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The future’s bright; the future’s mobile


Britain is becoming increasingly reliant on mobile technology. We are now witnessing a mobile population that is looking beyond existing learning methodologies. Gareth Murran and Lynda Donovan look to the future of mobile learning and ask; what is needed to structure a learning environment that allows learners to access content when, where and how they want it?

We are a population that is forever ‘on the move.’ Leading a fast paced lifestyle, we demand technologies that keep us connected to the world; our colleagues, friends, relatives and global news. Research by Pew (2010) highlighted that 21% of adults are now heavily dependent on their mobile phones.

Mobile learning (mlearning)

  • Learning that happens across locations
  • Takes advantage of learning opportunities offered by portable technologies
  • Provides around the clock ownership of learning
  • Provides a highly accessible form of interactive and engaging learning on demand

In response to this demand, mobile devices have evolved to become viable connection tools to the internet and online resources. In 2009, a 34% increase in mobile Internet usage was logged. A significant shift in the way that people are using mobile technology has been witnessed; in recent years there has been a major move towards using mobile devices for purposes other than pure voice functionality. These exciting changes are set to continue and evolve in the future.

People are already comfortable with using phones for discussion, so a conversation that can be supplemented with other media, such as video/photo messaging, or video/audio podcasts, makes the ‘phone an extremely important collaborative learning tool.

The elearning industry needs to present two key services to customers via mobile technologies; learning which is tailored to mobile devices and social and informal learning opportunities which involve sharing and discovery. But we must be mindful of the need to change the model for how content is delivered and consumed effectively using the array of handheld devices on the market.

Real-time resources

Crucial to the future of mobile learning is the structure of the learning environment and provision of performance support that meets the everyday demands of the mobile population. Learners demand engaging, interactive and customised learning content. Even Facebook and Twitter, generally recognised as social networking tools, have become inexpensive forms of learning environments. Udutu, a custom elearning content developer, has recently launched LMS functionality as a series of Facebook applications.

Additional forms of interactive learning include video and audio podcasts. Consider here a pickup and delivery driver; numerous hours of down time are spent driving from ‘a-to-b.’ Through audio podcasts the driver can gain a wealth of knowledge with ease. Furthermore, video and audio learning allows for reinforcement and extension of learning; learners can take part in interviews with experts/mentors.

The advantages of RSS feeds for remote workers travelling to and from location on public transport are also extensive. Sales personnel for instance, can utilise blogs, wikis, podcasts and photos to keep up to date with their training whilst on the go. In addition, announcements of new training opportunities can be delivered straight to the mobile device via RSS feeds.

The younger workforce in particular crave synchronous collaboration tools; real-time learning opportunities at the click of a button. An exciting feature of mobile learning’s future is augmented reality; the ability to create a computer generated image on top of a real-world environment. For example, learning providers are now investigating how mobile devices will soon enable a care worker to scan medication and gain an insight into dosage and how best to administer the dose. To add further dimension to the future of mobile learning, we should also look at how highly interactive and digitally usable information can be stored on a learner’s mobile device and retrieved as and when required; further boosting the flexibility of mobile learning.

iLearn by doing

3G networks comprising high speed, continuous broadband access has allowed for extensive advances in mobile usage. Learners now utilise palm top, ‘fit in the pocket,’ always on, anywhere-anytime devices such as Android, Blackberry and iPhone.

These three devices are currently racing ahead in the popularity stakes for mobile learning. The iPhone inparticular delivers a superior experience. It storms ahead due to its highly intuitive, easy to master user interface and multi-touch screen being the primary medium for all user input. In order to cater for users’ needs, future proofing projects must be aware of multiple platforms;  data input mechanism; wireless connectivity options; device size and weight; battery life; available memory; processor speed and screen characteristics.

Employees who require learning on demand can access an array of applications via mobile devices. Not only do applications such as induction training, podcasts and assessments deliver ‘just in time’ learning material but they also present a wide variety of performance support in the context of a learner’s job. For example, a series of ‘How do I...?’ procedures can be presented to the learner.

For a successful future we must consider what we have learnt from traditional forms of elearning; originally classroom based learning was moved directly to the computer screen. This presented an overwhelming quantity of information. The key to the success of mobile learning is not overpowering the learner with an excess of learning content; the formatting of content, or ‘adaptation,’ such as single columns, reduced image size and pagination, will make content usable on the mobile device.

Performance management on the move

The aim of performance management as part of any talent management programme is to create a highly responsive, high-performance culture and sustainable company that meets its goals and targets. When teamed with talent management, social and informal learning tools fundamentally improve operating efficiency, retention and professional development.

Companies need to foster informal moments of knowledge transfer. If informal access is not built into the formal learning process the chances of transferring knowledge to ‘doing’ will be difficult. Here, mobile learning can help.

Being able to track when and where formal and informal interactions take place on mobile devices adds further strength to talent management. Mobile learning allows for more data to be captured and analysed, thus ensuring a thorough evaluation of each user’s talents and skill base. A learner’s demographic, specifically their digital profile and the data it contains are now paramount in determining effectiveness of learning and level of engagement.

Companies must carefully consider the future of their workforce if they are to remain competitive. Employee connectivity to information is paramount; employers must therefore ask ‘how can we best present learning content to our workforce to not only develop and manage their career path, but to also ensure sound return on investment (ROI)?’

Knowledge in the hand

The future of mobile learning should not limit itself to a bottomless source of information and entertainment. The future should explore mobile learning as a tool for talent management and leadership development. Within a decade, it is predicted that mobile devices will become the primary connection tool to the Internet. Connectivity to the Internet and mobile learning are helping shape future pedagogical delivery methods, and has the potential to far outgrow learning on the desktop.

Gareth Murran and Lynda Donovan are members of the ThirdForce Innovation Team. Gareth joined the Innovation team as an R&D developer in 2006 and has extensive knowledge of internet technologies ranging from web development to interactive design and social software. Gareth has a Masters from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland and an engineering degree from Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland.

Lynda joined ThirdForce in 2000 as head of instructional design. She has extensive experience of learning design and has taught instructional theories and practices and psychology of learning modules on Masters Degree programmes. Her role involves defining pedagogically effective training strategies, monitoring the effectiveness training and identifying appropriate applications for new and emerging technologies. She has a Masters Degree and Higher Diplomas in Education from NUI Galway, Ireland and a Higher Diploma in ICT in Education from NUI Maynooth, Ireland. For more information visit Thirdforce.comor email [email protected].

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