E-learning with mobile devices: Listen and learn

Until recently, delivery of and access to e-learning has been largely from our desktops. But developments in mobile technology and the proliferation of handheld devices means there will be fewer limitations on where and when we access learning. Just-in-time training will be taken to whole new level.

“People are mobile and it is about providing performance support at their moment of need,” says Ron Edwards, managing director of learning consultancy Ambient Performance.

He adds: “It’s also about creating learning opportunities during a person’s downtime and taking advantage of what learning guru David Metcalf describes as learning’s ‘stolen moments’.”

Early days

Mobile learning experiments have been conducted for several years with projects such as the European-led MOBIlearn running various trials, which attempt to put in place models and frameworks for this kind of learning. It may be at an experimental stage, but one certainty is that mobile learning is not merely about shifting traditional learning content and methods on to mobile devices.

While it is early days in terms of content offerings, training managers should tune into the mobile medium to assess how it can fit in with their learning and development strategies. Market research firm IDC predicts that by 2009 the global mobile worker population will reach more than 850 million.

Content may be thin on the ground but there is no shortage of mobile platforms, and learning is likely to be accessed on the full gamut of portable devices: mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), MP3 players and laptops.

Richard Smith, head of business development at games and mobile-based learning development company Pixel Learning, sees a trend towards more people using smart phones. These have e-mail and web browsing functions and data transfer capabilities, which make powerful learning platforms.

He says training managers shouldn’t fear a raft of technical issues if providing learning on mobile devices. “It’s all very do-able today, especially in the corporate sector, where there is control over corporate devices. Organisations tend to specify just one, two or three handsets and stick with one service provider. This cuts down on the issues.”

Pixel has already worked on mobile learning projects for large organisations, including one that allows salespeople to access a refresher course on closing a deal just before they enter the meeting.

MP3 players are also an ideal delivery platform, especially for accessing learning during an employee’s downtime.

Stephen Walsh, partner and one of the co-founders of learning consultancy Kineo, was taken by the idea of developing learning for MP3 players, when he looked at what, other than music, could play on his Apple iPod MP3 player.

Audio learning

Walsh and his colleagues hope the MP3 player will re-kindle interest in audio learning. Their research indicates there is an appetite for it.
Kineo found that more than 50% of respondents use audio learning at least occasionally both in formal and informal contexts, while 50% said an MP3 player was their preferred means of accessing it.

“Leadership and management learning in particular lend themselves well to pithy anecdotes and story-telling, and personality counts for a lot. Audio works well when it’s highly story-driven,” Walsh says. “But audio learning needs to be designed as short modular clips, not 30-minute monologues.”

Kineo is also a big fan of pod casting (typically where audio is captured and put in a format that can be downloaded to an MP3 player) and plans to exploit its potential for learning. It has already recorded interviews and wants to move towards a chat show format, says Walsh.

Producing learning for the mobile medium might require some fundamental mindset changes but, as with any form of e-learning, it is important to see it as part of a blend or complement to traditional forms of training.

by Sue Weekes

Three for the road

These three key pieces of mobile technology will be showcased at Ambient Performance’s Seriously Mobile event on 22 March at Canary Wharf, London. A second event will be held in June.

Datmedia will show a streaming video product for corporate video that will work with off-the-shelf phones. Its datpresenterT software allows you to create interactive presentations and programme libraries that can be shared via mobile broadcasting as well as the web and internet protocol television. This is basically TV content distributed over an internet protocol.

Giunti Interactive Labs will exhibit eXact Mobile. This is a mobile learning content management system that enables users to create, manage and deliver content on market-leading mobile devices, including smart phones, PDAs and wearable computing equipment.

7city plans to launch an interactive e-mail tool designed to assist those undertaking financial training. It can be delivered via mobile devices, such as Blackberry, and will support specific performance improvement initiatives through targeted and intelligent assessment.

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