Neel Sharma et al: Is wearable technology the next “big thing” in medical education?

Sometimes it can seem that technology is rapidly becoming more important than the instructor in medical education particularly with the rise of smart phones, tablets, and high fidelity simulation. Whilst educationalists like ourselves emphasise that the focus is not on the technology itself but rather on the appropriate use of technologies to enhance the teaching and learning experience, it is difficult for this message to be heard when they themselves take precedence in journal publications and conference papers.

Wearable technology is now being hailed as the next “big thing” in medical education and we felt that it would be timely to raise a discussion regarding this. In brief, wearable technologies can be defined as those that are worn by the consumer for a variety of purposes such as augmenting reality or tracking health and fitness.

Google Glass is one example of a wearable technology that has been utilised in an educational setting. The production of Google Glass was put on hold for a while but recent news suggests that this is no longer the case (1). In the UK, this technology was worn by a single surgical operator during an extended right hemicolectomy and partial liver resection in real time streamed to an audience of over 13 000 people in over 130 countries globally. The overall level of interactivity was rated as good and the experience was deemed more educational than a traditional lecture regarding the same surgical intervention. An additional reported advantage included enhanced instructor to peer interaction through live question and answer sessions (2) (3).

The next highly talked about wearable technology is the smartwatch which seems particularly fitting in view of the launch of Apple’s watch this month. Oral Roberts University in Tulsa recently highlighted its partnership with Garmin Vivofit to track online learners’ physical activity during long periods of sitting. The purpose in this case was to notify learners’ that they need to be more mobile (4). Research is currently underway and we eagerly await the results.

Further examples of wearable technologies include electronic fingertips that are more sensitive than our own to pressure, temperature, and resistance. From a surgical perspective the incorporation of this technology in the form of gloves can allow for increasing sensitivity to tissue thickness or composition as well as helping with tissue reduction intraoperatively (5).

Whether such wearables prove beneficial or are simply the next technological fad is hard to say. We welcome readers’ thoughts in this regard.

1. Mesco M. Italian Eyewear Maker Luxottica Working on New Version of Google Glass, CEO Says.

2. Lee, N., The Lancet Technology: August, 2014. The Lancet. 384(9943): p. 573.

3. Ahmed, S. Google Glass – The future of surgical teaching and training. 2014 [cited 2015 17 February].

4. Straumsheim C. In Due Time. Inside Higher Ed. 2015.

5. Hodson H. Fingertip tingle enhances a surgeon’s sense of touch. New Scientist. 2012. Available from

Neel Sharma graduated from the University of Manchester and did his internal medicine training at The Royal London Hospital and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Currently he is a gastroenterology trainee based in Singapore.

Chaoyan Dong, PhD is a medical educationalist at the Centre for Medical Education, National University of Singapore.

Iain Doherty, PhD served as the Director of the eLearning Pedagogical Support Unit, The University of Hong Kong.

Competing interests: None declared.