Internet of Learning-Things

Mass access to the Internet is a mere 20 years old and during this time Web Services have completely revolutionised how we interact – so how will the Internet transform us over the next 20 years?

This article explains how technologies can be architected to allow learning to flourish in the emerging world of the Internet of Things.

Beyond the “Internet of People”

In 2008, the number of things connected to the Internet exceeded the number of people on Earth – but that is still less than 1% of all the physical things in the world today. Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) predicts some 25 billion devices will be connected by 2015, and 50 billion by 2020, whilst IDC estimates machine-to-machine communication to grow to 41% of Internet communication by 2020.

IoT represents a major shift in how IT is being used. The personal computer and the ‘Internet of People’ defined the previous IT era. The Internet of Things will be defined by embedded and ubiquitous technologies such as 3d printing, advanced sensing and energy management.

A powerful illustration of this new world comes from wearable clothing, Tshirt OS from Cutecircuit –

Another is the rapid development and spread of 3d printing –

IoT is surging ahead in areas such as manufacturing, medicine and transportation, but what about education? ‘Smart Cities’ initiatives get plenty of attention, but what about Smart Schooling? What about an ‘Internet of Learning-Things’?

To help answer this question, eight schools in the UK will take part in a $1.2m scheme to find out how “Internet of Things” can enhance learning in science, technology, and geography. Students and teachers will be taught to measure and share data – using new Internet of Things technology – in ways that help make learning fun, link directly to the curriculum, and ultimately inform the design of the next generation of schools.

Whilst new-build schools in developed countries routinely use advanced energy and security management IoT technologies, a more fundamental shift is beginning to happen. There is a clear movement towards a Do It Yourself (DIY) approach to technology in the classroom. A great example of this is the such as the Bigshot digital camera kit –

A key part of this DIY trend is the increasing use of single-board miniature computers, particularly Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Arduino is a purely embedded system, while Raspberry Pi has both embedded and PC functionalities. Both are designed to teach computer science and electronics, and are optimized for managing control technology – i.e. the world of sensors, motors, displays etc (Things).

Floor Turtle and other technologies from the Constructivist movement have been around even longer. However, Arduino and Raspberry Pi have accelerated the Constructivist approach. To get results from these systems, users have to really understand how technology works, and once children understand the basics, their imaginations and creativity are unleashed. In an age when some ‘children think that cheese grows on plants’ one wonders where they think their consumer electronics come from, so its wonderful to see children becoming increasingly connected to the real world of how things work.

Arduino – the worlds’ most popular learning tool for electronics

Arduino and Rasberry Pi are surrounded by an extensive and complex ecosystem of devices and code, and one of the most noticeable devices is Makey Makey. Coming from the same stable that gave us Lego Mindstorms and Scratch, MaKey MaKey is a circuit-board with crocodile clips and wires which allow users to turn practically any object into a key from a computer keyboard. For example, a banana could be used for the letter ‘A’, some plastercine for the letter ‘B’, and a coin for the letter ‘C’. Using this simple principal, a staircase can be turned into a piano, or graphite pencil marks on paper could be used as a game controller.

Neither the Arduino or Raspberry Pi are anywhere near as prolific as PCs or Tablets, and they sell at a tiny fraction of the volume of the consumer and business devices that find their way into Education – tens of thousands a month as opposed to millions. However, unlike consumer and business PCs and Tablets, Arduino and Raspberry Pi have been designed specifically for education – so do they point the way forward?

The cost of a complete class set of Raspberry Pis (around $35 each) with Internet browsing, productivity tools, peripherals, sensors and devices would cost about ½ that of the equivalent class set of Tablets or PCs. However, the big drawback with Raspberry Pi is that they require patience and high levels of technical competency for their setup and operation – users need to become familiar with Linux and command-line prompts. At present the support ecosystem for Raspberry Pi is less than optimally organized for mass proliferation.

To get a better look at what the Internet of Things can mean for Education, we need to look beyond the ‘DIY’ world and think about a complete architecture for “Internet of Learning-Things”.

Towards an “Internet of Learning-Things”

Needs should drive the design of an Internet of Learning-Things – not the other way round. As with all questions about technology, the first question we need to ask is ‘why’? What new scenarios should an ‘Internet of Learning-Things’ deliver? Here’s some examples:

Technology literacy.

In the next 20 years machines will take increasing amounts of decisions. In a world where so much can be sensed or observed, security and privacy take on new meanings and relevance. In a world where systems will be managed increasingly remotely, technocrats will control much more of the world we live in. Its critical, therefore, that children get to understand how this completely new world works, and learn how to build and control it. To achieve this understanding, children need to have the opportunity to build systems that combine computer science with electronics and product design.

Science, Technology and Geography.

The use of sensors, data-logging and basic electronics has long been a part of the UK National curriculum, but with a proliferation of low-cost sensors, devices, drones and kits, its reasonable to expect to see an increase in the increasing use and sophistication in the application of these technologies across the world.

For example, the Parrot AR.Drone2.0 enables students to survey an area using a mobile phone. HD video is shot and stored on a USB memory stick, or relayed directly back to the phone. In one package, Science (e.g. physics of flight); Technology (e.g. OS, networking, control); and Geography (e.g. surveys, observations) can be delivered, in a way that is completely engaging for children of all ages.

The key development in this space is the opportunity for children to learn how to code with Scratch, Python and .NET Gadgeteer offering progressive learning pathway. Scratch even has a way to control the GPIO on Raspberry Pi, enabling students to control a range of devices easily.

Internet of Learning-Things - beginnings
Scratch offers an easy entry into the world of programming

Ubiquitous and context-aware learning.

With devices able to talk more easily with other devices, augmented reality should spill out from museums turning everyday features in the environment into learning objects. For example, point your phone at a building and see what was there of historical significance in the past; point it at a plant or animal and get key scientific facts; use a phone to control a drone and receive live images of your local neighborhood. Kiosks offer another platform for AR, and Lego have a powerful illustration that shows the kinds of scenarios that AR offers –

Learning through everyday play

A market research study by Tangull America indicated that the market for toys with embedded IT is growing over 15% annually, and will grow to sales of US $146 billion by 2015. Examples include interactive puppets, girls’ toys that share secrets, and “real playmates” – which measure changes in facial expressions and use AI to respond. There are huge opportunities to embed learning tools into children’s toys.

Personalised learning

With a greater spectrum of learning opportunities available, and wider use of project-based learning, the potential for more personalized learning increases.

Devices connecting securely to big (and nano) data, content and SRM systems, can enable more and better e-learning services that dynamically adapt to learner’s needs as they evolve.

“The growth of devices connected to the Internet will give learners access to untold sources of authentic data in an environmentally friendly way.  Through their Internet connections on multiple devices, learners will collect these data and work with fellow learners and experts around the world to analyse, interpret and manipulate the information and so contribute in a meaningful way to the development of social and scientific understanding, Learning will become more contextualised, relevant and meaningful as a result.”

Dr Michelle Selinger, Director of Education Practice at Cisco Consulting Services

Anytime anywhere high-stake assessment and exams

Nearly everyone on the planet has sat or will sit an examination or another form of high stakes assessment. Device-level security, built on biometric systems such as facial recognition, offer ways to ensure honesty in exams. As well as local devices, routers could be potentially enabled for exam-standard security in designated ‘Examination Zones’.

Towards an Internet of Learning-Things Architecture

The first technical problem that needs to be solved is that every device on the Internet needs an IP address to communicate with other devices. Currently most Internet traffic runs on IPv4, which allows ‘only’ 4.3bn addresses. The current version – Ipv6 – allows 7.9 x 1028 times more addresses, but IPv6 and IPv4 are not interoperable, so the transition is not going to be immediate and smooth.

The next problem to be solved is the development of protocols for data, network, transport, sessions and applications. A lot of work is underway such as MQTT, a machine-to-machine/Internet of Things connectivity protocol, but as yet there are no real IoT standards – unlike the Internet of People, which uses protocols such as http (for hypertext), and XMPP (for IM, presence and chat).

So, achieving any form of architectural standardization for an Internet of Learning-Things is going to take some time.

However, in the meantime, there are concepts and scenarios that can help. One way to look at IoLT architecture is to split it into functional layers, and map existing technologies and services to those layers:

IoLT Arch

Internet of Learning Things Scenario

A student has learned something significant and has verified the learning through a series of low stakes e-assessments. The student now wants to get full credit for this learning through an accredited examination board (eg, University of Oceania Certificate of Secondary Education). The student finds an accredited ‘Examination Zone’ – a room or an area set up to written examination standard, and monitored for honesty. The student logs onto the examination system, which verifies the user through device level biometric security, then locks down the device to ensure no access to local resources. The student is presented with the questions and types or handwrites the answers. The device pushes an encrypted version of the student’s answers to an E-Exam-Ready Wi-Fi router, (gateway) which relays the data to servers, which also have device level security to verify the validity and security conditions of the student’s responses. From there, the examination response is assessed and credit given in due course, with an encrypted certificate sent back to the student.

Whilst this may seem far-fetched and problematic, it’s worth taking a few moments to compare the kind of advances that have been made in Internet and mobile finance and medicine. For example, diagnostics in medicine is light years ahead of ‘diagnostics’ in education. In an era when we allow sensors to be implanted in the human body to monitor and improve health in the most precise and targeted way, why do we insist that practically everyone on the planet sits down in silence and recall facts from memory on bits of paper in order to get recognition for what they have learned?

Despite phenomenal progress with e-assessment and e-examination in some countries, a recent incident at Kasetsart University in Thailand illustrates just how far other places have to go. Students there were pictured wearing makeshift paper ‘anti-cheating’ devices.

The wrong kind of innovation
Draw your own conclusions – but no conferring please.


“We need to be ready for a new pace of change in learning”, says Jim Wynn, Chief Education Officer at Promethean.

“We will depend upon the content to be organized in ways which do not hinder learning and also and I think crucially, content will have to reflect next generation pedagogues and not those that are designed for the technology of pencil and paper”.

Another key point made by Jim is that the ‘Do It Yourself’ approach is not going to work on its own universally. “There has to be a balance between explore-and-find-out and directed learning from a wise head”.

Within formal learning, a major challenge is going to be lack of technical capacity amongst the teaching workforce. In developing countries, where some teachers don’t even know what Facebook is, ‘DIY’ will be a real challenge. Teachers in this new world will need to be a lot more technically skilled than they are now, and that will be a significant challenge.

Another challenge is the inertia in the examinations systems, and the cascade effect that it has on schooling as a whole.

One of the biggest challenges of all, however, is the uneven distribution of Internet Access across the world. Whilst it’s fascinating to talk theoretically about the Internet of Learning-Things in the developed world, what happens to those who are left behind from even the Internet of People?

According to the International Telecommunications Union, 39% of the world is not using the Internet. 31% of the developing world, and 77% of the developed world are using the Internet.

Internet users 2012, C/O International Telecommunications Union

There are several initiatives aimed at attacking this problem from different angles. For example, there is potential for using old analog TV bands – VHF/UHF – to deliver Internet access, whilst Project Loon is about delivering Internet access via high altitude balloons.

The Internet of Learning-Things will require significant amounts of virtual teaming. For example, the UK schools ILT pilot project will be led by DISTANCE, a consortium which includes at least 8 organisations, including 3 universities. Interestingly, DISTANCE plans to create a digital information hub using Xively Cloud Services – a cloud platform that is purpose-built for the Internet of Things.

An Internet of Learning-Things may be a long way off for some. However, in the same way that online content is beginning to be a disruptive force in formal schooling in some parts of the world, a new era of ultra-low cost and increasingly connected devices, sensors, displays, security and control technologies, is surely going to accelerate change in a very positive direction.

One thought on “Internet of Learning-Things

  1. I am not certain the place you’re getting your info, but good topic.
    I must spend some time studying more or figuring out more.

    Thank you for fantastic info I used to be on the lookout for this info for
    my mission.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s