Saturday, September 01, 2018

Hearables are hear to stay in learning - podcasts, learning, language learning, tutoring, spaced-practice and cheating in exams!

Hearables are wearable devices that use your sense of hearing, smart headphones if you wish, that are becoming popular on the rise of voice as a significant form of interaction. With voice rising dramatically as a means of search, Amazon Echo/Google Home into millions of homes, realtime translation and earbuds for music and voice on mobiles, we are increasingly using hearing as the sense of choice for communications. 
Apples’s removal of the audio jack and launch of their EarPods was a landmark in the shift towards wireless hearables but other devices are also available or in development. Some rely on your smartphone, others, such as the Vinci, are independent, with local computing power and storage. You can even get them designed for your own ears through 3D printing.
Voice in learning
The advantages of audio in learning is in line with the simple fact that voice is primary in language, as we are all auditory grammatical geniuses, able to listen and speak, by the age of three, without instruction,  whereas reading and writing take years of instruction and practise. It is a more natural form of communication, more human. It also leaves your imagination free to create or generate your own thoughts and interpretations. This pared back input, arguably, allows deeper processing and learning as it requires attention, focus and effortful learning. Most of our communication is through dialogue and hearing, not print and most teaching takes place through hearing and dialogue.
So, there are several ways hearables could be used in learning:
1. Radio
Radio predates TV and modern media for learning. It remains a popular form of communications, as it is undemanding, leaves you hands free (while making breakfast, driving the car and so on). It also has a long history in learning, in Australia and other regions where distances are huge and resources low. The straight delivery of radio via hearables is the baseline.
Podcasts have also become a popular medium, especially for learning. They appeal to the learner who wants to focus on hearing experts, often interviewing other experts, on specific topics. As they are downloadable, they provide audio on demand, when you have the time to listen, often in those periods when you can focus, listen and learn.
3. Online learning
We have been using voice to deliver online learning in WildFire, with zero typing, as all navigation and input is by voice. It is a facsinating experience and feels more like normalised teaching and learning, when compared to using a keyboard.
4. Language learning
Language learning is an obvious application, where listening and comprehension can be delivered to your personal needs, with appropriate levels of feedback, even voice rand pronunciation recognition.
5. Translation
Translation in real time is already available through Google's Pixel Buds. The advantages, in terms of convenience, but also language learning, has huge potential. It must surely be worth exploring the advantages for novice language learners of hearing with translation and playback in the real world, where immersion and interactions with native speakers matters.
6. Tutoring
Have you ever had to call someone for help on how to fix something or get technical help on your computer? As a form of quick tutoring, voice is useful as you are hands free to try things, while you have access to experts anywhere on the planet.
7. Health
Hearables that deliver notifications on heart rate, oxygen saturation, calories burned, distance, speed and duration are available and as they can be used during exercise, may prove popular. This health learning loop also has potential to modify behavior, from diabetes to obesity.
8. Lifelong learning
As one gets older, reading, typing and other forms of interaction become more difficult. Hearables provide an easier and more convenient form of interaction, especially when combined with ‘reminders’ for those with memory problems.
9. Spaced practice
Audio could be used as a spaced-practice tool, pushed to you at intervals personalised to your needs and your own forgetting curve, namely more at the start then levelling out over time.
10. Exam cheating
Lastly, although undesirable, there have already been many instances reported of exam cheating using hearables. Ebay is awash with cheating devices such a micro-earpieces, Bluetooth pens and so on. In some ways this shows how powerful such devices can be for the timely delivery of learning!
Hearables are becoming part of the consumer technology landscape and in terms of learning, will have an impact. Different devices have different affordances but there is no doubt that hearing is a sense of choice for many people. Hearables, therefore, are hear to stay.

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