Beware “Quick Fixes” Offered by Learning Technology

It likely comes as little surprise that the fitness industry has become a prime target for sophisticated technological solutions.

  • Fitness startup Tonal has created a digital weight machine that uses artificial intelligence technology to coach users through a session and make recommendations and adjustments to their workout.
  • High-tech apparel company Wearable X has created a pair of biometric yoga leggings that vibrate to correct your yoga positions.
  • A new app called the Perfect Squat Challenge uses your smartphone to track 16 parts of the body and then connects you to a virtual personal trainer who gives feedback on how to improve your form.

These and other new technology solutions promise to improve my exercise experience by personalizing my workouts and helping me be connected to and encouraged by others.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with any of this, by the way. Anyone who exercises regularly knows that it can be fun to try our new approaches to your workout. And, while these newer solutions may be using sophisticated AI technology, people have been exploring similar concepts for decades.

As an example, our team at Xplana Learning was prototyping early versions of a product similar to the Perfect Squat Challenge way back in 2005 as part of a project we were pitching to McGraw-Hill. It was an application designed for physical education instruction and used a laptop webcam to track and evaluate different exercise positions.

All that said, it’s important to keep in mind that we have yet to create a technology solution that will actually do my exercise for me. Old and new fitness technologies alike all assume that I am a dutifully motivated adult who will set aside regular times in my schedule to exercise.

In other words, I still have to go to the gym, head outside for a run.

To some extent, I think this reality — the technology is great but it’s not a substitute for the real effort — underlies the frustration that some feel about learning technologies.

They are cool. They are engaging. They give us great feedback and analysis. But, in the end, they are only augmentative, designed to help students extend their existing efforts. They assume that students are already dutifully motivated and disciplined enough to set aside time to study.

Even with new technologies, students still have to study, process, and internalize information. They still have to provide hard-earned demonstrable mastery of their learning.

Short of doing the actual learning for students, perhaps we should be designing applications that address the actual condition precedent for learning — motivation and relevance. While we’re at it, maybe we can create applications that cause students to reflect deeply about core concepts and their experiences with them.

In the meantime, we might want to spend our time focusing intently on some old-fashioned curriculum and learning design to make sure that students are ready to learn.

Rob Reynolds, Ph.D.
Executive Director, TEL Library

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