Saturday, May 28, 2011

‘Body and brain’ sensor-based learning – mind blowing

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.

Accelerated learning

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.


Unknown said...

Hi, Donlad. This comment is not on the posting but is the onloy way to reach you. I think you would enjoy this:

Donald Clark said...

Yip. See my post
It's a scandal that public money gets spent on this nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Hi Donald! This is no comment to the topic, but I attended the reacent conferense in Gol, it's actually the second confrence i attend, with you as a speaker.

I loved it!

Is there any chance of obtaining a copy of your presentation?

Kind regards,

Ole H Naess
My e-mail is:

Jason West said...

You could be right about the challenge of interpreting and using dat to enhance learning. However, I do think your apparent dismissal of pedagogy as a way to enable learners to achieve their optimal learning state is a bit offhand. The way information and tasks present information and guide interaction, especially social learning interaction can produce previously unheard of results. I conducted some case studies using my company's social media English course and managed to get one Chinese English learner up three levels in six lessons. You can listen here:

Kim Thomas said...

Donald, this is very interesting - do you have any links to the South Korean work or the conference papers?

James D said...

Excellent man! I'm pleased to see that there are people who have wider aspirations than believing preparing learners for exams is the be-all-and-end-all.

Learning new behaviours and attitudes is as important as acquiring new knowledge. Indeed, there are occasions when that is the better goal.

I have been using the PROTEUS Light and Sound Machine for several years to induce different states of mind and I've found the theta-cycle used with subliminal tapes make a powerful combination. I've got a healthy scepticism about such things, but I've found that I genuinely enter a hynogogic state with the help of this - leaving me with a 45-minute memory blank, the length of the session.

Unknown said...

James...I find a good night at the bar does much the same for my memory!