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Learning how not to be a ‘Glasshole’

This post was written by John Helmer and first appeared on the LINE blog on 11th March 2014.

Following a professional malea talk given at this year’s Learning Technologies event by David Kelly of the E-learning Guild, John Helmer looks at the phenomenon of Google Glass and its potential as a learning technology.

It might not be in any dictionary other than the Urban Dictionary yet, but with an official release of Google Glass rumoured for later this year, the word ‘Glasshole’ could well be a candidate for Oxford’s Word of the Year by 2015. Or maybe not. For like any new piece of tech that arrives on a wave of hype, Google Glass is currently everything and nothing: it might prove the ground-breaking, game-changing breakthrough in human/computer interaction it is hailed as – or might just as likely end up in the lumber room of innovations-that-were-supposed-to-change-our-lives-but-didn’t, along with the video phone, the Segway and the Sinclair C5.

Sadly perhaps, the deciding factor will most likely not be its level of technical excellence or otherwise, but the degree to which it wins public acceptability in use – the coining of the term ‘Glasshole’, and that term’s popularity on Twitter as a hash tag, being a strong indication that this might not be all plain sailing.

The future, as the prophet says, is unwritten. But David Kelly of the E-learning Guild, for one – who has trialed Google Glass in beta and spoke memorably about his experiences at this year’s Learning Technologies – will no doubt be less than happy if it turns out to be a flash in the pan. Because Google Glass, in his opinion, looks like a really useful tool for learning.


A degree of nervousness about the social acceptability of Glass is perhaps discernible in the Google camp, which has beaten Debrett’s to the punch by issuing an etiquette guide, on YouTube, called ‘Don’t Be a Glasshole’. Perhaps they’re right to be worried: a woman was attacked in a San Francisco Bar for wearing Google Glass recently, and some movie theatres in New York already have Google Glass policies – even though it isn’t officially released yet and lacks, in beta at a least, either the battery life or the storage capacity to pirate significant portions of your average movie.

The backlash could be savage.

David Kelly, whose LT presentation and related resources can be found here described the three top reactions he gets when wearing Google Glass:

• ‘Hey that’s cool, I want some too’
• ‘Do you know there’s a computer strapped to your head’
• ‘You’re an idiot’

The last is his wife’s most frequent reaction, giving rise to a good deal of marital negotiations along the line of, ‘You can wear it to the mall, if you promise not to wear it when we go to that wedding.’

But what of it’s potential for learning?

Google Glass and learning

In helping us to imagine the possibilities of Google Glass for learning, David Kelly asked us to consider which part of the body it most impacts. The answer is, our hands. Glass leaves your hands completely free. This makes it much easier to incorporate some functions of computing devices that are really useful for learning into workflow; namely, recording (audio and video), communication with individuals in other locations, and access to context-specific and location-specific information.

All of these capabilities are of course, presently available via smartphone – and we are still in the process of discovering how to use them most effectively for learning. But Google Glass takes things a stage further by letting you do them hands-free.

Paradoxically perhaps, it is the less hi-tech types of jobs that immediately spring to mind in this connection: jobs that involve walking around, and handling, fixing and maintaining physical pieces of equipment – manufacturing, defence, energy, etc.

Kelly sees its main applications in:
• Immersive training
• Performance support
• Real-time feedback
• Augmented reality
• High-risk training

A fine line emerges here between performance support, and a type of in-the-moment supervision – by which I mean this. You can imagine situations where a rookie field engineer, for instance, might be mentored through a procedure first time out by a more experienced colleague, but thereafter could go it alone: clearly that is a training intervention. Then again, there could be other work situations – soldier on patrol in a dangerous area, emergency services – where you could see Glass being used as part of business as usual, and training becomes so embedded in workflow it doesn’t even look like training.

However, although this might cause some turf problems if it happened, it might make wearable computing far more likely to happen – the history of learning technologies shows that investments in new technology are far more likely to happen if they don’t only benefit the training department, and can draw on budgets other than just that of L&D.

Will it catch on?

One use for Google Glass in bifocals

Google has not only given us Google Glass, but also a handy search engine that you can use to survey all shades of opinion about whether this odd-looking pair of not-quite spectacles will catch on. My personal opinion? For what it’s worth, I don’t see Google Glass happening any time soon as a leisure enhancement. It’s too intrusive, and the privacy implications are just too big. Besides, it does make you look pretty stupid (even more so than a Bluetooth earpiece).

At work is another matter, however. People seem to have a different attitude to both privacy and sartorial dignity at work – think hi-vis and ear protectors. In the work context, I could imagine it becoming a pretty standard thing to see. And just as with smartphones and tablets – which began to happen as learning devices only after they were recognised in the boardroom as having a positive impact on general productivity – that bodes well for its future in training.