Company Uses Facial Recognition to Assess Learning

Hong Kong-based Pathship had an interesting idea about learning that led to an even more interesting idea about analytics. The learning idea was that, with today’s technology, one can efficiently match up knowledge seekers to knowledge providers (e.g. novices to experts) for one-on-one conversations. Because we now live in a world where embedded analytics are de rigueur, this led to the question of how to assess whether the one-on-one conversation enhanced learning.

Since the training world began there has been only one reliably practical answer to measuring the value of a conversation: Ask the learner to rate it. Now there’s a new answer: Use computer vision to assess the attentiveness of the learner. If they look bored then they’re probably not learning; if they look engaged then they probably are.

This “science fiction” technology is now here thanks to computer vision (see this paper by Joseph Grafsgaard et al.). Given that these knowledge seeker-provider calls would normally be done by video conferencing, all you need to do is plug the computer vision tool into the video stream and ‘boom’ you’ve got measurement.

If you think about this for a moment you’ll recognize that this computer vision measurement of attentiveness could be used for any e-learning — as long as the learner has the camera turned on. It could not only tell us in general whether a course (or conversation) engaged a learner, we could tell which parts were interesting and which were boring.

From there we might imagine using cameras in meetings to assess attentiveness and give us a warning sign if we were boring our staff to death. We might use the technique in sales training or customer service work (again presuming we can get the prospect or customer on camera) to see how well we are keeping them engaged.

Article Continues Below

Analytics loves data and it loves it best if that data can be gathered automatically. Computer vision that recognizes attentiveness and other emotions offers a potentially astounding tool for automatically gathering data in a way we could hardly imagine before.

Special thanks to our community of practice for these insights. The community is a group of leading organizations that meets monthly to discuss analytics and evidence-based decision making in the real world.  If you’re interested in moving down the path towards a more effective approach to people analytics, then email me at

David Creelman, CEO of Creelman Research, is a globally recognized thinker on people analytics and talent management. Some of his more interesting projects included:

  • Conducted workshops around the world on the practical aspects of people analytics
  • Took business leaders from Japan’s Recruit Co. on a tour of US tech companies (Recruit eventually bought for $1 billion)
  • Studied the relationship between Boards and HR (won Walker Award)
  • Spoke at the World Bank in Paris on HR reporting
  • Co-authored Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment with John Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan. The book was endorsed by the CHROs of IBM, LinkedIn and Starbucks.
  • Worked with Dr. Wanda Wallace on “Leading when you are not the expert” which topped the “Most Popular List” on the Harvard Business Review’s blog.
  • Worked with Dr. Henry Mintzberg on peer coaching, David’s learning modules are among the most popular topics.

Currently David is helping organizations to get on-track with people analytics.

This work led to him being made a Fellow for the Centre of Evidence-based Management (Netherlands) for his contributions to the field.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *