Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Hearables for learning combining #language, #AI & internet #edtech #informal learning

Hearables are clearly on the rise. After the screens (read & write web), learning on the go (mobile learning), the eyes (all sorts of augmented glasses), some kinetic learning (various motion controllers), other wearables (e.g. smart clothing) ... the next sense that is now ready to inspire new learning is: hearing (HLearning). "Hearables are wireless smart micro-computers with artificial intelligence that incorporate both speakers and microphones. They fit in the ears and can connect to the Internet and to other devices; they are designed to be worn daily. One form of specialised hearables are the earphone language translators that offer potential in language teaching." (thank you Rory McGreal for this wonderful description).

Learning with hearables is linked to other, more experienced forms of technology based learning: it is mobile (it is a wearable), it can be used in-context (e.g. in a refugee camp enabling dialogue), it can be implemented within informal learning (using it to increase language skills, or simply to move around in a country where you do not speak the language), hence it helps self-directed learning as you can use the hearables in contexts that you find interesting, and it augments the current information you have, by being able to provide audio feedback or information on a personal level by whispering it into your ear to augment the real world around and within you (wifi and sensor enabled). This puts hearables amidst the already complex learning supported by technology.

Rory McGreal has just given a great overview of hearables for learning, in his most recent CIDER conference. You can download his slides here and listen to his talk here. Or look around on the CIDER page which is packed with EdTech and distance learning talks:
https://landing.athabascau.ca/groups/profile/289790/cider/tab/359765/sessions 

Hearables will be quite a leap forward in translation and language learning (if seamless learning becomes feasable). And for those of us who like spy movies... yep, it has that special agent ring to it as well! 

My colleague Agnes Kukulska-Hulme recently pointed me to the Babel Fish option (referring to the ever inspiring The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), that specific hearable called the Pilot, and build by Waverly labs. This particular device - the Pilot - supports 15 languages (a.o. English, Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, Hindi, Spanish, Japanese...), with male and female voices that translate the audio which is recorded by the microphone through a cloud-based translation engine. They even claim to have a low latency (which is kind of nice when you want to match what is said to body language). 

While in-ear translations are a straight forward implementation of augmented and language learning, the processing and AI behind is will also allow increased hearing range, audio information of any kind you choose (biometrics, recognizing a bird in the wild, communication between fish, use it as a recognising machine to get names right of those people you meet, look like a secret agent on top of whatever information which makes you look cool, ...). Of course, the usual considerations can be made: hearables will listen in on what you do and where you go, hearables are not yet a seamless learning aid (the name Pilot is clearly well chosen), battery life (as with all things mobile), connectivity can vary while mobile, and it risks to be another addition to distraction by tech. Nevertheless, this is cool and worth looking into.