New Technologies in the Remote Learning Sector

At CES 2021, several companies displayed their new voice assistant, AR/VR, and online assessment technologies to aid in distance learning.
Marcia Wendorf
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Parents the world over were shocked to find that their children were essentially locked out of their classrooms when COVID first struck in March 2020. The number of children worldwide currently learning remotely is around 1.2 billion.

Many technology companies have stepped up to help both children and adults with distributed learning, and four of those companies presented their new technologies at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Voice and hearables

Caitlin Gutekunst, Senior Director of Marketing at Creativity Inc. a design studio for children's products described how people are finding new ways to connect with one another and to work and learn from home. More adult workers are remotely learning than ever before.

Gutekunst also described the role voice assistants are playing in education. There are an estimated 4.2 billion voice assistants, such as Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Samsung Bixby, Microsoft Cortana, and Google Assistant, in people's homes. That number is projected to increase to 8.4 billion by 2024, and increasingly, they are playing a role in remote learning.

Voice used by Creativity, Inc.
Voice used by Creativity, Inc. Source: Creativity, Inc.

According to Gutekunst, voice is the new channel for people to interact with their systems, in much the same way as touch augmented the use of a computer mouse. We now take it for granted that we can speak to our TV remote control and ask it to change the channel, and voice is showing up in toys, mobile games, and apps.

Voice technology provides new learning opportunities. On college campuses, voice is being used to provide students with information, notices of on-campus events, and to help foreign language speakers.

In the same vein as voice, Gutekunst described hearables, such as earbuds and AirPods, as another channel to interact with our systems. As voice and hearables evolve, you'll be able to start an interaction using your voice assistant, then seamlessly continue that interaction on your smartphone in your car.

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AR/VR as the classroom

Aaron Dence, Product Manager at Spatial, a leading 3D software component developer for engineering applications, estimated that the Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the adoption of new technology in the home by three to four years. New devices include hearables, wearables, AR/VR headsets, and dedicated learning devices. AR stands for Augmented Reality and VR stands for Virtual Reality.

Dence described Spatial's AR tool that turns any room into a classroom. Schools such as the University of Arizona, the University of Delaware, and the Weill Cornell School of Medicine are all using 3D models to create immersive learning experiences.

This new technology will allow kids to experience different learning styles, connect with their teachers, ask for help with their homework, and increase their productivity. The new tech will also allow parents to set schedules for at-home learning and monitor their children's assignments and grades.

Increasingly, AR/VR is entering the education market, and Melanie Harke of Schell Games in Pittsburgh, PA described how immersive VR can be. It gives students the ability to travel to distant lands, practice procedures, and use resources. VR lets students learn by doing — from tasks requiring them to move their entire body, to practicing physical activities and gaining muscle memory.

Schell Games
Schell Games' History Maker Source: Schell Games

Schell Games produces the VR product HoloLab Champions which teaches high schoolers how to interact with chemistry lab equipment, and they make History Maker VR, that allows middle schoolers to step into the shoes of U.S. historical figures ranging from Ben Franklin to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Online assessment tools

Along with remote learning comes remote testing, which is a rapidly growing field. Shantanu Dev, Co-founder of Examd Inc., described how his company is providing online assessment.

New Technologies in the Remote Learning Sector
Online assessment Source: kali9/iStock

His company's products use an AI algorithm that auto-flags a variety of suspicious behavior with 96% accuracy. Examd's product also provides for hybrid test-taking with the addition of human proctors. The software also includes several layers of authentication to ensure that the correct student is taking the exam.

Even when the COVID pandemic is over, it's increasingly likely that remote learning will continue to be incorporated in both childhood and adult learning. It's also likely that companies in the remote learning space will continue to see explosive growth over the next several years.