How will IoT transform the education?

Driven by big data, cloud computing, and bigger networks, the Internet of Things (IoT) is being touted as the next big thing in, well, every sector imaginable. Mobile devices already out number the population in the United States and they are expected to surpass the population of the world by the end of this year, with 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020. According to a recent Harris/SAP survey, 90 percent of Internet-connected consumer devices will be connected to some kind of personal cloud by the end of 2013. That’s a lot of things and a lot of connections.

When people talk about the IoT, some standard examples seem to come to mind: smart cars that plan your route to work and lead you to a free parking spot, or smart fridges that sense when you are out of milk and automatically add it to your shopping list. But the IoT has incredible potential in other areas, especially education. In fact, it is already being used for education, in ways people might not even think about: QR codes and RFID tags are popping up everywhere and people are using them to learn.

The Internet of things in education

Big data is already transforming education in the form of learning analytics, and connected things can produce huge amounts of data, such as information about when and how students are using course resources and materials. Connections among things are starting to be used on college campuses, mostly in administrative capacities. For example, at the University of Illinois, QR codes across campus lead students to videos, maps, and even the school’s Facebook page and Twitter feed, and Northern Arizona University uses RFID chips embedded in student IDs to take attendance, which counts toward students’ grades.

But the IoT has much greater potential in education, as knowledge embedded within objects can be used to create pervasive, customizable learning experiences. Here are a few examples:

  • Research: Students can use RFID chips to tag and track physical objects, or even animals, out in the field, 24/7, regardless of the weather or other conditions. The data can be sent to a cloud-based application, which automatically initiates data analysis. Museum pieces, documents, fossils—any type of collection imaginable can be tagged and tracked.
  • Student creations and digital portfolios. Work done offline, such art works and other practical projects, can be tagged with information, including videos of the student working. QR codes can be used to create digital portfolios of students’ work. Students can tag information to be automatically posted to the course wiki or an online discussion forum.
  • Textbooks: QR codes are starting to show up in textbooks. Students can use their smartphones to scan these codes and access additional resources, assignments, and feedback.

What about e-Learning? How can the IoT contribute to the online learning experience?

Imagine this scenario: a student working on a group project for an online course scans a QR code or RFID tag using a smartphone or tablet and the data is immediately transmitted to the group’s collaborative work area housed within the course’s online learning management system (LMS). A notification is sent to the other members of the group, whose smartphones or tablets login to the LMS and automatically prompt the students to download the information or access the website.

Or what about a smartphone that senses when an art student is in a museum and prompts her to visit certain paintings while providing information about the works? Or QR-like codes located inside e-Learning software like training simulations or virtual worlds? Or a gamified course where the students’ mobile devices automatically track course-related activities and send data to the LMS software, which calculates points, awards badges, and displays leader boards?

The role of the IoT in online learning is just starting to be explored, but with the rise in cloud-based learning applications and mobile learning technologies, the possibilities are probably far greater than we can fathom. They go beyond content delivery to having the potential for immersive, customizable, fully supported learning experiences that are truly available anytime and anywhere. The future direction of education—both traditional and online—will depend on helping students maximize their own performance by taking advantage of the new fully connected world.

About the Author:
Sameer Bhatia is founder & CEO of which is a leading provider of online learning tools for building, testing, and applying knowledge. Sameer has a background in technology with a Masters in Computer Science from USC (University Of Southern California) and is an ed-tech industry veteran. You can find Sameer on Google+

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