Mobile Accesible eLearning

Can we Augment the Reality of Mobile Learning?

For the last few weeks I’ve been exploring Augmented Reality (AR)  and how it might aid mobile learning by testing various AR apps available for the iPhone. As is often the case with cutting edge ideas, the potential is much more exciting than the currently possible. (See my take on Google Wave as another example of this phenomenon) Most of the AR I’ve seen so far I’d call more “proof of concept” than really useful.

Many of the iPhone apps available now provide a type of  “walking tour” of an area. You point the camera of your iPhone or Android phone at a point of interest and the app overlays interesting information about the object or place on the screen. The two main problems with this type of AR app at this time are limited points of interest (depending on where you live), or information of questionable interest or value. (Wikitude is a good example of both.)

However, there are a few intriguing examples of what the future may hold. Professor Steven Feiner and his student, Steve Henderson, of Columbia University, have created a prototype of an AR system to help marine mechanics more quickly repair military vehicles.

This example of an Augmented Reality catalog by Metaio suggests exciting ideas for future applications in training. What if a clerk could hold an infrequently used but vital form in front of a camera on his computer and the screen would automatically display information on how to correctly complete and submit it? Or in my household, what if I could hold the remote control for the entertainment system up to the TV and it would present an interactive display on how to set the system to watch a DVD or record a show?

What interesting applications or uses for Augmented Reality in mobile learning have you found?

Enterprise Trends with Implications for Learning

Alex Williams over at readwriteweb.com has an interesting post on 5 Enterprise Trends to Watch in 2010. While he doesn’t specifically address training or corporate learning, I think the trends he is predicting will have a significant impact on our industry.

I particularly like his reframe of the term social media. “Social media has to be one of the most over-used phrases of the year but it should not reflect on the increasing need for community management practices within the enterprise. We expect community management to become an increasingly valued role.”

I think Williams has a valid point. It seems to me that what we need to focus on in the learning space is learning/knowledge community management rather than “social learning.” One benefit of this shift in language could be an easier sell to enterprise leadership. Investing in managing the organization’s “knowledge community” does not raise the same red flags as “social learning” often does.

One other trend that could begin to have direct implications is what he labels “The Big Sync.” Users are demanding that more and more information be automatically syncing between their mobile devices and other tools that they use such as computers. Not only do we want constant access to important up-to-date information like email and contacts, but more and more we want to be able to do some work on one device and then continue that work on our mobile devices.

As Mobile Learning becomes more ubiquitous, we will need to explore strategies and implementations that will allow for real-time syncing of up-to-date information. Shelf life for training content may soon be measured in days or even hours rather than months. We also need envision to designs that accommodate the users accessing the training on multiple devices. Just like me email, I may start a learning session in my office, but want to complete it while waiting for a table at lunch.

The other trends he spotlights could have implications as well, however, these two though struck me immediately. His short post is definitely worth a read.

Classroom or eLearning? – There’s an App for That!

Need to make an ROI assessment on whether a classroom program or eLearning solution is right for you? Now there is an app for that.

Brainvisa recently released a free iPhone app that helps you calculate the development, implementation and maintenance costs of a classroom program, and compares those costs to developing an eLearning solution. Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) Tool for Learning Investments asks you a series of questions about the program to be develop, such as: “What’s the approximate length of this course?” — “How often it will need to be updated?” and, “How many times it will be offered?”

tool1

Next, the app steps you through similar considerations for implementation such as, cost of space, cost of facilitation, hourly rate of attendees, etc. Using all this information, it then calculates your total cost. Next, it asks if you would like to compare that cost to the cost of developing an eLearning solution.

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CAB doesn’t ask any of the same questions about the eLearning development or implementation, so Brainvisa must be using their development costs for those calculations.

I did three test runs of CAB to check it out. The results of two of the test runs indicated that eLearning was a more cost effective approach. The third test run, with less than 50 people to be trained, said a classroom solution was a more cost effective approach.

Now there is nothing here that you couldn’t do with a simple spreadsheet – or even a pencil and piece of paper! But CAB is simple, the voice over that asks the questions is done with a sense of humor and the math is done for you. More importantly, it is an early demonstration that not only is mobile learning going to be a big trend in 2010, but I think we will also see more mobile tools to support the development, implementation and maintenance of learning solutions.

It looks to be a very interesting year!

The promise of Mobile Learning is real…but it may not be what you thought it was

Let’s start with two very different perspectives:

1) Mobile learning leverages today’s smart phone technologies to deliver a unique experience to the user.  GPS, for example, makes it possible to provide a one-of-a-kind experience for the user by tying content to the learner’s location.

2) Mobile learning gives us the opportunity to better serve each learner’s unique needs.  Given the option, many users with lots of downtime inherent in their jobs, will choose to access content remotely via a mobile device.

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to explore Mobile Learning concepts and application with some of the definitive experts in the space, including researchers at ADL Co-Labs and practitioners from Bank of America/Merrill Lynch. Their lens’ couldn’t have been more different, but both offered tremendous insight into this emerging learning methodology.

Lessons learned at Merrill that are being adopted by new Parent Bank of America show success by focusing on “low hanging fruit” like compliance training first.  Rather than push innovation to its limits, they are focused on old school html, downloading in 128 kb increments without a need for a persistent connection.  Their solution connects to LMS through middleware and simply conveys initiation, completion and scoring.  And the solution was developed for both mobile and computer-based platforms.

The bank has benefitted by significantly reducing the time to completion and certification for about 20% of the 60,000 employees that it targeted.  Users who self select this mode love it…it shows high efficacy…much faster completion rates…and strong preference feedback.

Judy Brown from ADL Co-Labs suggested a very different insight: Mobile learning can be but is not necessarily elearning lite…she challenged us to think about the additional opportunities that a mobile device offers…e.g. the GPS example referenced above.

Consider wildly popular applications like the Obama ’08 tool for iPhone as a possible template for future on-boarding applications.

While Judy was quick to cite the growth of mobile access: In 3 years, ATT mobile traffic has increased nearly 5,000 percent.  She also acknowledged that the single biggest issue is trying to develop solutions that can be accessed from all types of devices since each (i.e. Blackberry and iPhone) has different programming requirements.

Still the temptation to chase this new holy grail for learning is great. Ray Kurzweil the much ballyhooed technology futurist is quoted as saying: “Mobile phones are misnamed. M-learning: Pervasive. Get learners to complete tasks while going about their day-to-day lives.”

There are other factors that will greatly influence the adoption of mobile learning.  Consider the following:

1)We have already developed proven technologies that allow development of very immersive yet very low bandwidth level 4 simulation designs.
2)2010 will usher in new technologies including a mobile version of flash called the Flash Lite Distributable Player.
3)3 and 4G networks are beginning to make persistent connections possible.

So where does this leave us?  In my view, solving business problems is still what’s most critical.  We have a new and evolving arrow in our quiver.  We need to consider the design that delivers the maximum benefit to the learner and the business.  Initially, mobile learning will find it niche in performance support applications — applications that deliver JIT/just-enough knowledge (and skill to a lesser extent) at point of need will offer the greatest return.  Or in large scale compliance heavy learner populations with downtime built into their jobs like the opportunity targeted at Bank of America.

Its a great time to be a business professional in the field of learning! Learn more about Mobile Learning Solutions from Blueline Simulations