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Training software tracks your eyes to make sure you watch

Feature called FocusAssist pauses an online training course when the viewer looks away, ostensibly to "ensure complete end-user engagement." Will this improve employee training, or is it too invasive?

Recently, smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 have come equipped with optical sensors that track users' eye movements, and scroll or pause text and images accordingly. Now, a similar approach is being employed on tablet-based training software.

Joe McKendrick

Mindflash, which is marketing the online training solution, calls the new capability the "look-away feature." As the company puts it: FocusAssist monitors trainee attention and pauses a training course in the Mindflash application when trainees look away.

"Organizations concerned about trainee distraction and compliance during self-paced remote training can now have greater confidence that critical information is being reviewed and understood," Mindflash says.

The computer-vision solution was developed by Stanford University Ph.D.s and founders of Sension, maker of computer vision technologies. Mindflash for iPad is the first implementation of this technology for corporate e-learning. Theoretically, if users look away from the training program to check their e-mail or phone messages (or watch a cat video on YouTube), the session will stop and wait until they return.

The ability to hold off on running the firehose of information if a user gets distracted is an interesting concept. But learning is not always an intensively focused process -- some people need to pause regularly to reflect on the information they have just learned. For some, having a machine nag them to get back to the course of study may be more of a concentration killer than an enabler. Heck, it could even evoke flashbacks of that mean elementary school teacher who snapped at you every time you lifted your head up from your books.

Plus, it does raise concerns about the potential of managers to monitor employees' every move.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek's Venessa Wong spoke with Donna Wells, CEO of Mindflash, who points out that "our focus is making sure trainees get all the information they need to do their jobs well, not penalizing learners." She says that "trainers do not receive any reporting on individual users' attention spans, but they are supplied with information on which content isn't engaging trainees."

The digital trails being left by students engaging with massive open online courses (MOOCs) are providing a wealth of information to instructors on what topics and approaches are reaching students, versus those that aren't getting through as well. So, potentially, the eye-tracking data delivered through online training solutions such as this may also unveil what is and isn't resonating with users.

This story originally appeared on SmartPlanet.