Wearable technology is becoming increasingly prevalent in our everyday lives and in 2017, there is good reason to believe that this trend will continue. Among the most ubiquitous wearable technologies is the Fitbit. Easy enough for a child or 90-year-old technophobe to use, the device not only motivates people to move more all day long but also helps people keep track of their health vitals. From heart rate to sleep patterns to daily steps, the Fitbit knows exactly what you’re up to. Now imagine if it could be used as a way to deliver educational and training materials too?
Some educators are already beginning to explore how Fitbits might be deployed in the classroom. For example, in elementary schools, teachers are asking students to count and graph their steps per day in order to connect mathematics to fitness and much more. Other educators are using Fitbits to create maps and explore the surrounding region. But could Fitbits impact workplace training too?
Fitbits in the Workplace
So far, the Fitbit and Fitbit like devices (e.g., Nike+, FuelBand, Jawbone UP etc.) have had their biggest impact on workplace wellness programs. Here, the integration of Fitbits and related devices has met with mixed reviews.
What we know is that by 2018, an estimated 13 million wearable activity-tracking devices will be part of employee wellness programs (in 2013, there were fewer than 200,000 such devices in use). The pros are obvious: When people use such devices, they nearly always increase their fitness. There’s growing evidence to suggest that these devices work particularly well in workplaces where an element of friendly competition or gamification can be thrown into the mix too. When employees walk, run and dance more, they tend to weigh less, have fewer circulation problems and lead healthier lives over all. This, of course, can also yield huge returns, since it tends to translate into lower health care costs, fewer sick days and higher levels of productivity. But there’s a downside too. Some employees are reluctant to participate in such programs because they fear that sharing health vitals with their employer may put them at risk (e.g., what if performance reviews start to include factors, such as one’s general health?).
But what if Fitbits and similar types of wearable technologies that track our steps, heart rate or even levels of attention could be linked not only to the promotion of personal fitness but to archiving training objectives?
Three Innovative Applications for Wearable Technologies
Break Bad Work Habits: Work can become habitual over time and breaking bad habits is difficult. In many cases, bad habits are not about working too little, but rather about working too hard but in unproductive ways. Let’s say, you want to train your restaurant employees to spend less time running back and forth between the floor and kitchen. Theoretically, one could train employees to become increasingly aware and eventually eliminate unnecessary trips back and forth to the kitchen with a wearable technology, such as a Fitbit. Employers could even build in rewards or incentives for increased efficiency.
Promote Safety: In nearly all workplaces, safety is an issue but in some, it is especially essential and this includes on construction sites. The reality is that most construction related accidents can be prevented. Many accidents are the result of simple neglect (e.g., walking or driving under cranes that are moving large loads). Wearable technologies hold the potential to help track where workers are and train them to avoid dangerous locations on construction sites throughout the workday.
Track and Control Stress: Using a Fitbit or similar device can enable workers to monitor their heart rate throughout the day. How is this linked to training? While an elevated heart rate is usually associated with high levels of activity (e.g., running), it is also associated with high levels of stress and anxiety. Learning what types of situations (e.g., what types of encounters) trigger corporeal effects could be one way to help workers better manage and even avoid certain high-risk encounters and situations in the workplace or more importantly, respond to them differently.
Will the Fitbit and similar devices become the next big training trend? This is yet to be seen, but it is certainly something to watch for in 2017.