Posted tagged ‘mobile 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.

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.

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 2

17 September 2012

Following the modest success of my first book, I decided to fulfil the promise of its subtitle and publish E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 2.

The volume comprises a collation of my articles from this blog. As in the first volume, my intent is to provoke deeper thinking across a range of e-learning related themes in the workplace, including:

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 2•   social business
•   informal learning
•   mobile learning
•   microblogging
•   data analysis
•   digital influence
•   customer service
•   augmented reality
•   the role of L&D
•   smartfailing
•   storytelling
•   critical theory
•   ecological psychology
•   online assessment
•   government 2.0
•   human nature

Order your copy now at Amazon.

2011: A writer’s odyssey

6 December 2011

Wow! 2011 was a big year of writing for me, with 2 self-published books and over 40 blog posts.

My books are available on Amazon, and I have listed the year’s blog posts below for your convenience.

Thanks for reading!

Tag cloud

Social media

Social media extremism
Smash your wall
My Twitter hero
Who owns the photocopiers?
20 hot resources for customer-facing social media
LATI: A better way to measure influence on Twitter?
A circular argument
The big myth of social networking
Foching up social media

Mobile learning

The 4 S’s of mobile design
Mobile learning – Push or pull?

Informal learning

Viva la evolution
Doctoring the Informal Learning Environment

Content development

Toying with emotion
14 reasons why your multiple-choice quiz sucks
3 hot resources for best practice multiple-choice quizzing
The 2 sources of freebies
Australia’s Nobel Laureates
On the Money

Books and e-books

When is an e-book not a book?
E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1

Awards and events

ElNet Workplace E-learning Congress 2011
I’m a Best Australian Blogs nominee!
When it rains it pours
8 interesting things at CeBIT
Everything connects at Amplify
Winners are grinners

Cartoons

Selective democracy
Where’s Waldo? – The Minimalist Edition
Foolproof hiding spot for your key
Recent changes patroller
Respect for Klout

Other

Top 5 things I hope not to hear in 2011
Observations of a Critical Theory newbie
The Parable of the Monkeys
Ode to the naysayers
The A to Z of learning
Learning vs Development
Eye of the tiger
Does L&D belong in HR?
When augmented reality isn’t
Psst…! 15 inside tips for sales reps
A question of leadership development
The unscience of evaluation
Clash of the titans

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1

22 November 2011

Well I have finally bitten the bullet and published a selection of my blog musings in paperback form.

The book is entitled E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1 and my intent is to provoke deeper thinking across a range of themes in the modern workplace, including:

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1•   social media
•   learning theory
•   pedagogy
•   instructional design
•   learning styles
•   blended learning
•   informal learning
•   mobile learning
•   augmented reality
•   virtual worlds
•   cloud computing
•   self publishing
•   employee engagement
•   corporate social responsibility
•   religion
•   the future of e-learning

The book is available now at Amazon.com.

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.

Eye of the tiger

12 July 2011

In my previous post, Learning vs Development, I connected Cook-Greuter’s bidirectional view of development to the two sides of the L&D equation: horizontal growth representing the “L” and vertical transformation representing the “D”.

While the former refers to the traditional notion of learning as the acquisition of knowledge and skills, the latter is a more powerful concept. According to Cook-Greuter, “it refers to how we see the world through new eyes, how we change our interpretations of experience and how we transform our views of reality. It describes increases in what we are aware of, or what we can pay attention to, and therefore what we can influence and integrate.”

This reminds me of ecological psychology. When I was studying this subject at university, I found its core concepts such as umwelt abstract and vague. Although I eventually got my head around it well enough to get through, I was never fully satisfied with my depth of understanding.

Then I read The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant.

Now, this book isn’t a high-brow treatise of epistemology, but rather a fascinating story of tiger poaching in the wilds of far-eastern Russia. From this unlikely source I obtained a wonderfully simple explanation of umwelt…

Siberian Tiger

In 1909, an Estonian-born baron-turned-psychologist named Jakob von Uexkull introduced the concept of Umwelt to the world. Uexkull is considered one of the fathers of ethology, which is also known as behavioural ecology. It is a young discipline whose goal is to study behaviour and social organization through a biological lens. “To do so,” wrote Uexkull in “A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men,” “we must first blow, in a fancy, a soap bubble around each creature to represent its own world, filled with the perceptions which it alone knows. When we ourselves then step into one of those bubbles, the familiar is transformed.” Uexkull called this bubble the umwelt, a German word that he applied to a given animal’s subjective or “self-centered” world.

An individual’s umwelt exists side by side with the Umgebung – the term Uexkull used to describe the objective environment, a place that exists in theory but that none of us can truly know given the inherent limitations of our respective umwelten. In addition to being delightful words to say, umwelt and umgebung offer a framework for exploring and describing the experience of other creatures.

In the umgebung of a city sidewalk, for example, a dog owner’s umwelt would differ greatly from her dog’s in that, while she might be keenly aware of a SALE sign in a window, a policeman coming toward her, or a broken bottle in her path, the dog would focus on the gust of cooked meat emanating from a restaurant’s exhaust fan, the urine on a fire hydrant, and the doughnut crumbs next to the broken bottle.

Woman walking dog on sidewalk

Objectively, these two creatures inhabit the same umgebung, but their individual umwelten give them radically different experiences of it. And yet these parallel universes have many features in common: both dog and mistress must be careful crossing the street, and both will pay close attention to other dogs, if not for the same reasons.

Vaillant then goes on to explain how the success of hunting depends on how well the hunter can step inside the umwelt of his prey and see the world through its eyes.

What’s this got to do with e-learning?

Of course, ecological psychology isn’t new to edtech. Its principles have been applied to video games, online forums and the semantic web, for instance.

However while the screen-based umwelt is obviously important in the modern workplace, I’m also interested in the world around us. And this is where I think technology-assisted games have much to offer.

While the pedagogical benefits of games are well documented in terms of motivation and engagement, their potential to complement authentic umwelts is probably under appreciated.

Airport security

Take airport security for example: consider an augmented reality app designed to train a customs officer to recognise the tell-tale signs of a passenger who is concealing drugs. The officer holds up her device (such as an iPad) to a real checkpoint, over which virtual passengers stream through.

The objective of the officer is to select the passengers whom she suspects of carrying drugs. Each selection prompts an explanation of whether she is right or wrong, and reinforces the reasons why. Combine this with a points system and competition among her colleagues, and she’ll become a mule-busting expert in no time!

Woman in forestAnother example context is environmental science: consider a treasure hunt designed to train a biologist to identify the major vegetation types in a forest.

QR codes are placed on indicator species (such as trees and ferns) along a trail, but out of plain sight.

An initial clue is provided – perhaps descriptions and photos of several plants typically found in a rainforest.

The objective of the biologist is to walk along the trail until he reaches the rainforest gully, find the QR code in the vicinity, scan it with his iPhone, and study the new clue which points him to the next vegetation type. The game is not complete until he finds all the codes and hence familiarises himself with all the vegetation.

In neither of the cases above was the learner’s workplace simulated on screen. The setting was real.

The corollary, then, is that when a person’s performance on the job is highly dependent on their umwelt, a technology-assisted game can help them acquire the “eye of the tiger” in that context.


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