THE EXPONENTIAL INNOVATION ERA IN LEARNING TECHNOLOGY
BY SAM ADKINS
The phrase “Crossing the Rubicon” means passing the point of no return. We are at that inflection point in the global learning technology market. Extraordinary innovations in learning technology products are now available, and new products continue to come on the market at a steady rate.
These new products integrate a range of cutting-edge technologies, including cognitive computing, emotion analytics, affective computing, biometrics, artificial intelligence, robotics, game mechanics, advanced psychometrics, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR).
These product innovations are exponential in the sense that they are not incremental linear innovations but rather fundamentally new types of learning products. The common characteristic of these new learning technologies is that they enable real-time behavior modification.
There are two phases of the learning process: knowledge transfer and learning transfer. Knowledge transfer is the transmission of information and skills to the learner. Learning transfer is the ability of the learner to demonstrate mastery. Next-generation learning technology products effectively achieve both phases simultaneously.
A good example is the Smart Helmet from DAQRI (figure 1). It is a hardhat that has a visor that displays guided procedural instructional content over machines and physical locations in real time. The company markets the product to the industrial verticals. It has a compelling value proposition: “Reduce the talent and experience gap with repeatable, fully modularized and contextualized training that captures subject expert knowledge and experience.
AUGMENTED INTELLIGENCE: THE HOLY GRAIL OF LEARNING
The integration of artificial intelligence into digital learning content essentially accomplishes the “holy grail” of providing true personalized learning that adapts in real time to an individual user’s cognitive abilities. Personalized learning has long eluded learning technology suppliers despite the claims to the contrary. Artificial intelligence finally provides the technology to achieve true personalized learning.
One of the best-known cognitive computing platforms is IBM’s Watson, and developers are building out advanced learning technology products on top of the Cloud-based platform. Pearson, Apple, Blackboard, Sesame Street and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are building new products on Watson as shown in below figure.
IBM prefers the term “augmented intelligence” over artificial intelligence. “At IBM, we are guided by the term ‘augmented intelligence’ rather than ‘artificial intelligence’ It is the critical difference between systems that enhance and scale human expertise rather than those that attempt to replicate all of human intelligence.”
In April 2016, Sesame Street announced a three-year partnership with IBM to develop educational apps for young children. Sesame Street stated in the press that the apps “will be designed to adapt to the learning preferences and aptitude levels of individual preschoolers. Using Watson’s cognitive capabilities, the app will analyze a child’s response in real time and then intervene with content just for that child.”
The first commercial product built on Watson is IBM Watson Element for Educators. It is an iPad app launched by Apple and IBM in October 2016. In a press release, IBM reported that the product “enables a new level of engagement for teachers by providing a holistic view of each student at their fingertips, including data on interests, accomplishments, academic performance, attendance, behaviors and learning activities.”
A U.S. company called Stottler Henke develops sophisticated AI-based cognitive tutoring systems. It is well known in the global defense industry. The company’s website states that, “These systems encode the subject matter and teaching expertise of experienced instructors, using artificial intelligence (AI). We have developed numerous systems that provide practice-based learning for K-12 education, corporate training, professional development and military training.
NEXT-GENERATION COGNITIVE LEARNING PRODUCTS ALTER THE COMPETITIVE LANDSCAPE
A flood of next-generation cognitive learning products is hitting the market. A company called Affectiva has offices in Boston and Cairo and sells an emotion recognition platform that generates what it calls “emotional intelligence”. The startup recently entered the gaming industry to enable “emotion-aware” games. It released a plug-in for the Unity game engine in October 2016 as shown in below figure.
A Hong Kong company called Artha sells an edugame for young children called Little Dragon that uses the Affectiva platform. Little Dragon is the first mobile app responsive to the emotional state of each learner, for a happy, personalized and effective learning experience.”
C8 Sciences has a product bundle of mobile edugames called Activate that it says “strengthen a child’s cognitive skills by offering a wide range of cognitive tasks, like memorizing sequences, completing patterns, task-switching, and sorting objects into categories.” The product was developed by Yale neuroscientists.
Israel-based Applied Cognitive Engineer- ing (ACE) develops software-based “brain gyms” under the brand IntelliGym as shown in below figure. “We develop cognitive training programs for competitive athletes using a technology originally developed to train fighter pilots. Our products are used by USA Hockey and the German Football Federation. ACE’s patented technology, Cognitive Simulation, is applicable to a remarkable variety of potential users including competitive sport players, security personnel, fighter pilots, medical staff, traders and test prep students.”
VIRTUAL REALITY TERRAFORMS THE LEARNING LANDSCAPE
Until recently, building educational content for the AR and VR technologies was expensive and time-consuming, and development was quite complex. The barriers to entry are fading fast with a host of new AR and VR platforms integrated into devices and operating systems.
Google made available to a limited amount of developers its new Daydream VR platform in May 2016. It is integrated with a new version of Android called Nougat, which allows any smartphones that use the OS to have embedded native VR capabilities.
Google‘s Tango AR platform uses a device’s sensors to map AR content over physical locations. The platform uses motion tracking, “area learning” and spatial awareness technology from Intel called RealSense (a 3-D camera array). The key aspect of Tango is that it creates AR content in real time.
The ArtScience Museum in Singapore has a Tango-enabled exhibit called Into the Wild: An Immersive Virtual Adventure, which tranforms more than 1,000 square meters into a virtual rainforest, which you can explore using a smartphone.
Creator Update for [Microsoft] Windows 10 rolled out in April 2017. It includes native 3-D mixed reality (MR) content- creation tools, including new 3-D versions of PowerPoint and Paint. The new Paint 3-D can generate 3-D objects from 2-D images in real time. And of course, the 3-D content can easily be ported to Microsoft’s HoloLens headset.
NASA has been using the HoloLens head-set for training since early 2016. In March 2017, NASA announced that it had created a mixed reality replica of the International Space Station (ISS). The replica is used to train new astronauts and was built on the Unreal Engine gaming platform. NASA stated in the press that, “We immerse the trainee in a fabricated, three-dimensional environment and have them complete objectives under various constraints. In basic terms, that means we can put our crew in space while they’re still on earth.”
VR-based training is having a profound impact on medical training. In April 2016, a U.K. surgeon performed an operation that was live-streamed in VR using technology from the London-based startup Medical Realities. Nearly 55,000 medical personnel across 142 countries experienced the surgery as if they were operating on the patient. Medical Realities’ product is called Virtual Surgeon. The company says that it “puts you inside the operating theatre over-seeing an operation through the eyes of the consultant surgeon.” The company is building out an extensive collection of VR-based operating room experiences as shown in below figure.
In January 2017, Canada’s CAE Healthcare launched the world’s first commercial HoloLens medical simulation product. “VimedixAR delivers an unprecedented simulation-based training experience, allowing learners to interact and move freely within a clinical training environment. As learners practice scanning an animated heart, lungs or abdomen, they will observe in real-time how the ultrasound beam cuts through anatomy to generate an ultra- sound image.”
RE-GAMING THE SYSTEM: THE NEW BREED OF EDUCATIONAL GAMES
Dozens of new educational game companies have launched since 2015 and 2016. They are bringing unique VR-based educational games to the market. Most commercial educational games are built on either the Unity or Unreal Engine gaming platforms. Both engines have native support for the major VR systems.
In January 2015, the Russia-based game developer Nival launched its educational VR division called NivalVR. Its first edu-game was InMind, designed to teach brain science. The website reports that, “It essentially allows you to journey into a patient’s brain to search for the neurons that cause the mental disorder.” In September 2016, NivalVR rebranded as Luden.io. In late 2016, it launched InMind2 VR, an advanced version of the game ported to Google ‘s Daydream platform. The new version “focuses on the neural processes underlying emotions” as shown in below figure.
A unique (and visually stunning) VR educational game is Time Machine VR developed by Canada’s Minority Media. “You are a time-travelling cadet tasked with exploring the Jurassic era and the ancient creatures that once ruled the prehistoric oceans. Use an array of advanced tech tools to track, examine, and discover scientifically accurate creatures like mosasaurs, livyatans, and megalodons.”
Cerevrum launched in early 2016 and has offices in New York City and Saint Petersburg. It claims that, “Cerevrum is rethinking learning itself and designing fun VR neuro-gaming experiences. We targetthe entire spectrum of cognitive ability: memory, perceptual speed, multitasking, executive function and attention.”
INDUSTRIAL INTELLIGENCE: REAL-TIME AUGMENTED PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT
A major innovation in learning technology is the real-time augmented performance improvement products designed for field and industrial workers. These products integrate physical reality with augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). They also produce impressive empirical performance improvement.
In July 2015, Boeing conducted a study on the assembly of a wing unit using three groups: one with paper PDF instructions, one with the PDF instructions on a tablet, and one with AR objects and guided instructions overlaid on the assembly on a tablet screen. “The AR-tablet group was 30 percent faster and 90 percent more accurate on their first tries than the other groups.
” Japan Airlines uses Microsoft’s Holo-Lens to train flight crews and mechanics. Japan Airlines stated in the press that, “With HoloLens, trainees can interact with a detailed hologram displaying cockpit devices and switches to get more hands-on experience while learning about operational procedures.”
GE licenses the Skylight AR platform from Upskill. According to Upskill, “GE saw a 46-percent increase in warehouse worker productivity during a first-time use of Skylight at a GE Healthcare MRI manufacturing facility. In another study conducted at GE Renewable Energy, a tenured technician yielded 34 percent productivity improvement while installing wiring into wind turbine top boxes.”
Other benefits it expects include increased production quality, better utilization of employees, and faster training for new seasonal workers. To date, seven different business units within GE are working with Upskill to deploy Skylight as shown in below figure.
A Canadian company called Scope AR launched a product called WorkLink in June 2016. It is designed to deliver what is called real-time “smart instructions” to workers in the field. Clients include Caterpillar, Lockheed Martin, Florida Power and Light, ATCO, and AstraZeneca. The product provides workers with “intuitive, step-by-step instructions in an animated layer that’s locked on their equipment from almost any angle.
THE POINT OF NO RETURN: NEW TECHNOLOGY REQUIRES NEW EXPERTISE
The advent of these new products is rapidly altering the global training and education ecosystem. One of the major impacts is the need for professionals in the training industry to acquire expertise in new technologies that are evolving exponentially, essentially a moving target. One of the soft skills needed now is the ability to adapt to rapid change.
According to Plutarch, when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with his legion in 49 B.C.E., he quoted the familiar Greek phrase Anerriphtho kubos, the equivalent of “There’s no turning back now.”
—Sam S. Adkins has been providing market research on the learning technology industries for more than 20 years and has been involved with digital training technology for more than 35 years. Adkins is the co-founder and chief research officer for Metaari, formerly Ambient Insight, since 2004. Previously, his team built The Microsoft Online Learning Institute. He also led the Instructional Animation Lab at AT&T’s central computer-based training (CBT) facility. Contact him at Sam@metaari.com.