Zoom, Echo Frames, Spatial, Magic Leap, Web Meetings, and Synchronous Online Learning

Why face-to-face meetings are still sometimes what is needed, and what this may tell us about the future of online education.

September 30, 2019

This week, I had one of those uncomfortable realizations that cause me to question my ability to make sense of the world. My latest revelation that everybody else already knows - and which I seem to be the last to grasp - is that sometimes face-to-face discussions are better than online meetings.

That’s right. I had an experience this week where an in-person meeting was superior to a discussion on Zoom.

It turns out that some discussions are better held in a shared physical location. Zoom is still not able to capture the subtleties of body language or substitute for the interpersonal bonding that comes with meeting face-to-face.

High fidelity collaboration, particularly among humans who don’t yet know each other, seems to require more bandwidth than even the most crystal clear of video and audio feeds.

Does this mean that we will be consigned to a lifetime of travel by airplane, train, bus, or car to attend face-to-face meetings?

As an online learning evangelist, how worried should I be about the seemingly insurmountable advantage that geographic co-existence seems to enjoy over collaboration at a distance?

In this same week that I was having my uncomfortable realization that some collaborations are poorly optimized for distance, Amazon decided to release the Echo Frames.

This latest Amazon product is, objectively, horrible. The possible use cases for glasses that can play audio that maybe other people can’t hear, while doing radically less than what any smartphone can accomplish, appear to be constrained.

At first blush, the Echo Frame is as related to online collaboration - and by extension online learning - as a walkie-talkie is to a supercomputer.

But wait. We know the walkie-talkie to supercomputer story. The two are converging in the smartphone.

The Echo Frame sucks. But it is meant to suck. It is a first-generation pass at a future of wearable, cloud-enabled computers. The next steps will be to combine the Echo Frame with the Magic Leap augmented reality goggles. (On sale now for $2,295). Will anyone be surprised if Amazon buys Magic Leap?

The story gets more intriguing as technologies such as the augmented reality communications platforms from companies such as Spatial begin to mature. 

Zoom in 2025 is likely to be an augmented reality communications experience. The combination of patient capital and long-term investments from big tech (Amazon, Google, MS, Facebook) with the co-evolution of AR and wearable computers will inextricably change how we communicate.

Fully immersive, augmented reality communications will be facilitated by cheap and lightweight hardware.

The Echo Frame of 2019 is like the Model T of wearable IoT enabled tech. By 2025, wearable AR collaboration technology will have evolved into something more akin to a contemporary Tesla.

Higher education can not be a passive bystander as this next generation of technologies evolves. We need to find a way to actively shape the tools to meet our needs for relational learning at a distance.

What do you think online meetings - and synchronous online learning - will look like in 2025?


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