Archive for the ‘m-learning’ category

The 3 mindsets of m-learning

28 January 2014

One of my most popular posts of last year was M-Learning’s dirty little secrets.

By “popular” I mean quantitatively: it attracted a relatively large number of hits and comments. Qualitatively, however, the situation was somewhat different: while many of the comments were concordant, others were not. For the record, I don’t believe those discordant comments were wrong – they just represented different points of view in different contexts.

Nonetheless, while I stand by what I wrote back then, there was always something niggling at the back of my mind. I felt that I had missed something. Those discordant comments prompted me to think about it deeper, and I’m glad they did because now I feel I can improve my position.

Businessman pointing towards viewer

Mindset #1 – Push

Given the increasingly mobile workforce and the emergence of BYOD, increasing pressure is being placed on the organisation to distribute its content to multiple devices. In corporate e-learning, the most obvious example of such content is the online modules that the company distributes via its Learning Management System.

In M-Learning’s dirty little secrets I advocated the creation of “one course to rule them all”. I argued that if you must push out training, forget about smartphones. No one wants to use them for that, so they are an unnecessary complication.

Instead, concentrate your efforts on the one course that will fit onto desktops and laptops and tablets – ie what your target audience will use to consume it. If you base it on HTML so it will run across operating systems, you can make the course device agnostic.

Responsive web design may render my argument moot – but only when rapid authoring tools adopt the protocol, enabling Average Joe to implement it.

IT technician with network equipment and cables

Mindset #2 – Pull

Having said that, in M-Learning’s dirty little secrets I also advocated pull learning.

Instead of pushing out yet another course, I’m more inclined to host content on a mobile-friendly platform like an intranet or a wiki that the learner can access, browse and search via their device of choice – including a smartphone.

This approach empowers the learner to pull the content at their discretion, wherever they are, at the time of need. It replaces the notion of training “in case” it will be required with performance support “when” it is required.

For many, this is the essence of m-learning: on demand, in the moment, in context, just in time, in the workflow.

And yet, while this deceptively simple mindset represents a tectonic shift in corporate pedagogy, it does not on its own fulfil the potential of m-learning. For that, we need a third mindset…

Augmented reality layers over buildings in the background

Mindset #3 – Experience

Experiential m-learning leverages the environment in which the learner exists.

This approach need not be hi-tech. For example, a tourist following the walking tour in a Lonely Planet is undertaking experiential m-learning. The book points out the specifics of the environment, and the tourist subsequently experiences them.

Of course, electronic technology facilitates experiential m-learning like never before. Handheld devices combined with the Internet, geolocation, and the likes of augmented reality make the learning experience engaging, timely and real.

It’s also important to note that this mindset applies to both push and pull learning. For example, an LMS-based architecture course may step the learner along a particular route through the city. Alternatively, an interactive map may empower the learner to select the points of interest at their discretion and convenience.

Which leads me to one of the commenters who took umbrage at M-Learning’s dirty little secrets. This fellow was developing a smartphone app for his students enrolled in a Diploma of Community Services. While I suspect his polemic stemmed from a misinterpretation of my argument (which no doubt related to my inability to articulate it sufficiently), he did indeed cause me to ask myself:

Why can’t an app push training on a smartphone?

And the answer, of course, is it can. But then I would add:

Why would you want to?

Given the speed and cost effectiveness of producing online courses in-house these days, combined with the availability of content repositories in most organisations, I would be inclined to save the time and expense of building an app – unless it exploited the mobility of the device.

So part of my lengthy response to this fellow was:

…I would suggest that the app enables the student to interact with the content *in the field*. Perhaps it encourages them to walk around the Cross (to be Sydney-centric, but you know what I mean) and prompts the student to describe their surroundings. If the app then simulates an interaction with a homeless person or with someone who is drug-affected, then it’s done in the context of the work and thus becomes infinitely more meaningful. And if the student could select the scenarios at their discretion rather than have to wade through them in a pre-defined linear manner, then that hands over to them some of the control that you want them to have.

In other words, I would bother with an app only if it offered something that “regular” push or pull content doesn’t. And that something is an authentic experience.

It is this mindset which urges us to realise the full potential of m-learning.

M-Learning’s dirty little secrets

13 May 2013

I have a confession to make.

At my workplace a little while ago, I created a smartphone-friendly version of our online induction course.

Ownership of smartphones is relatively common in this corner of the world, and a large proportion of our new recruits are Gen Y. So conventional wisdom dictated that a mobile version of the course would be a smash hit.

It tanked.

But my confession is not that it tanked. It’s that I knew it would.

You see, when you have been in the e-learning game for as long as I have, you learn a few things that a surprising number of my peers in the broader L&D industry don’t know – or perhaps don’t want to know!

This insight bubbled to the surface during my little m-course experiment. It was doomed to fail and it did.

To explain why it failed, let me share with you m-learning’s dirty little secrets…

Woman with finger to her lips in shh fashion

SECRET #1. Most people won’t train outside of business hours.

Some may say most people won’t train inside business hours, but let’s remain generous.

The working day is typically defined as Monday to Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm, or thereabouts. An increasing number of people are working earlier and/or later than that, so any time outside of this zone is becoming increasingly precious.

Off-duty hours will be spent on family, hobbies, sports, mowing the lawn, watching TV and sleeping. It won’t be spent on anything resembling more “work”.

SECRET #2. Most people won’t use their own mobile devices for training.

They prefer to use them for fun, like playing Angry Birds or updating their Facebook status.

Besides, if they’re paying for the data out of their own pocket, they won’t chew it up on something that can wait until they’re back in the office.

SECRET #3. Smartphones are a pain.

There are so many makes and models and operating systems and screen sizes and versions, it’s futile trying to accommodate them all. Believe me, I’ve tried.

In my m-course experiment I found it straightforward enough to resize the canvas of the original online course and retrofit the content, but while it looked OK on my iPhone, it was problematic on the Galaxy and Lumia.

Oh the quirks! Apple’s incompatibility with Flash is widely known, but then there are the audio and video formats to consider. I also spent countless hours repositioning graphics so they didn’t obscure the text after they were published (what you saw was not what you got), while the “next” button inexplicably refused to work on the iPhone (whereas its text link equivant did).

While authoring tools on the market claim to deploy to multiple devices at the click of a button, I didn’t have the time to trial them, nor the budget to buy one, nor the inclination to learn it, nor the naivety to believe it anyway.

Moreover, I think I would have been going down the wrong track. But more on that later…

SECRET #4. LMSs aren’t smartphone friendly.

For all the rhetoric in the LMS market about mobile learning, IMHO they are designed principally for the desktop. While some have mobile apps, not all do, and the user experience has been the subject of criticism.

That makes a system that is notoriously arduous to navigate at the best of times highly unlikely to be navigated “on the go”.

SECRET #5. Most people prefer the big screen.

Size matters. The restricted dimensions of a smartphone screen compromise the user experience, and hence the learning experience.

Of course, people will use their smartphone for training if they have a burning need and that’s the only device they have on them; but given the choice, they’ll go large every time.

***

When you combine all of these secrets, the message is clear:

The majority of online training is done on desktops, laptops and tablets.

Armed with this knowledge, the question arises as to how you can use it to your advantage. Obviously you use it to inform your m-learning strategy!

May I suggest the following tactics…

Confident woman

TACTIC #1. Think informal first.

Do you really need to push out yet another course? Instead, why not host the content on a mobile-friendly platform like an intranet or a wiki that the learner can access, browse and search via their device of choice.

This approach empowers the learner to pull the learning at their discretion, wherever they are, at the time of need. It replaces the notion of training “in case” it will be required with performance support “when” it is required.

TACTIC #2. Create the one course to rule them all.

If you must push out training, forget about smartphones. No one wants to use them for that, so they are an unnecessary complication.

Instead, concentrate your efforts on the one course that will fit onto desktops and laptops and tablets, based on HTML so it will run across operating systems.

You may still need to accommodate peculiarities such as video formats, but with a bit of clever coding you can make the same course device agnostic.

A venn diagram showing m-learning overlapping e-learning

By employing these tactics, we start to distinguish m-learning from the broader notion of e-learning.

As John Feser articulates so elegantly, and furthered by others such as Clark Quinn, m-learning is more than just doing a course on a mobile device. Such a narrow view misses the point.

The point is that m-learning facilitates learning in context, in the moment.

For example, consider a telecommunications technician working on an electrical box out in the burbs. If he needs to find out which wire should plug in where, he’s not going to go back to the van, turn on his tablet, log into the LMS, search for a course, register into it, launch it, then click through page after page until he stumbles upon the right bit.

He needs to know right here, right now! So he uses his smartphone to look up a step-by-step guide. Quick and easy.

This is m-learning. It is indeed a form of e-learning, but it’s a subset thereof. It’s not just learning on the bus or at the airport; it’s much richer than that.

Mobile learning – Push or pull?

20 September 2011

The universal advice for m-learning is to keep it short.

The argument is that workers these days are busy professionals with the attention span of a juvenile gnat, so anything longer than a few minutes won’t be effective.

I don’t buy it, but I am in the minority.

Group of business people with smartphones

Nonetheless, I recognise the benefits of this approach. Shorter content is quicker to develop, and single files like MP4s are easy to produce.

Regular snippets are also useful for reinforcing key messages, assessment, post work, and bridging the knowing-doing gap.

However, I also think this approach is limited.

Although it leverages modern technology – namely, smartphones and tablets – this kind of m-learning remains traditional “push” training. Of course push training has its place in the broader learning model, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. In a true learning organisation, the vast majority of learning is pulled.

So I propose we turn the prevailing notion of m-learning on its head…

Let’s think less in terms of “training” and more in terms of “performance support”. Create the content once in a central repository (such as a wiki or an intranet) where it can be searched, explored and discovered on-the-job, and just-in-time if need be.

This approach accommodates multiple devices (mobile or otherwise), without the need for multiple authoring tools or the production of multiple content packages.

It also facilitates a more constructivist mode of learning, which one may argue is the pedagogical foundation of the 70 in 70:20:10.

Businessman using mobile device

Of course the pull approach to m-learning relies heavily on standardisation. Wikis, intranets, VLEs, LMSs etc must be mobile friendly for the paradigm to work.

In other words, these repositories must be compliant with international mobile standards so that we can accommodate the myriad of devices, browsers and operating systems that m-learning entails.

And we can turn this on its head too. If we all build content on standards-compliant platforms, suddenly the onus is on all those devices, browsers and operating systems to accommodate us.

The 4 S’s of mobile design

12 April 2011

Given that smartphone sales are estimated to exceed PC sales by the end of this year, and mobile Internet users are expected to exceed desktop Internet users soon after, I have finally concluded that the time is ripe for mobile learning.

Heeding the advice of start small and fail quick, I have dipped my toe into the m-learning space by converting an existing online course into a smartphone-friendly format.

While I am no m-learning expert, I thought I’d share with you several tips that I have collected on my journey so far. I call them the 4 S’s of mobile design.

Businessman looking at his PDA

1. Slim

Smartphones have a finite screen width. The going rate seems to be 320 pixels, so making your course canvas that wide would be a good start.

I would also suggest maintaining a small margin on either side of the text to improve legibility.

2. Simple

While show/hide interactions and other bells and whistles arguably improve learner engagement in an online course, they are downright confusing on a mobile device.

I suggest ripping the text and images out of them and running with that instead. I know it sounds boring, but as Tom Kuhlmann said recently:

Learners won’t complain about the lack of interactivity
if the content is relevant.

I believe the primary benefit of m-learning is the very fact that it is mobile. To me, bells and whistles run a distant second to finding out what I need to know when I need to know it.

Besides, if you are relying on bells and whistles to engage your audience, there are deeper problems you need to address.

3. Swfless

Yes I know Android sales exceeded iPhone sales last year, but the fact remains many of my colleagues own iPhones. That means I need to account for Flash compatibility.

Given the iPhone can’t play swf files, I have to make sure I either don’t use them or I use an alternative format – potentially HTML5.

Who knows… maybe Apple will do a backflip and start playing swf’s after all? And they might have to, given they are no longer top dog.

Other formats that should be considered in terms of cross-platform compatibility include audio (which I suggest is best delivered as mp3) and video (which I suggest is best delivered as mp4).

4. Short

I’ve been reading quite a bit recently about the need to keep m-learning short. The general argument is that smartphone owners are a busy bunch who will accept only tiny snippets of information while they’re on the go.

I don’t buy it.

Sure, the mobile device is perfect for on-the-job, just-in-time knowledge and sporadic concept reinforcement – but that doesn’t mean it’s not convenient for longer content too.

For example, I wouldn’t mind working my way through a 30 minute course over two or three sessions on the ferry, especially when my boss lets me go home early to do so.

I rarely enjoy a clear half hour at my desk anyway, with the constant distractions of the office environment demanding my attention. So I might as well take advantage of downtime.

In any case, all e-learning content should be concise. Whether it’s mobile or not is a moot point.

Group of business people with smartphones

So according to yours truly, m-learning should be slim, simple, swfless and short.

Do you have any tips of your own? Any that you care to share would be gratefully received – even if they don’t begin with an S!
 

A tough little m-learning device

12 May 2009

CeBIT Australia Expo 2009

I attended the CeBIT Expo at Sydney’s Darling Harbour this morning.

While there wasn’t a lot that caught my eye in terms of e‑learning (it is an IT event after all), I liked the look of these tough little tablet PCs that were being demonstrated by Motion Computing.

They look perfect for “on the go” kind of work, and I’m pondering their potential for m‑learning in rough environments – you know, open‑cut mines, construction sites, sales people’s cars…

Motion C5

Rise of the smart cities

18 April 2009

I read a news article today about the announcement by the Queensland Government to provide wireless internet access to commuters on its Citytrain network. Other articles claim this service will be free.

Queensland is not the first government to offer free public wi-fi. Wikipedia lists dozens of cities around the world that have free municipal wireless networks.

Nonetheless, it got me thinking: what could a commuter do every morning and evening while travelling between Brisbane and the Gold Coast?

girl on bus -experimental, courtesy of nickobec, stock.xchng.

Sure, they could download the latest song by Britney Spears or peruse the latest gossip on the Perez Hilton blog. But they could also…

  • Catch the breaking news in their industry sector
  • Read blogs
  • Explore wikis
  • Exchange knowledge on Twitter
  • Watch vodcasts
  • Complete online courses
  • Participate in discussion forums

…the possibilities are endless for the savvy professional who wants to be a mobile learner.

Show me the money

While I applaud Queensland’s free wireless initiative, I must temper my view with the fact that similar initiatives have failed in the recent past.

For example, San Francisco cancelled its plans for free municipal wi-fi when the service provider refused to fund the construction of the network. Financial woes have also stymied attempts in Chicago, Philadelphia, and just over Queensland’s border in New South Wales.

money 4, courtesy of mainrc, stock.xchng.

On the other side of the coin, many corporate organisations are reluctant to buy into their own m‑learning. Think about it: how many companies would be willing to purchase an iPhone for each of its employees? Even if the ROI argument is plausible for the handset, the ongoing connectivity costs would probably be deemed prohibitive.

Alternatively, would an individual employee use their own service provider in conjunction with a company-supplied mobile device? Sure, you’ll always have your tech junkies who are more than happy to pay through the nose for the latest wizardry. But consider the average worker with 2.4 kids and a mortgage: are they really going to surf the mobile web for several hours every week, even though the handset is free? Or are they more likely to wait until they get into the office or back home.

As an aside, why is mobile connectivity generally more expensive via a cell phone than via a laptop dongle? Aren’t they essentially the same thing?

In any case, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: Ragan reported recently that only 10% of Americans use their cell phones to access the web daily. One reason must surely be cost.

Alignment

Having said that, I think Queensland’s free wireless initiative might just work!

Citytrain security camerasYou see, it isn’t just some political rhetoric that will never get implemented. It’s part of an upgrade to Queensland Rail’s security surveillance system that will enable CCTV to be transmitted to a central control room. So it is happening.

The availability of wireless connectivity for commuters is just a bonus.

Doing it right

My conclusion, then, is that cities should forget about establishing a free municipal wireless network per se as a gesture of goodwill. No one will want to fund it.

Instead, combine it with another public service or efficiency gain, and kill two birds with one stone.

When the smart company provides the mobile device and the smart city provides the connectivity, the world is their oyster.

Brisbane City Skyline At Sunset, courtesy of CraigPJ, stock.xchng.

Of posters and round tables

11 December 2008

Learning Technology Research Symposium 2008 banner

Today I attended the Learning Technology Research Symposium hosted by CoCo at my old stomping ground, Sydney University.

The first part of the day comprised a “Research Poster Showcase”, in which the symposium attendees browsed posters about the work being undertaken by researchers not only at Sydney University, but also at other universities in Australia and overseas. Some of the researchers were present to chat and answer questions about their pride and joy. The poster abstracts are available online.

The showcase was followed by a keynote presentation, New technologies, new pedagogies: Mobile learning and participatory culture, presented by Jan Herrington from the University of Wollongong. Jan provided an overview of a series of workshops undertaken at UOW in which both teachers and students learned how to develop vodcasts for dissemination via PDAs and iPods.

One of Jan’s points was that while many university students are familiar with mobile technologies and use them on a daily basis, they remain under used in higher education; and where they are used, they tend to be employed for relatively low-level purposes (such as downloading lecture recordings or looking up timetables). I would suggest a similar situation exists in the corporate sector. It’s time to get smarter about m-learning!

The afternoon comprised “Research Round Tables”, in which the attendees contributed to open discussions facilitated by expert chairs. The roundtable abstracts are also available online.

At the end of the day, I found the symposium informative, and I enjoyed catching up with my uni buddies and meeting new people in the e‑learning community. I’m certainly looking forward to next year’s symposium.