This is a summary of a session I presented at Learning Technologies 2012. You can find the slides from the presentation on Slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/alexmackman/realising-the-potential-of-mobile-learning.
Way back when (OK, it was only a few years ago), when talking about mobile learning or mLearning, we were generally thinking of delivering “training” to smartphones and PDAs. When I say “training” I’m not talking about fully fledged online training courses – you couldn’t possibly study one of those on a phone – right?! – but I am talking about bite sized training nuggets, videos, audio podcasts and so on – the types of training I might just want to consume while travelling or while sat in the park at lunchtime.
mLearning solutions tended to be very device specific, they required specific, usually quite costly development, rarely did the solutions provide centralised learner tracking (who’s done what) and there was little re-use of content across mobile and non-mobile courses. This was understandable due to the very different instructional design and technical challenges presented by mobile vs desktop online training.
Today though, the proliferation of tablets (led by the iPad) is changing all that. The additional screen real-estate, the comfort of the tablet interface for consuming content and the incredible media processing power now available on the tablet device opens up lots and lots of new opportunities and new potential for learning on the go, and just-in-time training. Reusing content across the desktop browser and tablet is now very much a reality. So while we use the same terms “mobile training” and “mLearning”, it’s a very different beast now that tablets are mainstream.
Why is mobile training useful?
Why should we care about mobile learning? There are many reasons, many scenarios and many business benefits, but here are a few of the top ones:
The reference material scenario is somewhat different from pushing training materials to mobile devices because the latter needs to be tracked – typically on an LMS. However, with a mobile content production capability and a platform to support mobile content publishing, both types of mobile delivery offer real business benefits.
Why isn’t mobile training everywhere?
Despite its early promise mobile training hasn’t delivered in a widespread way, mainly for the following reasons:
The final point I’d make is that most of the mobile training initiatives that I’ve come across have not taken the final step of integrating with the back end LMS – to provide a coherent tracking story across mobiles and desktops. To do this with SCORM content, the SCORM data needs to be cached locally on the device and then re-synchronized with the server LMS the next time the device is connected. This amounts to more complexity and more development cost.
The Drivers – iPad Trends
The tablet, with the iPad at the forefront is driving a new desire to support mobile training. The statistics are interesting and help to explain this renewed interest:
What about Windows 8?
So while we can expect to see many more organizations either formally adopting iPads or at least providing support for employees to bring in their own devices and use them at work, I think the Windows 8 tablet (due out sometime in Q4 2012) will further this trend particularly within the Enterprise. While supporting Apple devices is tough for many companies who have invested in a Windows infrastructure, and have Windows IT support skills, the Windows 8 devices are likely to be easier for IT departments to embrace and support – certainly for those already invested in Microsoft products and technology.
iPad and Tablet Deployment Models
So you want to get content onto the iPad (or another tablet) what are the options? I’ve blogged about this in the past, and you can find a discussion of four possible iPad deployment models here: http://www.cm-luminosity.com/blog/2011/10/18/elearning-deployment-models-for-the-ipad/.
No discussion of mobile learning would be complete without talk of HTML5. Flash is no longer an option for mobile content delivery and HTML5 offers a viable alternative, albeit with its own caveats. I’ve discussed this further in a couple of previous posts which you can find here http://www.cm-luminosity.com/blog/2011/09/22/html5-opening-up-new-possibilities-for-elearning/ and here http://www.cm-luminosity.com/blog/2011/11/21/flash-and-html5-for-elearning/.
Supporting IE6 and Other Old Browsers
While use of IE6 is slowly diminishing (less than 1% now in the US), it’s still a factor that needs to be considered if you want to create a learning strategy that supports both desktops and mobile devices in a coherent manner with content re-use and learner tracking across both. Certainly in the UK we encounter many organisations who continue to use IE6. The numbers increase further when you include IE7 and 8 and other, older browsers that have very limited HTML5 capability.
Any HTML5 solution needs to be “adaptable” and “intelligent”. More on this here: http://www.cm-luminosity.com/blog/2011/11/21/flash-and-html5-for-elearning/
So what are the key ingredients to support a coherent learning offering – one that enables content reuse across multiple different device types and one where mobile content delivery is part of a coherent whole rather than a tacked on after thought? These are shown in the following diagram:
Tablets and in particular the iPad are fuelling the demand for mobile / anytime / anyplace learning and I believe Windows 8 tablets (Q4 2012) will accelerate the corporate adoption trend within the Enterprise.
HTML5 is an essential ingredient for any mobile solution so here are some key questions to ask if you’re considering mobile training solutions and you want a coherent solution rather than a bespoke solution.
Further thoughts, views, opinions – please let me have them!
I'm Technical Director at CM Group. I'm responsible for the product and services development side of our business. I'm involved in business development, strategy and operations and am passionate about technology and specifically how it can be applied to learning.