Mobile Learning – My Ah Ha Moment

I had an “ah ha” moment this weekend. To put it in geek-speak, I had my first experience with mobile learning for performance support…and it was amazing.

After seeing a quote to replace the windows in my house which roughly approximated the US median annual household income, I decided it might be a better idea to try my hand at some weatherstripping. So one night, I did some research online, figured out that I could handle it, and assembled a shopping list for my weekly contribution to Home Depot’s bottom line.

Come Saturday, I had my tools and my materials, but standing in front of my first window, I realized I’d forgotten most of the little tips and tricks I’d learned earlier in the week. But that wasn’t a problem, I just whipped out my new Android phone, spent 5 minutes watching a refresher video on YouTube and I was off and running.

Once it became mind-numbingly boring to adhere strips to window, my mind wandered and it occurred to me how brilliantly effective little bytes of mobile learning can be. I didn’t have to go downstairs and sit at the computer, I didn’t have to sit through everything I’d already learned…I just needed a quick refresher and it was sitting right there with me in my pocket.

Of course, I’ve heard all the buzz about mobile learning and yes, I get it at an intellectual level. But now that I’ve experienced it, it takes on a new meaning. This is really powerful stuff.

A lot of people have asked us if we’re doing anything with mobile and we’re not really doing anything yet. We know that the SCORM Engine works on the iPhone and Androids devices, but that’s about as far as we’ve taken it.

The question I keep asking is, “what are the big technical problems to be solved in mobile learning?”. I don’t have a good answer yet, so I’ll pose it here. What are your thoughts? What needs to be done to enable mobile learning on a broader scale? Are the problems technical, or are they more organizational? What should we do in the space? Or, really, does anybody have an idea for a killer app that would let me afford those new windows??!!


  • dave

    What’s interesting is how these are such “early days” for kicking ideas around…

    The fact you sourced a YouTube video is interesting. But, the mobile User Experience is not the sit-down-at-the-desk (or laptop) experience…and, the content consumption needs to be shaped specifically for the Mobile User Experience.

    Clearly, mobile devices are most widely used for SMS; apps and mobile web are secondary (making a phone call doesn’t even qualify to be on the list).

    My question is why doesn’t HOME DEPOT take their online thinking and evolve it to mobile? Why didn’t they have a short code (for SMS) or an IM source for you to text “help with weatherstripping” to? Where you’d quickly drill down for the information or links to images you needed? Watching a :05 minute video seems like ancient technology, when a Google WAVE or IM with rich media content would seem faster and more intuitive?

    I don’t think the problems are technical. I’d say it’s organizational. People haven’t really wrapped their heads around the technology that is already available; and, then consider how to apply it toward shaping content experiences for mobile Users.

    Mobile Learning may evolve to be wonderful. But, right now, it’s fairly primitive, where we’re just happy to replicate what we’ve been doing online for 5+ years. It will take some innovation for mobile learning that is UNIQUE TO MOBILE to really come to market.

    A killer app? It’s all in the User Experience of short text sequences (whether SMS, IM or Twitter)…that’s what people do with phones…so, if you develop in that space, you could win…(think XMPP/WAVE/SMS etc.)…

  • It’s fantastic to see that people are realizing mobile learning’s uses.

    I can only speak for Africa in terms of what we need to overcome or enable to make mobile learning a reality and the truth is we need to take on the mobile network operators and try to get data rates down to a decent price, we can’t watch video in Africa on mobile because its exorbitant.

    A 5 minute low res video = 5megs which then amounts to approximately R10 ($1.50)

    For the higher LSM market this might not sound like a huge amount of money but if we truly want to take this to the masses we need to be able to reach even the most underpriveleged users with mobile phones.

    Some might believe that these “underpriveleged” users wouldnt even have cellphones. but if one does a little bit of research you will find that in even the most desolate of areas in Africa, mobile phones are a norm, airtime maybe not so much.

    Perhaps im being a bit ambitious by hoping to bring data rates down, but something that Mobile phone manufacturers could help with is setting up the phones with WAP before they leave the factory, or atleast allowing the set up to be a simpler process.

    Video might not be possible, but right now we are creating content using text and images, this seems to run quicker and not have the technical hiccups (phone compatibility, video format, network connection dropping etc.), we’ve created content around alot of topics such as HIV and TB, a full 600 page First Aid guide, Maths modules, Science modules and tons of other stuff.

    One must also remember that instructional design for mobile needs to be different to typical e-learning, the screens are much smaller therefore content must be almost “trimmed” down to make it most effective and to keep the users attention for the brief time that he/she is accessing the content, mobile learning modules should be kept to 5-10 minute nuggets (as we like to call them).

    Who knows…if the audience is there we might just create a weatherstripping module 🙂

  • I and my Serco, Inc. colleague, Nina Deibler, who supports the ADL Co-Lab in alexandria, VA recently presented a paper titled “Ensuring Mobile Devices Deliver Mobile Support:
    Are We There Yet?” at the 2009 Industry/Interservice Simulation, Training, and Education conference(I/ITSEC, which is published in proceedings. The paper reviews many of the issues affecting the success of mobile learning and mobile performance support discussed here. The reference citation is: Ruffner, J. W. & Deibler, N. P. (2009). Ensuring mobile devices deliver mobile support: Are we there yet? Proceedings of the Interservice/industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), p. 158-168. Orlando, FL, November 30 – December 4, 2009. I have included a copy of the abstract below.

    Abstract: Estimates show that knowledge workers perform approximately 50 percent of workplace tasks while they are on the go. Mobile workers frequently require access to task-relevant instruction or knowledge in remote work environments where desktop or even laptop computers are impractical. Recently there has been a convergence of enabling technologies and an increased interest in the use of mobile devices, such as Smart Phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), to support worker learning and performance. This is evidenced by the popularity of Web sites (e.g., mLearnopedia.com) and journals (e.g., International Journal of Interactive Mobile Technologies) dedicated to mobile learning (mLearning), and mobile performance support (mSupport). Most of this interest has been focused on mLearning rather than mSupport, and there is a tendency to assume that what works in practice for mLeaning will work for mSupport. This assumption may not be tenable. Therefore, there is a need for the educational community to better understand the differences between mLearning and mSupport, as well as the characteristics of mobile devices, their users, and their operational environments, to maximize the educational value of mobile devices for mSupport. We provide a discussion of mLearning and mSupport that focuses on six user-centered issues likely to determine mobile device effectiveness and user acceptance for mSupport: 1) device characteristics, 2) form factor, 3) user interaction styles, 4) task characteristics, 5) content management, and 6) context awareness. We examine these issues and discuss potential solutions. In addition we provide real-world context via a scenario from the hazardous materials transportation domain.

  • Prasanta Sahoo [Inmedius]

    Hi,
    This is Prasanta Sahoo from India. i like your idea but we have to do a lot of research for mobile learning. Because still there are lots of challenges still alive for it.

    Challenges

    Technical challenges include

    * Connectivity and battery life
    * Screen size and key size
    * Ability for authors to visualize mobile phones for delivery
    * Possibilities to meet required [[bandwidth] for nonstop/fast streaming
    * Number of file/assets’ formats supported by a specific device
    * Content security or copyright issue from authoring group
    * Multiple standards, multiple screen sizes, multiple operating systems
    * Reworking existing e-Learning materials for mobile platforms

    Social and educational challenges include

    * Accessibility and cost barriers for end users: Digital divide.
    * How to assess learning outside the classroom
    * How to support learning across many contexts
    * Content’s security (or) pirating issues
    * Frequent changes in device models/technologies/functionality etc
    * Developing an appropriate theory of learning for the mobile age
    * Conceptual differences between e- and m-learning
    * Design of technology to support a lifetime of learning
    * Tracking of results and proper use of this information
    * No restriction on learning timetable
    * Personal and private information and content
    * No demographic boundary
    * Disruption of students’ personal and academic lives
    * Access to and use of the technology in developing countries

    Thanks
    Prasanta Ku Sahoo

  • Rekha

    My question is why doesn’t HOME DEPOT take their online thinking and evolve it to mobile? Why didn’t they have a short code (for SMS) or an IM source for you to text “help with weatherstripping” to? Where you’d quickly drill down for the information or links to images you needed? Watching a :05 minute video seems like ancient technology, when a Google WAVE or IM with rich media content would seem faster and more intuitive?

    I don’t think the problems are technical. I’d say it’s organizational. People haven’t really wrapped their heads around the technology that is already available; and, then consider how to apply it toward shaping content experiences for mobile Users.

    Mobile Learning may evolve to be wonderful. But, right now, it’s fairly primitive, where we’re just happy to replicate what we’ve been doing online for 5+ years. It will take some innovation for mobile learning that is UNIQUE TO MOBILE to really come to market.

    A killer app? It’s all in the User Experience of short text sequences (whether SMS, IM or Twitter)…that’s what people do with phones…so, if you develop in that space, you could win…(think XMPP/WAVE/SMS etc.)…

  • Hi Mike,

    Indeed, I’ve been one of the many people who has probably challenged you in the recent past to start thinking more about mobile learning as a way to spur your own thoughts on the subject and hopefully to help see you drive new innovations in your SCORM platforms and tools to assist others in getting onboard as well. From our perspective, the many challenges of marrying “SCORM + Mobile” have included (1) identifying cleaver ways to allow mobile learners equipped with smartphones to consume their assignment SCORM-based assignments while disconnected and (2) ensuring that SCORM content built for desktop delivery (and often Flash-based in some way if output by on the many rapid learning development tools) actually formats correctly and communicates appropriately when accessed using today’s average mobile web browser — the experience ranges from “decent/sufficient” to “yuck!” in terms of capability.

    We’ve been actively working to develop our own mSCORM Player in recent months that overcomes the challenges of item #1 above that works across all the leading enterprise smartphones (Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, WinMo, Nokia) and are happy to report we can now present and track SCOs online or offline without seamless integration of data back into an LMS. But what would make life SO much better for all the teams out there beginning to consider their mLearning options for SCORM would be a new Rustici Mobile SCORM Tester that would validate content for mobile delivery; we’ve seen too many SCOs — created in a haphazard fashion that don’t play well on the desktop — that don’t play AT ALL on a mobile device. Perhaps the adoption of mobile learning and/or the move to support it will begin to force the issue on designing better content (free of things like poor manifest structures and non-existent or incomplete commits/calls) with the content developers/publishers and result in everyone having a better SCORM experience no matter what delivery modality they choose.

    We’d love to work with you to identify and define how this new Mobile SCORM Tester could benefit everyone.

    Cheers!

    Robert 🙂

  • Wayne Hairston

    Hi Mike,
    Mobile learning will get a big boost from advances made with cloud computing. In order to customize your learning experience on cell phones, data needs to be stored on a virtual hard drive in which you have full access. You will then be able to run application programs as if the cell phone was a PC. Otherwise, the cell phone is a dumb terminal and this limits your ability to use it as a learning device compared to a PC. Imagine being able to complete a certification course or take a college level class from your cell phone. This is not to say the PC will be eliminated but give us options to access data and interact with it outside of the home computing environment. When this happens a whole new generation of “How to” information services will be born.

  • Aji

    Check out http://www.Blackboard.com/mobile and see if it fits your needs.

  • Guest

    nope, because blackboard is closed