Posted tagged ‘m-learning’

A way with the fairies

20 April 2015

One of the greatest hoaxes to be perpetrated last century was that of the Cottingley Fairies.

In 1917, 9-year-old Frances Griffiths and her 16-year-old cousin, Elsie Wright, borrowed Elsie’s father’s camera to take a photograph of the fairies they claimed lived down by the creek. Sure enough, when he developed the plate, Elsie’s father saw several fairies frolicking in front of Frances’s face.

The first of the five photographs, taken by Elsie Wright in 1917, shows Frances Griffiths with the alleged fairies.

A couple of months later the girls took another photograph, this time showing Elsie playing with a gnome. While her father immediately suspected a prank, her mother wasn’t so sure and she took the photos to a local spiritualist meet-up. From there the photos, and three others taken subsequently by the girls, eventually hit the press and became a worldwide sensation.

Although the photos were quite real, the fairies of course were fake. In 1983, the cousins (by now old ladies) finally confessed they were cardboard cut-outs.

Not everyone – it must be said – had been fooled. In fact, most probably weren’t. However one who took the bait hook, line and sinker was none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose involvement helped catapult the photographs to public attention in the first place.

It must also be said that as a devout spiritualist, Sir Arthur wanted to believe.

Disney Fairies Trail screenshot of Tinker Bell flying in front of a garden bed.

I was reminded of the Cottingley affair when I stumbled upon the Disney Fairies Trail app.

Developed in association with the Botanic Gardens Trust, the app promised to bring to life Tinker Bell and her flighty friends using our beautiful public spaces as the back drop.

Despite not being a member of the app’s target audience, I am an augmented reality advocate, so I downloaded the app and installed it on my iPad.

Its instructions were simple:

  • Choose a botanic garden.
  • Start the trail.
  • Use the map to help find all the fairy locations.
  • Your device will vibrate when there is a fairy nearby.
  • Use your device to find the fairy.
  • Tap the fairy to reveal their [sic] secrets.

I wanted to believe, so I hotfooted my way to the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney to give it a go. Unfortunately the experience was less than optimal.

Disney Fairies Trail map

From the get-go, the map was so high level it was effectively useless.

After wandering semi-randomly around the park, I stumbled upon a tiny sign with an arrow promising that fairies live over there. Yet after crisscrossing my way all over the vicinity, my device never vibrated.

So I moved on. After a while I stumbled upon another tiny sign promising that the fairy trail continued this way, but after a short distance the path split out into multiple alternatives, none of which were sign posted.

After some more rambling, I finally stumbled upon a nice big sign declaring that fairies live here. Alas, still no vibrating – but I had a thought… perhaps the app doesn’t like my iPad? So I whipped out my Android smartphone and downloaded the app to it. It wouldn’t be as fun on the smaller screen, but I was determined to see a friggin fairy.

But it didn’t work on my smartphone either.

Deflated sports mascot

I should have read the customer reviews on the App Store before going to so much trouble. I clearly wasn’t the only one who had trouble with the app. And this bewilders me.

Unfortunately it was no surprise in retrospect when the real-life aspect of the experience didn’t work. To put my opinion into context, the Botanic Gardens Trust is the organisation that allows hordes of boot campers to bully tourists and locals alike off the park’s footpaths; and whose own staff choose the peak CBD lunch hour to drive their trucks and trailers along said paths.

But Disney! How could Disney fail to bring Tinker Bell & Co to life? The makers of masterpieces such as Toy Story and The Lion King evidently couldn’t engineer a dinky little augmented reality app that would work on my device of choice – or even on my device of second choice.

It just goes to show, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. So I did.

Green fairy

I discovered the Aurasma app a while ago, and I’ve been toying around with it to get a sense of how it works.

The app allows you to upload an image or a video, which appears or plays when you scan a real-world trigger with your device’s camera, hence augmenting reality.

I haven’t yet encountered a burning need to use it for an educational purpose at my workplace, but when I had trouble with the Fairies Trail app, I decided to see if I could replicate the intended experience.

So I downloaded Green Fairy 3 by TexelGirl, uploaded her to Aurasma, and associated her with a rose in the garden. When I scanned my iPad’s camera over the rose… Voila! She appeared.

Green fairy appearing in the garden

As you can see via my screenshot, Aurasma supports the binary transparency of PNG files; with the background of the fairy image invisible, the real background shines through. The app also supports the partial transparency of PNG files; if I were to make the fairy 50% transparent, the real background would be partially visible through her.

My fairy was a static image, so she wasn’t moving. While Aurasma doesn’t seem to support animated gifs, it does support video. However there appears to be a conspicuous problem. My understanding is that MP4 format does not support transparency, and while FLV does, it won’t run on the iPad. I tweeted the Aurasma folks asking them to clarify this, but they are yet to respond.

Nevertheless, I discovered a work-around which is to duplicate the real background in the background of your video clip. That way when the video launches, it appears that its background is the real background. (I suspect this is how Dewars brought Robert Burns to life.)

Of course, this means the experience is no longer augmented reality, but rather an illusion of it. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a hoax. Fauxmented reality, perhaps?

Which won’t be a problem, if we want to believe.

Out of the shadows

24 February 2014

“What apps do you recommend?”

With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets in the workplace, this is a question I am being asked with increasing frequency.

And I don’t really like answering it. I mean, I have my faves, but they are my faves. What I find useful might prove useless for you. It all depends on the nature of your role and what you are endeavouring to do with your device.

So to better inform my answer to this question, I am crowdsourcing a list of favorite business apps. I can now point to a dynamically curated selection of apps that a range of other people find useful. The weight of numbers lends credibility to my recommendations.

Businessman with information and resources streaming out of his smartphone

While it’s early days yet, I’m not surprised to see Evernote streaking ahead. In just about every conversation I have with my peers about apps, the peppermint pachyderm rates a mention. It seems everyone is talking about the elephant in the room!

However, I am surprised by the listing currently in second place: Dropbox. I’m not surprised by the fact it’s listed as a favourite app – Dropbox is excellent! – but rather that it’s listed as a favourite business app.

You see, while Dropbox offers wonderful affordances in terms of cloud-based storage and retrieval, it’s (apparently?) not very secure. Despite its Help Center’s claim to the contrary, the internet is littered with warnings such as this one and IT departments tend to frown upon its use.

Nonetheless, people use it. A lot. For business.

I see this as a sign of the times. Employees are circumventing their company’s restrictive and frustrating IT policies with their own technology.

Now I must stress that I am neither an IT manager nor a security expert. I am not arguing one way or the other on whether this is right or wrong. What I am saying is that this is happening. Shadow IT is casting itself over the corporate landscape.

Consider the implications for the e-learning professional:

  • Your employees expect to access information and resources on their own device – whatever make, model or operating system it may be.
  • Your employees are watching YouTube videos and engaging in social media, even if those sites are blocked by the company.
  • Your employees are participating in MOOCs, even if you disagree with their pedagogy.
  • Your employees are playing games when they get bored or they need a break.
  • Your employees are familiar with apps and they are using them.

The list goes on… You can try to suppress it – or embrace it.

Isn’t it time for your organisation’s e-learning to come out of the shadows?

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.

MOOCs, open badges & the future of e-learning

10 December 2013

Another year of blogging draws to a close, this time dominated by the themes of MOOCs, open badges and the future of e-learning.

This year my blog enjoyed more robust discussion, and I thank everyone who cared enough to comment. Comments are the lifeblood of bloggers, so cheers!

It would be remiss of me not to call out three commenters in particular – Crispin Weston, Chris Taylor and Matt Guyan. Thanks so much for your thoughtful, supportive and challenging comments: you improved my thinking.

I invite everyone to review my posts for 2013 – and yes, please comment!

Collage of blog images

MOOCs

Open badges

The future of e-learning

Miscellaneous

Merry Christmas, and here’s to a provocative 2014!

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 3

13 November 2013

Hooray! My E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 3 is now available.

This volume comprises my latest collation of articles from this blog. As in the earlier volumes, my intent is to provoke deeper thinking across a range of e‑learning related themes in the workplace, including:

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 3•   Mobile learning
•   Informal learning
•   MOOCs
•   Flipped classrooms
•   Social intranets
•   Open badges
•   Self publishing
•   Augmented reality
•   The future of e-learning

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 3 is available in both paperback and Kindle formats.

If you enjoy it, please review it on Amazon!

The paradox of augmented reality

27 May 2013

Sydneysider Scott O’Brien is back in town after an extended stint in San Francisco. Scott is the Co-founder & CMO of Explore Engage, a digital media company that is attracting serious attention for its augmented reality eyewear.

I caught up with Scott in the harbour city and asked him the following questions…

  • What are your favourite examples of augmented reality? (0:08)
  • What are you working on at Explore Engage? (2:20)
  • How does your eyewear differ from Google Glass? (3:05)
  • Is augmented reality worth the hype? (3:54)
  • What opportunities exist for the finance sector? (5:04)
  • What opportunities exist for workplace education? (6:14)

I was impressed with the examples of augmented reality cited by Scott.

Medical education has long been the poster boy of salivatingly engaging content, and the tradition continues with this emerging technology. Daqri’s 4D Anatomy app showcases the visualisation capabilities of the medium, while the Australian Defence Force not only targets a real-world need with their Mobile Medic app, but also incorporates it into their recruitment process.

Ingress Enlightened logo

Google’s Ingress is an augmented reality MMOG that exemplifies the gamification capability of the medium. Two factions fight for control over the real world by capturing virtual “portals” that are represented by public landmarks such as statues and fountains.

The fact that Ingress was developed by Google’s internal startup, Niantic Labs, is enlightening (excuse the pun). Augmented reality is still an emerging technology in which experiments must be undertaken and failures borne. It is by learning from the results, and responding to them via adaptation, that you increase the probability of break-through success.

I am also fascinated by Google’s marketing strategy with Ingress. The game is in “closed beta” mode, which means you need an invitation to play it. Reminiscent of Studio 54, only the members of the “in” crowd have the privilege of enjoying that which is denied to others. Google deepens the mystique by seemingly neglecting to promote the product – instead relying on organic growth of the subculture.

On the subject of Google, I think Scott’s differentiation between Google Glass and Explore Engage’s Augmented Reality Eyewear is an important one. While Google Glass has augmented reality capability, it is essentially a wearable computer with which digital information is conveniently presented in front of the wearer’s eye. In contrast, the Explore Engage eyewear is specifically designed to integrate digital information with the real-world background. There is no better example of the latter concept than BMW’s Augmented Reality Glasses – which aren’t Explore Engage’s by the way, but are oh so sexy all the same.

While I’m on my definitions soapbox, I’ll take this opportunity to point the finger at Star Chart. This is a wonderful (and free) app, but its so-called “augmented reality mode” is no such thing; it does not lay its stellar information over the night sky! In contrast, Sun Seeker lays the sun’s trajectory over the real background. In other words, it augments reality.

Money

In terms of ROI, 2.5 million downloads of Transformers 3’s Defend the Earth speaks for itself. The return on Audi’s Virtual Q3 is less obvious, but that’s because it’s less about car sales and more about engaging consumers and associating the brand with innovation. How do you evaluate that? By analysing car sales of course, after the Q3 finally lands on Aussie shores.

While the Commonwealth Bank should be applauded for their Property Guide app, which combines geolocation with big data to provide something truly useful to their prospective customers, I must say as someone in the financial services industry: the general lack of financially oriented augmented reality apps represents a typical lack of imagination in the sector. Worse still, the examples highlighted by Infosys’s whitepaper are almost exclusively home finders and ATM locators, which means they’ve merely copied each other. Yawn.

As I am concurrently in the education profession, however, I must also recognise that the potential for augmented reality remains largely untapped. Scott’s examples attest to the power of the medium in terms of visualisation, gamification and performance support – which are factors that make education in the workplace engaging and effective. So what are we waiting for?

I think the mobility of the technology also remains under exploited. For example, how about an architecture tour of your local city in which details of buildings are highlighted when you point your mobile device at them? Or even better, when you look at them through your AR-enabled glasses?

And Scott’s mention of avatars adds more fuel to the fire of possibility. I imagine learning interventions in dangerous environments (such as mining sites) in which training can be undertaken in context, minus the threat to life or limb. Unlike in a simulator or a virtual world, the training is done at the workplace.

Therein lies the paradox of augmented reality. By complementing the real world with artificiality, it makes the learning experience more authentic.

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.


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