Learning to live without the keyboard

Good bye keyboard


The film Her (2013) told of a divorcee who develops a romantic relationship with the AI in his computer’s operating system. It cleverly explores the social stigma and personal conflict that might arise. I’d highly recommend it. But whilst watching it, I couldn’t help notice that, in this futuristic society, there was a distinct lack of keyboards.

Good bye, keyboard!

Just yesterday, I set a reminder to pick up a missed parcel from the post office at 13:15 with a single button press. No, it wasn’t the world’s most specific alarm clock app – it was simply a case of telling my phone to listen, and it did the rest for me as I spoke.

This is far from extraordinary. Millions of people have been using voice control on their devices (such as Siri) for years. Interestingly, Microsoft has integrated Cortana into Windows 10 – the first time voice control has been so central to the desktop software. It raises the question; is this the end for the keyboard?

The keyboard has been around for many years – the mechanical typewriter, the desktop peripheral, and most recently the electronic touch screen. Are we now seeing an important shift the level of physical interaction needed to operate our computers?

Will the youngest children in 2015 see keyboards as archaic by the time they start school? And, from an elearning perspective, what will this mean for instructional design?

Of course there is a significant work to do before voice control is truly universal to avoid situations like this. But the road to conversational interaction with computers has already begun. Though it might be slightly early to fundamentally redesign all our courses, it’s something that may become essential to consider in the future.

One of the challenges us learning technologists face is overcoming the resistance of traditional educators (and, to an extent the parents of students) to adopt new learning subjects and methods. Often they believe we should learn what and how they learnt, preparing them for yesterday’s needs using yesterday’s technology.

I believe the debate over using cloud technology to access the wonderful world of stored information and data is won. The Cloud can give us every data requirement cheaper and more efficiently than any alternative. How long now though before the ‘do we need a keyboard?’ debate starts?


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Martin Belton

Martin is a director of Ascot Communications, one of the UK’s leading consultancies working with learning technology organisations. He has presented on stages as far afield as Tokyo and Los Angeles and authored more papers on elearning and IT than he, or anyone else, cares to remember.