Sometimes, something catches your eye, and you feel you’ve just tasted the future. So it was in a military conference in the Norwegian mountains this week. S Korea is developing software and hardware that may profoundly change the way we learn. We’ve seen the commercial launch of some primitive toys using brain sensors (see my previous post) but we’ve yet to see brain and situation sensor technology really hit the world of learning. Learning is wholly about changing the brain, so one would expect, at some time, for brain research to accelerate learning through cheap, consumer brain and body based technology. That has already happened through sensors on games consoles, such as the Wii and Xbox Kinect, but there’s a more serious game on the go, in the land of obsessive gaming (S Korea), that could profoundly change the world of learning.
Body and brain sensors
With the development of an ’emotional sensor set’ that measures EEG, EKG and, in total, 7 kinds of biosignals, along with a situational sensor set that measures temperature, acceleration, Gyro and GPS, they want to literally read our brains and bodies to accelerate learning. It’s an ambitious project that includes an emotional learning index (gathered from experimental data), middleware (device comms, analysis and recognition software), and a personal learning module and along with tools for content development.
Technology driven metacognition
They hope to significantly increase the effectiveness of learning experiences, not only learning about the control of emotion but also a general lift in the effectiveness of all learning, through increased focus and attention, whatever is identified as being the ideal mental and physical state for optimal learning. This is ambitious. It’s technology driven metacognition.
I think there are problems with this approach as it’s not yet clear that the EEG and other brain data, gathered by sensors measure much more than cognitive noise and general increases in attention or stress, and how do we causally relate these physiological states to learning, other than the simple reduction of stress. The mesures are like simple temperature gauges that go up and down. However, the promise is that a combination of these variables does the job.
However, this is the start of an important research journey, where learning is improved by understanding what state we need to be in when we learn. My guess is that will be the opposite of busy social situations such as classrooms, training rooms and lecture halls. My guess is that this will lead to a reversal of the fashionable social learning lobby, and a move toward super-efficient, solitary and simulated learning experiences. As I say, that’s a guess.
Whatever the findings, if they’re right about using the causal effect between reading body and brain states to accelerate learning, it will unlock a new era of learning, where the learner will become a super-learner, shortening the treadmill that is school, college and University and making massive gains in learning across your lifetime. It will do for lifelong learning what the jet engine has done for air travel. It will be much faster, cheaper and revolutionary.
What I particularly admire about this approach, is that it avoids all of that weak, often European funded research on 'pedagogy' (see critique), that seems to get us nowhere. This is focused research with a healthy public-private sector partnerships that want real results.