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It’s always great to look back 20 years or so and see what TV technology shows were predicting for the future.  It usually brings a smile to your face as you watch a flying car, or a mobile communication device that can fit in your hand!

There will soon be the equivalent of more than 1 mobile phone subscription for every person on the planet.  We have also seen the rapid adoption of smartphones with market penetration exceeding 40% in countries such as US, UK, France, Spain, and Italy.  Their growth has helped unlock a wave of innovations both in terms of services and business models.

Smartphone owners are used to using their devices to access social networks, and perhaps use location based services.  Increasingly the devices are being used for mobile payments with growth in this area going almost exponential.  For example, whereas one mobile payments platform was facilitating under $1m of payments in 2010, in 2013 they will transact about $30Bn.

In terms of future innovation waves we’re seeing significant investment in ‘personal augmentation’ and ‘personal fitness/health’, where companies are bringing to market a multitude of sensors that monitor your activity, blood pressure, diet, and new interface devices such as Google Glass.

Whilst many of these are initially aimed at the consumer market, there will undoubtedly be potential applications in the education space.  One device that is currently in final stage development and which will  become available later in the year sparked my interest from an education perspective.

We all know that what it feels like to be in ‘the zone’, whether it’s when we’re engrossed in our favourite TV program, up against a deadline, or doing something that we enjoy.  Whilst we know what it feels like, few of us can measure it, or understand what it is that allows us to get to this space, and can replicate it widely.  If we could better understand this we would be better able to replicate or partially replicate it and raise our ability or performance when we needed it.

Melon is a US startup company that has created a headband that is a wireless brain-sensing device. It uses EEG (electroencephalography) to measure your brain activity, and from this activity, algorithms detect your focus, and use that data to give you personalized feedback on how to improve.  Whilst it sounds quite futuristic EEG has been used widely in the medical and research fields for over a century.

What Melon is doing by blending the sensor and smartphone technology, is making the technology more accessible and therefore opening up opportunities.  Being a new product and focusing on a largely undeveloped space, success will largely be driven by people having the vision to see where such a technology could have benefit and then creating uses.  Creating the optimal learning environment is key to education outcomes and this is where insight that a device such as Melon’s could be a real opportunity.

Just imagine if you could literally get inside your class’ heads and understand what it was that helped them get into ‘the zone’.  If you understood this, then maybe:

  • preferred learning style could be better tailored to influence the class groups, or the mix of media used in lessons
  • timetabling would be finnessed further based on insight as time of day and day of the week are critical
  • the physical learning environment could be optimised further based on insight and evidence

I’m not suggesting that pupils would be wired up real-time (although this could well become the norm in future if the sensor was miniaturised to the level of a sticking plaster), but if individual pupils understood better what helped them get in ‘the zone’ and this was shared with teachers then it might just be possible to create better optimised learning outcomes possibly with little or no additional resources or investment and based on evidence and insight.

A couple of years ago I was talking to a renowned futurologist and one of the research based statistics that he used was that a 3 point IQ increase could reduce poverty by 25%, reduce high school dropouts by 28%, and in the US context of the research for every IQ point increase the potential effect on the economy was $55-60Bn.  Whilst the research was back in the early 2000’s, I’m sure that the concept and linkages hold true, and therefore any way that we can use technology to help drive up educational outcomes needs to be harnessed.

Melon are encouraging developers to innovate around their product by making SDKs and documentation available and therefore we are potentially only limited by our own imagination.

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