How Will the New Wave of Wearable Devices Affect Education?

The fact that I don’t like a particular technology, or that I struggle with using it, is in no way an accurate indicator of its potential adoption

I readily and happily admit this.

Take smartwatches for example. If I already have a slick smartphone that is always with me and constantly alerting me to pretty much every type of communication and cosmic signal in the universe, why would I want to have that same information on my wrist where it’ even harder to ignore?

According to the latest research from NPD, however, a growing number of Americans disagree with my thinking. Sixteen percent of U.S. adults now own a smartwatch, which is up from 12 percent in December of 2017, based on NPD’s Consumers and Wearables Report.

And smartwatches are just one of several new wearable options that may be catching on. For those of you who threw a big party when Google announced the demise of its Google Glass project, be advised that smart glasses are far from extinct. For example, take a look at the new North Focals glasses that, well, are pretty much a smartwatch on your face.

And, not to be outdone by Samsung’s announcement this week of a new foldable smartphone, consider that TCL is working on a foldable phone that can also be worn as a smartwatch. To my way of thinking, that’s just adding insult to injury. But again, what do I know? The fact that I wouldn’t want one may ben inverse barometer of its potential popularity.

By the way, remember Apple, the company that has dome more than any other for the whole smart device market? They have a new patent for finger controllers. “For what?” you say. You heard me. Finger controllers. These are new kinds of wearable devices that slip over your fingers and allow you to use hand gestures for navigation and control in mixed-reality applications. We may be saying good-bye to clunky headsets, which I doubt anyone will really miss.

In many ways, this wearable revolution is more of a soft evolution. What we are seeing is a natural progression of development based on newly available technologies. Even as a measured evolution, however, this wave of wearables portends new ways of interacting with information and presents interesting opportunities for education. Here are a few things we should consider.

1. They are more invisible — It is obvious when someone pulls out their laptop or phone. We know that their attention is being diverted from what we are saying to a screen. This is much less noticeable and intrusive with a smartwatch, although the wearer has access to the same types of information and communication because the watch is tethered to their phone, which is now hidden from sight. In the case of the newest smart glasses, the hidden information flow may be even more seamless, as they can be controlled via a small device hidden in a pocket.

2. They are increasingly powerful — Wearables allow people to send and receive messages, monitor email, engage in social media, check information feeds, use apps, and manage media, among other things. While they are not particularly useful for traditional text entry, their voice capabilities make them suitable for voice commands and dictation. As the technology evolves further (within the next five years), students will be able to, manage much of their study and collaboration with these devices.

3. They are popularizing new forms of navigation, control, and data entry — In some ways, wearable devices are less interesting to me for what they do than they are in terms of the new behaviors they are popularizing. For example, I think wearables are likely the heralds for an inevitable shift away from text and data entry via keyboards to voice-based and keyboard-independent methodologies.

However the wearables future plays out in the coming years, I’m relatively certain it will have a profound impact on the ways we receive and transmit information as a culture. That shift, in turn, will necessarily affect the ways in which we approach education.

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

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