MIT researchers have developed a technology to track people’s social interactions, for example, at a conference. Check out this link to learn more.

Can we use such a technology for learning?

Certainly, we could use the technology to help people learn about their current networking tendencies and to give learners feedback as they attempt to change those tendencies. But, what other applications can we brainstorm? Let me give this a try.

  1. Leadership Simulations: Does the technology enable better in-basket simulations, or in-basket simulations that are more economical to deploy (because they don’t require the same high numbers of observer/consultants to observe interactions and provide feedback? Note: By in-basket simulations, I mean simulations in which many learner/players each play a different role, each have different in-basket tasks to accomplish, and the way they act in the simulation is by talking with other learner/players.
  2. On-the-job Leadership Activity Feedback: Imagine a retail store manager who is tasked (partially) with developing his or her people (those who work in the store). The system could track the number of interactions the store manager had with each employee, and the interactions the employees had with each other. This "intelligence" data could be used by a store manager to learn about the number of learning opportunities (i.e., coaching, providing feedback, observing, encouraging, sharing, etc.) that occur in a given period of time. Such data could be compared with "best-practice" store manager data, and store managers could use this information to change their behavior. Admittedly, quantity doesn’t equate to quality, but by tracking such social contact, managers might get a start in thinking about increasing the number of "learning opportunities."
  3. Organizational Learning. Organizations (or business units, teams, etc.) could track each other’s social networks to find out who the most networked folks are. Such information could be utilized to select for job assignments, project roles, etc., or to actively change the observed dynamics (for example, encouraging some people to spend more time in individual productive work while encouraging others to limit their isolation).

Anyway, these are some initial thoughts. I expect some enlightened simulation companies to begin brainstorming ways to use the technology to differentiate their offerings from the competition. In the meantime, can you think of any other learning opportunities inherent in the technology?