Ubiquitous Learning — a primer

Ubiquitous learning is defined as an all day learning environment supported by technology (such as wearables). It is enriched with interaction (with the material as well as other people), can be accessed anywhere anytime, is personalized to the user and its environment and is a mixture of “real reality” and virtual reality. Personalized requires more elaboration in this context; it refers to the learner’s goals of learning, her interests, and preferences, capabilities, learning progress, level of expertise, the used technology and the setting in which learning takes place [1].

Whereas ubiquitous learning can apply to organizations and individuals, I will focus on individuals here. Furthermore, it makes sense to differentiate between willing and unwilling learning as well as active and passive initiation of learning (although there is no such thing as passive learning, I will refer to it as active/passive learning for the sake of brevity). Willing and unwilling learning refers to situations where the learner does or does not want to learn something, respectively. Active and passive initiation of learning distinguishes between how people seek out improvement. Actively means that they start learning something on their own, passively means that somebody or something nudges them to start learning. Thus, there are four scenarios:

  1. Willing and active learning: The learner wants to increase her understanding of a topic and starts learning on her own. Somebody taking an online course is one example for that.
  2. Willing but passive learning: Here the learner is open to enhancing her knowledge but does not so unless prompted by somebody or something external. One example for that is when you are told that you are speaking too fast, you agree with that and change your behavior accordingly.
  3. Unwilling but active learning: Here the learner has no interest in knowing more but has to because of a secondary reason. One example for that is when students learn for a course just to pass the exam.
  4. Unwilling and passive learning: In this scenario, the learner has neither interest in improving her understanding nor any secondary motivation to do so. Such cases are perceived as annoying by the person at hand. One example are know-it-alls who recommended you alternative ways of doing something although not desired by you.

These examples show that ubiquitous learning goes beyond classical book knowledge into practical learning (or coaching); an online course will not only teach you how to write but tools like Grammarly will also check and improve you learning as you go, a book about running will not only teach you how to design your training plan but also monitor and coach you while exercising with hearables such as the Vi (the Vi is an Ai-enhanced running coach inside a pair of hearables). Rhetoric trainers will not only tell you how to present but also monitor your progress with tools such as Emolve (Emolve is an AI-based communication coach). Furthermore, with all kinds of wearable devices ubiquitous learning can also apply to “micro-learning” by improving each tiny aspect of your life; maintain eye contact, sit straight, take brakes from sitting…

Ubiquitous learning with the AI-based communication coach emolve (left) and AI-enhanced hearable Vi (Source emolve, Source Vi)

I am curious whether ubiquitous learning will be able to induce long lasting behavioral changes, especially in “micro-learning” areas. Although we have been told for years to eat more vegetables, a few months ago I saw a billboard urging people to eat more of those. Similarly, we all know that we should exercise more, but Fitbit still has difficulties staying on user’s wrists. However, with ubiquitous learning, NeuroTech (MODIUS, a headband, claims to be able of manipulating your brain into storing less fat) and biotech (researchers in the US successfully genetically modified a human embryo), we might actually see long lasting behavioral changes in people. This change surely will take decades, but eventually, ubiquitous learning might, in fact, lead to “superhumans” without any annoying habits to get rid off.