library photocopier. And while there, inevitably I discussed my work with others, engaging in informal learning that more often than not extended into the library cafe!

Now with an internet connection, access to Google scholar (which allows me to search literature), Zotero (which allows me to intelligently store it), and an e-book reader application, I can do all these things wherever and whenever I want to. And Twitter has become my virtual library cafe and informal learning best friend. However, all this activity still depends on me remembering my laptop or fishing my mobile phone from the bottom of my bag.

smarter learning transformation

I long for the day when such engagement is truly effortless: I get into my car and the traffic report automatically displays on my windshield, or I get on to a train and the table I sit at is a sophisticated interface (much like Microsoft’s recently launched surface, which enables interaction with digital content through natural hand gestures, touch and physical objects.)

Even then though, I need to know what it is that I want to look up. So I also long for the day when services become more context-aware. I have read of the vision for taxi rooftop advertising to cross-reference with GPS coordinates and a database of bank branches to show the location of the nearest ATM. What then, if when I was working on something, I received intelligent suggestions for research I might wish to read, or others’ work that may be relevant?

Bring these two things together (effortless engagement and contextualised services) and perhaps we would be closer not just to ubiquitous computing, but ubiquitous learning too. Now that, in my view, would certainly make for a smarter planet (and a smarter offering from Epic too!)

This blog first appeared on the LINE website on July 6th 2009