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Next-Gen Learning Technologies: Context, Not Content, is King

Technologies that learn our habits are curating our lives to make them easier. Consumers can commit to that.

Every Friday night, I drive down to Cape Cod with my dog, Romeo. I’ve noticed about that technology has created a radically more delightful experience for the two of us. In every case, the technology we use is being transformed by new applications that are infused with context.

It used to be that when we left our apartment in Boston, we’d always forget to actually go over to the thermostat and turn off the air conditioning. (It's Romeo's job to turn off the air conditioner, so that’s a constant source of tension between us.) Now when we leave our apartment in Boston, we don’t have to worry about it because the Nest thermostat does it for us--and turns it back on Monday morning. It learned our schedule.

Technologies that learn contextually improve our lifestyles.

It used to be that when we hit the road, we’d turn on the radio and listen to our favorite station, 92.9 FM. The problem is they never play our favorite band, The Grateful Dead. (Romeo toured with them in the seventies.) Now, when hit the road, we use Spotify and happily jam out to the Dead all the way down. Spotify understands the music we like and responds accordingly.

About twenty minutes into our drive, we have a whopper decision to make. Should we take the Bourne Bridge or the Sagamore Bridge to Cape Cod? Over the July 4th weekend, I made the wrong choice and we waited in traffic for three hours. (Romeo was not happy. He gave me the silent treatment.) Now when we make a decision, we use Waze, a real-time traffic mapping app, because it tells us where the traffic, cops, and accidents are so we can avoid all of it and choose the least problematic route.

By the time we get to Cape Cod, Romeo and I are spent. We like to put our paws up and watch a little television. But there's never anything good on Friday nights, so we default to whatever’s on HBO. Now when we put our paws up, we watch Netflix, which serves up shows based on other shows we've liked. And we really like the Westminster Kennel Club.

Adding context increases the user experience exponentially.

By adding context to traditional applications, new applications make experiences dramatically better for us. In the process, most of these applications are completely upending their industries. Here are a few more contextual technologies that are driving their markets in new ways.

Taxis -> Uber

Resumes -> LinkedIn

Online Advertisements -> Google AdWords

Newspaper -> Twitter

Travel Guides -> Trip Advisor

Thermostat -> Nest

Radio -> Spotify

Online maps -> Waze

TV -> Netflix

I love how all of these technologies sort out what I like. Stay tuned, because virtually every application we use may go through similar transformations in the next few years, including basic applications that businesses use, such as websites, email, and CRM. Each time a consumer tries a revolutionary product, he or she will never go back to the old one. 

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Sep 16, 2013

BRIAN HALLIGAN | Columnist | CEO & Co-Founder, HubSpot

Brian Halligan is CEO & Co-Founder of HubSpot, a marketing software company that helps businesses transform the way they market their products by "getting found" on the internet.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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