A Learning Watch?

Look at the wrists of your workplace colleagues, friends, and neighbors. Check out how many of them are wearing a digital, smart, electronic watch.

I just did this assignment in the Amtrak car where I am writing this article while riding to Saratoga Springs, NY. There are 38 people in the car, and I have observed around 20 digital watches. That means almost 51% of passengers are wearing one of these watches, not counting those passengers with sweaters covering their wrists.

The rise in digital watches has been driven by the e-Health & Fitness phenomena. Many smart watches have motion sensors, blood pressure monitors, and even physical stress data capture. While at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we saw loads of new sensors and monitors that can be added to digital watches to provide real-time data about mindfulness, total talking time, and other bio indicators.

Smart watches are moving beyond e-Health & Fitness to integrate workflow performance, group collaboration, and behavioral coaching. Data from your enterprise systems or manufacturing machinery could be displayed on a smart watch for alerts and safety. Our watches could indicate which people in the workplace have the knowledge we need to answer a quick question, including if they are close to our location or available for a digital coaching moment.


Smart watches will be woven into digital and voice-based ecosystems, including Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Home. The speaker and microphone (and someday an optional camera) in the smart watch will allow us to ask a question and get a rapid, personalized response that comes to the watch or maybe to an earpiece of audio-enhanced eyeglasses or goggles.

What I am predicting is the future of the smart watch as a powerful and personal device that can optimize learning, collaboration, workflow performance support, and “me data”, providing data dashboards for employees throughout the workday.

Let’s imagine some of the functions, features, and technologies that could facilitate different and expanding experiences to enhance learning and readiness:

• System and Workflow Changes: The smart watch could indicate that a piece of machinery, a product in a retail store, a technology in a hospital, or a screen on a system is new or updated. In other words, it could provide a gentle note or vibration that says “new”.
• Mental Readiness to Learn: Learning requires a physical and cognitive readiness to engage and personalize new content or knowledge. Imagine 8 bio indicators that could measure your readiness to learn. I would not start an online module if my brain was working slower, my level of tiredness was higher, or my stress level was peaking. A smart watch feedback indicator could advise learners about learning “right now”.
• Knowledge Right Next to You: An employee is planning a trip to Atlanta to work with a new customer: Coca Cola. At lunch, their watch indicates that a fellow worker used to work at Coca Cola (by searching LinkedIn). They might seize the moment to get a context story about Coca Cola culture from this colleague.
• My Behavioral Patterns – Digital Coaching: Imagine two employees in leadership programs working on improving their interactions with colleagues. One wants to lower their tendency to interrupt colleagues in mid-sentence. The other one wants to increase the number of questions they ask their team members. The smart watch could provide real-time or end-of-day feedback to each of these employees about observed shifts in their interruption or question asking patterns.
• Real-Time Nudges for a Keynote Speaker: I would love to be the first user for a smart watch app called “Better Speeches”. It would have a range of quiet vibrations that could prompt me on timing. It would listen for key phrases that I had programmed, perhaps to switch a visual display or play a media segment. And, it might someday be networked with the audience’s watches to provide real-time curiosity or boredom notes.
• Experiences vs. Courses: As we explore the role of experiences – ranging from stretch assignments to field road trips to simulations – we will want to design and facilitate actions and interactions in the workplace that are “experiences” – with “aha” and even a few failure moments. Smart watches can be used as guides for experiences.

Smart watch learning assets will come from both the enterprise and from employees as consumers, who may use meditation or health apps that are their personal tools. And, our learning and workflow systems will build apps that are “smart watch ready”. Let’s explore “Learning Watches” and apps, being sensitive to both privacy and data accuracy realities.

A Learning Watch?