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Wearable performance support

This post was written by Imogen Casebourne and first appeared on the Epic blog on 21st February 2013.

In this blog post, our Director of Learning Imogen Casebourne explores the exciting possibilities of wearable performance support.

There are rumours that Apple are developing the iWatch…which seems entirely plausible. It’s now a few years since Microsoft stopped supporting their version of a computer-enabled watch. Furthermore, there’s a similar pattern in the amount of time between Microsoft abandoning their version of the tablet computer and Apple releasing the iPad to universal acclaim.

No one is sure exactly what the iWatch will do, but if it does exist and it does take off, it’s likely to have interesting applications for learning in terms of supporting repeated practice and enabling performance support. Performance support delivered by a smart watch is likely to be even more effective than performance support delivered by a smart phone because it would be on your wrist at all times. More importantly, even the barriers to glancing at it will be lower.

Watches have in the past played a significant role in changing behaviour. Some social scientists believe that the introduction of the wearable clock – the wristwatch – was a key factor in shaping the cultural attitudes to time and punctuality, which is a key feature of what we think of as Western values. When watch wearers were able to consult their watch and find out the exact time as often as necessary, people and organisations shifted from working to what is known as ‘event time’ to ‘clock time’. With ‘event time’, events start when they start and end when everyone is ready to leave; ‘clock time’ meant that events had specific start and end times to which everyone was expected to adhere.

The past couple of years have seen the growth of the quantified self-movement with increasing numbers of people enthusiastically embracing gadgets and apps that allow them to measure their progress towards goals they have set themselves, join communities of people pursuing similar goals and receive automated reminders to take steps towards their goals. Wearable technologies, such as Nike’s band, already align well with this movement, as will smart watches. Currently the goals of the quantified self-movement are mostly to do with health and fitness, but there is no reason why learning goals shouldn’t be added to the mix as the technology improves.

For entrepreneurial learners with self-set learning goals, these types of devices are likely to prove a definite boon and will likely be embraced with enthusiasm, but for learners for whom learning objectives and measures of success are set primarily by the organisation they work for, any transition to using wearable performance support may be more problematic.

Some learners already express concern that the provision of mobile learning represents a move towards taking learning out of scheduled work time and requiring that it be undertaken outside of paid working hours and in the learner’s own time. But there’s no reason why offering increased flexibility to learners need be regarded in this way. Rather, there is considerable evidence that learning frequently in short bursts and in context is often much more effective than learning away from the workplace in prolonged irregular bouts. Organisations do need to make it clear that taking time to learn on the job within working hours is encouraged and supported, and leaders need to set an example by being seen doing this themselves.

The increased flexibility of Tin Can in measuring a variety of learning events means that organisation are not restricted to recording attendance at training sessions and completion of e-learning courses. Most importantly, it offers the potential to acknowledge and reward learning that is undertaken in new ways and using new methods.

If you’re interested in learning more about mobile learning and performance support, please contact Epic.

‘iWatch’ image courtesy of Flickr/Brett Jordan