Sport races ahead in using learning technologies

The Carling Cup final last Sunday (1 March 2009) was a football match of no great exception. Manchester United won yet another trophy at the expense of last year’s holders Tottenham Hotspurs on a penalty shootout, after two dreary hours produced little inspiration and no goals.

Though the next morning’s back-page headlines make interesting reading because they focus on the idea of ‘learning from an i-Pod’. Let’s take a look at some of them.

The Guardian: ‘Goalkeeper reveals iPod secret for shoot-out’ and ‘United keep their iPod on the ball

The Times: Ben Foster’s iPod-watching raises the bar for Manchester United

The Independent: ‘Keeper’s on-pitch research clinches trophy

Essentially, in an approach first pioneered in baseball the Manchester United goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, used the idea of using an iPod to give goalkeeper Ben Foster tips on which way Tottenham’s players would take their penalties in the Cup final shoot-out.

Steele adopted the research aid after studying the methods used in baseball in the US, where video iPods were first used by the Colorado Rockies baseball team over three years ago – after their assistant video coordinator was given one of the devices as a Christmas present, soon after they had gone on sale, and he realised it could be adapted to help in coaching.

Traditionally, players are given DVDs to study but the iPods are a more portable variation. In baseball, for example, clips of hitters’ swings are downloaded on to the machines owned by pitchers, who can then use them when inside the stadium. Such was its success that the Rockies’ idea was copied by many other baseball teams across the US.

Other than this actual use of a portable learning technology on the field of play, many such ‘learning technologies’ are in constant use behind the scenes.

Most Formula 1 teams have state-of the-art virtual reality simulators where the conditions – including weather, light and track conditions – from any racing track worldwide can be simulated to give the drivers an extra edge during the actual race. Needless to say, the most successful teams Ferrari and McLaren have the best simulators in the business.

In the US, American Football coaches are using Second Life to simulate ‘plays’ (i.e. formations and moves during a game) so that the quarterback who is in charge of ‘calling the play’ can visualize the  and memorize the play better and quickly vary it during a game.

Sport it appears – in the quest for success – is adapting the very latest existing and emerging technologies than other sectors are able or willing to.

Consider this … academia is the host of most of the research that underpins learning technologies. Academics at universities are also the progenitor of models of learning. Why is it then that this sector lags behind in practicing what it preaches?

Jaideep Mukherjee (6 Mar 09)

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