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Wearables – a College or Workplace Fashion Statement?

Bob Little 

July 31, 2015

An umbrella with location tracking, a necklace that controls your smartphone, and a bicycle helmet with built-in brake lights. These are just some of the latest “wearables” – a fashion that will, according to its apologists, define our age. While human beings took to jewellery many thousands of years ago, and watches and spectacles a few hundreds of years ago, today’s wearables rely on responsive or streaming technology to keep us constantly updated.

Exercise trackers and smart clothing are the most familiar of today’s wearable technology, while it seems that there’s at least one device for almost every part of the human body. It seems inevitable that wearables will play an increasingly active part in the L&D world. We know that mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets can enable students to consume and create content wherever they are. Could there be a new layer of functionality that students can use to learn, and evaluate their learning experiences?

Rayne Sperling, associate professor of educational psychology at Penn State University, is studying how wearable and accessible technologies can support students’ self-regulated learning. (That’s learning guided by a student’s knowledge, metacognitive skills, strategies, and motivation.)

Rayne says, “We’ll be using the Apple Watch as a new mechanism to provide academic scaffolds that target students’ monitoring of their learning and academic progress as well as specific strategies students can use as they learn course content. In working with instructors, we hope to discover opportunities for practice and feedback through the Watch. These technologies hold great promise to provide additional support to assist students as they navigate their academic experiences.”

Rayne and her team are conducting a pilot course to compare results when using wearables with supports such as course management sites. They’ll follow up with large-scale studies through the 2015-16 academic year.

According to Nigel Paine, the strategic thinker and international speaker, a growing trend among HR departments is to use iBeacons when orienting new staff in the organization. Instead of having to sit passively through a lecture or watch a presentation on their laptops, these people are asked to find 20-50 people who are wearing iBeacons, introduce themselves and ask about their roles. Nigel says, “This makes the whole process more interesting, engaging and memorable than the traditional ‘talking to HR’ approach.”

Another wearables proponent, David Wortley, the CEO of Gamification and Enabling Technologies Strategic Solutions (GAETSS), believes that wearables signpost the disruptive nature of the Internet of Things. He says, “These developments illustrate the commercial opportunities arising from wireless sensor technologies linked to mobile applications and big data visualization. They also demonstrate the multi-disciplinary nature of innovation, which has too often been neglected by the silo-based mentalities and hierarchical organizational structures that still exist in certain sectors of business and society.”

However, the human capital management specialist ADP recently published a report revealing that one in five U.K. workers said they wouldn’t use wearable gadgets. The mood was different in mainland Europe, however, with just 10 percent of those polled in France and eight percent in Germany and the Netherlands disapproving of wearables. Some 52 percent of respondents said that they were concerned about the amount of personal data that employers could access via wearable technology.

ADP’s U.K. HR director, Annabel Jones, believes that employers should be aware of the different attitudes that exist. “Wearables present a major opportunity for companies looking to boost productivity, efficiency and employee engagement,” says Annabel. “We can expect to see a number of new tools enter the workplace in the coming years, which will not only have the potential to create a fully connected workforce but also enhance learning and development practices.”

The ADP research also found that one in three employers were interested in introducing wearable technology to monitor employees’ stress levels and organize workloads to match spikes in productivity. A further 28 percent planned to use them to check on their employees’ energy levels, while the same number were interested in using devices to identify health risks.

One of the most recent wearable applications comes from two U.K. Royal College of Arts graduates, who’ve developed a new wearable technology called Doppel. It uses your heart beat to activate a device on your wrist that produces rhythmical vibrations to adjust your mood – it’s intended to relax you when you’re stressed and give you a boost when you are tired.

GAETSS’s David Wortley concludes, “Wearable sensor-based technologies are moving beyond activity and health monitoring devices designed to visualize your health status and guide you to better lifestyle activities. They’re now producing proactive applications which translate your personal data into activities and transactions that use artificial intelligence to ‘assist’ you.

“This next generation of applications will enable you to adjust your body metabolism, either manually or automatically, to deal with stress and tiredness. Devices like these will begin to compete with interventions based on drugs or supplements.”

How would you and your co-workers view wearables? Worthwhile or worrying? Share your views here.

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One comment on “Wearables – a College or Workplace Fashion Statement?”:

  1. Helena wrote:

    I think wearables are SUCH an exciting development!