Improve performance and productivity with m-learning.
Every decade or so, learning and human performance technology gets a new boost—a new medium through which it can inform, communicate, interact, empower, and enlighten. In the late 80s and early 90s, CD-ROMs lead the wave of learning technologies. The late 90s and early part of this decade saw a deluge of Web-based training, virtual conferences and classrooms, LMSs, LCMSs, e-learning standards, and so forth. It seems that learning is getting poised to make yet another rush forward into the era of mobile and wireless learning!
To put things in perspective, consider the flowing facts:
More than 50 percent of jobs are mobile—away from a physical office.
In the United States, an average worker spends only two days in formal training programs.
To date, over 500 million Web-enabled mobile phones have been shipped to customers.
Multipurpose hand-held devices, such as PDAs and cellphones, will out sell laptop and desktop computers combined by 2005.
The enterprise market for mobile computing is estimated at $30 billion.
To be sure, nearly everyone can benefit from mobile Internet technologies, but certain industries and jobs seem to be a natural fit for mobile learning and performance support. Examples include field technicians, doctors, sales executives, transportation specialists, security officers, law enforcement personnel, and students.
Going mobile—a paradigm shift
Every new generation of technology challenges our world view and paradigms. For example, a paradigm shift occurred when people transitions from listening to the radio to watching television programs. Another example is when people went from using stand-alone personal computers to accessing the Internet. It’s no surprise that mobility is causing yet another paradigm shift.
Indeed, mobile consumer and business applications are flourishing. Mobile and wireless technology is being used in supply-chain management, sale force automation, inventory management, facilities management, point-of-care administration, law enforcement, and scientific data collection applications. So, the real questions are Will learning transform by aligning, linking, and embedding itself into business applications and workflow? and Can corporate training learn from mobile consumer applications?
Furthermore, we need to consider that shifts to mobile learning aren’t likely to occur dramatically or in isolation. Instead, they may augment, complement, coexist with, and transform current paradigms over an evolutionary cycle.
From desktop to PDAs. The mobile user interface needs to move from a ubiquitous and uniform Web browser to a more personal and context-sensitive experience.
From just-in-time to real-time. Just-in-time means learners can access what they need when they need it. The new paradigm is more proactive and pushes information to people.
From courseware to performance-ware. The stand-alone learning content model needs to transform to a context-driven, task-sensitive, performance-support model. Examples include guided tasks, instructions, job-aids, and reference-ware. In addition, standards need to be defined to interchange performance-objects, which are delivered within the context of a job-task, with leaning-objects, which focus on modular course content.
From course management to business workflow. Business workflow and processes become the delivery platform for mobile learning and performance support.
From instructional design to performance-based design. Compiling content and courses transforms into job, task, activity, and business application context analysis. This links workflow to granular content.
From mouse-and-click to pen-and-voice interface. New forms of interactivity include small or non-existent keyboard interfaces. In the future, pen-based handwriting-recognition and voice-recognition tools to capture and access information will become the norm.
From centralized server to peer-to-peer networks. Peer-to-Peer networks facilitate communication, collaboration, and resource sharing at the edge of the Internet--compared to the traditional client/server networking model.
Mobile devices or learning appliances?
There’s a difference between “being mobile” and “going wireless.” Mobile computing relates to the ability to interact with the device from anywhere, whereas wireless access defines the communication between computers or devices. Nonetheless, mobile computing and wireless access are extremely complimentary.
The problem for most folks lies less in the technology and more with becoming comfortable with numerous types of devices and form factors. To add to the perplexity, there seem to be many choices and personal preferences with each device. Form factors, interfaces, and primary uses of different mobile appliances depend on the evolution or background of the device. For example, did it evolve from a phone, computer, watch, portable camera, or something else?
Cellular phones. In mobile phones, voice is the primary mode of communication. Additionally, users can transmit text-based messages on most models, and new models allow users to share graphics and pictures. But these devices have low data bandwidth and limited storage capacity for data. Uses in learning include voiced-based training registration and scheduling, reminders and notification, voice-based information retrieval and assessment.
Personal digital assistant (PDA). Latest models of PDAs (for example, Palm or PocketPC devices) provide an impressive amount computing and processing power in a small form factor. Also, their high-resolution graphics, handwriting recognition, point-and-click pen interface, and access to office productivity applications are useful tools. Potential learning applications include e-books, PocketCourses, games, reference materials, and job aids.
A number of Hybrid PDAs are available that combine additional hardware devices and functions, such as camera, cell phone, bar code reader, GPS receiver, and so forth. Learning uses for hybrid PDAs include performance support, voice-based information retrieval, in-the-field data and media input or capture. GPS receivers are useful in creating location and map-based information collection and reporting scenarios.
Tablet PC. One of the latest and most sophisticated forms of mobile devices is the TabletPC. Even though these tools are relatively light weight (approximately three to four pounds), they are fully-powered personal computers. Most models include advanced handwriting-recognition and voice-recognition features that will continue to evolve and improve.
Because of their large-screens and high-resolutions, TabletsPCs are good candidates for delivering online courses. They also offer rich data capture and image manipulation features, which can be useful for learning applications. And like all PCs and laptops, TabletPCs can be used for collaboration tools and advanced interactive simulations.
Wearable devices come in many different shapes and sizes, depending on where they’re designed to be worn—from eye-wear to head-gear to watches. Wearable devices can be used for hands-off view of information, job-aids, schematics, and so on. Picture this scenario: a telephone repair-person on a pole fixing the switch based on audio instructions through head-gear mobile device.
MP3 players. MP3 is the most widely used file format for music and audio content. MP3 Players can download content and play it while you’re walking or driving. Uses for MP3s in learning include audio tutorials, books, and lectures. Imagine offering your sales team MP3 clips on new products.
Mobile DVD players are portable and, yet, they can play a full-scale, full-motion video. Learning applications for mobile DVD players include portable and interactive video-based learning and simulations. Potentially, automotive maintenance workers can simulate and practice repairs.
What device is right for you?
There are many different criteria that need to be carefully examined before choosing the right device. Some of the factors include
Once you have the device or appliance selected, you need to determine how to make an Internet connection. Again, there are many options; primary selection criteria include cost, telecommunication carrier coverage, and most importantly bandwidth. Some of the wireless communication options include the following
time division multiple access (TDMA), which is a more traditional cellular voice communication standard that will eventually be phased out.
global system for mobile communication (GSM) and general packet radio service (GPRS). These will eventually evolve into enhanced data for global evolution (EDGE), which can be used to transmit email, data, and low-bandwidth learning content.
carrier division multiple access (CDMA), which has bandwidth similar to GSM/GPRS.
Wi-Fi wireless local area network, which beams radio signals up to 300 feet and its bandwidth and speed ranges between 11 Mbps to 54 Mbps. Wi-Fi is the faster wireless standard and is gaining momentum as airports, hotels, malls, and coffee start to install Wi-Fi hotspots. Soon, you’ll be able to download an entire learning simulations on your tablet or laptop.
global positioning systems (GPS), which is based on 27 earth-orbiting satellites and allows you to find your location anywhere and access such services as maps, directions, destination, near-by peers, and resources.
There are a number of other device-to-device connectivity options, including cradle-based data synchronization, infra-red (IR), and bluetooth interfaces that work for very short distances.
Mobile learning technology
Mapping or squeezing an existing application or learning content into a mobile interactive application may be prohibitively expensive. In fact, some efforts may cost more than developing a mobile application from scratch. Mobile learning and performance support can occur in either connected mode (ranging between always-on to occasionally-connected) or disconnected mode. With mobile learning and performance support, delivering and enabling content for use in off-line mode becomes a necessity rather than a side function.
Mobile learning system components include
authoring tools for content capture and conversion for mobile delivery
mobile game and simulation templates
mobile learning management, which registers and track mobile learning use
mobile learning content management systems that download and manage a repository of mobile content
enterprise application integration tools, such as CRM and HRIS.
The world of mobile and wireless computing is evolving fast. However, in order to fully leverage the mobile Internet for learning, the e-learning community needs to think in terms of performance and productivity rather than traditional lecture style training or courseware. Once we untether ourselves from traditional courseware paradigm, we’ll discover that the mobilew and wireless world has a lot to offer and the game is just beginning!
Published: September 8, 2003