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New training software pauses when you look away: over the top?

Posting in Technology

New technology developed at Stanford pauses an online training course when the person viewing it looks away, ostensibly to "ensure complete end-user engagement in online training." Will this help make training smarter and more responsive, or is it too invasive?

Photo credit: Joe McKendrick

Recently, smartphones have come equipped with optical sensors that tracks users' eye movements, and scrolls or pauses text and images accordingly. Now, a similar approach is being employed on tablet-based training software.

Mindflash, which is marketing the online training solution, calls it the "look-away feature" for online training.  As the company puts it: The capability, dubbed FocusAssist, monitors trainee attention and pauses a training course in the Mindflash application when trainees look away. "Organizations concerned about trainee distraction and compliance during self-paced remote training can now have greater confidence that critical information is being reviewed and understood."

The computer-vision solution was developed by Stanford University PhDs and founders of Sension. Mindflash for iPad is the first implementation of this technology for corporate e-learning. Theoretically, if a user looks away from the training program to check his or her email or phone messages, the session will stop and wait until he or she is back.

Is a solution such as this an effective way to keep trainees on track and focused with their learning, or is it over the top? The ability to hold off on running the firehose of information if the user gets distracted is an interesting concept. But learning is not an intensively focused process -- people need to pause regularly to digest and reflect on the information they have just learned. Having a machine nag you to get back to the course of study may be more of a concentration killer than enabler. It could even evoke flashbacks of a mean elementary school teacher who snapped at you every time you lifted your head up from your reading book.

Plus, there is also potential of managers monitoring employees' every move.

Bloomberg's Venessa Wong spoke with Donna Wells, CEO of Mindflash, who points out that “Our focus is making sure trainees get all the information they need to do their jobs well, not penalizing learners.” She states that "trainers do not receive any reporting on individual users’ attention spans, but they are supplied with information on which content isn’t engaging trainees."

The digital trails being left by students engaging with massive open online courses (MOOCs) are providing a wealth of information to instructors on what topics and approaches are reaching students, versus those that are not resonating so well. So, potentially, the eye-tracking data delivered through online training solutions such as this may also unveil what is and is not resonating with users.

— By on August 17, 2013, 8:25 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure