Published on August 17th, 2015 | by Irene Ng


The University and the IOT

Companies today believe there is ‘added value’ when products can be connected to other products. For instance, when the TV ‘talks’ to the fridge, or when the iPhone activates the kettle. But why do companies think that connecting things brings out more economic value? Because we are already socially connected to people and things, and the Internet of Things (IoT)) is hoping to enable better interactions.

Our lives and social connectivity is not just ‘in the box’, where the www and the Internet sits, whether this is a PC, a laptop or a smartphone. It is with physical people and objects around us – our home, our bag, our clothes, and our stuff. We co-create value in the experience and use of this, and we use them to create meaningful relationships and interactions with others. So the IOT is really about the Internet ‘jumping out of the box’ into everyday things that are relevant to our day-to-day lives and interactions.

Social Connectivity of Things and People

So how do we interact with people and things on a day-to-day basis?

First, we rely on information to plan, to monitor, to act, and to learn. We draw this information or data from our phones, laptops, books, paper. But some information is invisible, like the number of times you wore your favourite jacket, while some information is tacit, like the process of making tea.

HATlogo In the era of IoT/IoE, all invisible and tacit information is about to become visible through an explosion of data collected from everywhere and everything. Every object will yield content and metadata, and so the way we interact with everything — from clothes and watches to appliances and homes — will become visible through data. (Find out more about how this is happening through the RCUK HAT Project at

So what does this all mean for the university?

The University Today

The value proposition of the traditional university is slowly but surely being eroded by other propositions.

Traditionally, universities are considered a place for learning, but we can learn anywhere and everywhere today. It’s always been considered a place where we can acquire content and knowledge, but we can also do this through the internet today, and through MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). And as for the university as a networking venue, there are now plenty of opportunities to do so outside the university.

So let’s rethink this; what is the proposition of a university today that hasn’t yet been eroded by other offerings? I would say that a university degree today is a credible signal of an individual’s potential, through certification – a traditional economics view of education that remains till this day. It’s also a multi-sensory learning experience, and, perhaps also the creation of an emotional bonding experience, resulting in a mix of the Dunkirk Spirit and/or the Stockholm Syndrome, manifested loosely in the notion of ‘alumni.’

Also, students today are treated as though they are homogeneously opaque, a blank slate, and many universities still subscribe to a ‘deposit’ model of education. That means education today is often ‘context less’, with a focus on imparting content. We are also drawn into a false dichotomy of knowledge for its own sake, and knowledge for jobs. As a result, matching between education and jobs is increasingly a challenge, and employers are increasingly conducting more sophisticated assessments of graduates in their hiring process, a symptom of the failure of university certification in ensuring a better fit.

I propose that it is time for transformation, to turn the university into a designed knowledge-based experience with the help of IoT. How can this be done?

  •  To begin with, curated content for education can be embedded into knowledge-based objects. Anything can hold data, and hence everything can be a source of information, from tablets or smartphones, to AR glasses, surfaces and objects.


  • By turning such content-enabled objects into knowledge-based internet-connected objects, contextual learning then becomes possible.


  • Academics become true enablers of learning rather than depositors of knowledge.


  • The university evolves to become knowledge-based experiences via various mediums, whether it is Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, or through MOOCs. The designed experience becomes fully customisable for every student, as the medium and content can be tailored to individual needs in a scalable manner. Contextual and co-created learning at a time and space that is relevant to the student becomes possible. Knowing and doing learning spaces can merge.


  • As HATs ( become ubiquitous, students will evolve with their HATs and come with data from their interactions and digital assets. And the fit of medium to student for learning will be driven by sophisticated algorithms.


The students of tomorrow will be data-rich on the HAT, and will demand a better ‘fit of learning’ experience and content assimilation based on university and individual data. They will need a co-created experience of learning rather than just receiving knowledge passively.

As such, the education of tomorrow means that knowledge is liberation of a student’s potential rather than just being content that is ‘deposited’ with the student. Learning would have to be empowering at the same time and curriculum will need to be personalised through contextual learning with the use of Internet-connected objects. And assessment and gamification will converge.

This will all hopefully lead to outcomes that are both intrinsic (knowledge for its own sake) and pragmatic (jobs), and a student’s self-discovery of his or her own potential. In a diverse job market where there is less of an alignment between skills and content, matching students to jobs become algorithmic.

Is it time for universities to transform themselves?

This blogpost is based on a presentation made at the SCONUL Conference and AGM 2015, on July 2 in Southampton, England.



Irene CL Ng is head of the Service Systems Research Group at WMG. Her research lies in the trans-disciplinary understanding of value; creating, designing, pricing, contracting and innovating based on value, embedded within new economic and business models of complex service systems.

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