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Paying attention? New online training tech keeps an eye on employees

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Consumer eye-tracking technology that automatically pauses videos when viewers look away is moving into the corporate arena — but it’s not really for your benefit. . . it’s for your boss’s.

Each year, companies pour $62 billion into corporate training programs, according to a recent report from Bersin by Deloitte. But just $2 billion of that goes to online learning. Digital learning companies say C-suite executives would be willing to increase their spending if they could feel more confident that employees were actually using the content, not just hitting play and possibly checking their email instead.

To give companies a more clear window into how their employees are using online training programs, online training company Mindflash on Tuesday rolled out a new eye-tracking feature (in beta) that monitors employees and automatically pauses the video when it senses that they’ve been distracted. Mindflash develops online training software that allows businesses from Microsoft (s MSFT) to McDonald’s (s MCD) to create their own online courses for new hire onboarding, sales training and other kinds of non-technical corporate training.

Online training companies say their model increases efficiency, effectiveness and trackability. But Mindflash CEO Donna Wells said, “The stumbling block that remains is that CEOs, CFOs and heads of training feel that they lose some control and visibility in trainees’ engagement with the content.”

Developed by a group of Stanford computer science PhDs (who went on to launch visual interface startup Sension), Mindflash’s new feature is very similar to the new “smart pause” feature in Samsung’s new Galaxy S4 phone. It uses an iPad’s camera to watch employees and when it detects that the employee has looked away for more than five seconds it pauses.

Mindflash’s pitch is that it not only ensures that employees focus on the content, it gives trainers and companies feedback into the quality of the content. But, at this point, the company acknowledged it’s too early to say how effective the feature truly is and whether it does a significantly better job than analytics reports that track employees’ progress. (During the beta period, Wells said the company hopes to quantify the features’ impact.)

It seems that Mindflash is early in bringing eye-tracking technology to online training. But eye-tracking and facial recognition software could have many applications for all kinds of online learning programs. As we’ve covered before, researchers at the North Carolina State University are developing learning software that analyzes students’ facial expressions to deliver feedback that’s most relevant to their emotional state. Similar technology could also be used to assess how well students are processing new information or prevent them from cheating.

6 Responses to “Paying attention? New online training tech keeps an eye on employees”

  1. yeah!

    Though it is hard to accept, most of the times we are alert only we are aware that some one is watching our actions. though being quite uncomfortable, we will do our job right. This in turn increases learners attention.

  2. Training & eTracking

    I have to agree with the notion that this practice is questionable and it loses sight of a larger problem in online training. Online training has to be effective in order for it to make sense. That means that the curriculum has to be designed and developed in logical progression that promotes learning. Managers and Executives should be focusing on outcomes of a course and measuring the responses that users are giving during/following the training, not whether somebody sits still mindlessly droning on at their desk.

    How would such a technology also be adapted for mobile learners? Would you need to hold your smartphone or tablet perfectly still while you were being educated on the latest nutrition course?

    Unfortunately I think this thought process likely manifested because organizations have focused so long and so hard on the idea of anonymity across the internet and they are worried about cheating. There are much better tools and methods to determine whether learners are retaining knowledge and engaging in an online course and I hope that the next evolution in online learning focuses more on honing those skills instead of putting students under lock and key.

    Rapidly develop your own effective online courses with Training & eTracking Solutions. Check us out online:

  3. The logic behind this tech is questionable. I understand a company’s need to ensure their investment in tech and manpower is utilized effectively, however the approach is flawed.

    There are creative types who may look away, periodically, to absorb the information they just heard. It doesn’t mean they’re distracted. What if someone looks at the ceiling grate momentarily, while listening intently? Or looks away to write notes on paper or tablet? Such a heavy-handed way of implying, “look here while I condition you, don’t look anywhere else!” is unnecessary.

    Training budgets should be spent on realistic online training and practical offline training programs instead or, at the very least, implement work cultures that encourage employees to look forward to work for the company and do their very best while on company time. It wouldn’t be hard to believe employees would want to do, and seek out, additional training in such an environment.

  4. Christopher Allen

    Its too bad most organizations view training as a passive experience in the first place. True, students are more alert when they are at risk. Like risk of loosing their job because they have wondering eyes, or take a bathroom break when the content gets boring…

    But the best learning outcomes happen when students are required to be active during the process – like practicing what they are expected to perform.

    Practice builds confidence, confidence makes people happy.
    A focus on quality interactive learning experiences means we wouldn’t need big brother at our desks.