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

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.