The current trends in the professional sector when going from e-learning to mobile learning (m-learning), like compatibility, security and training, within the current mobile landscape with the best practices in mobile learning, are getting more and more popular, tempting and promising.
Considering the fact that there were around 500 million smartphones, 34 million tablets and over 1 billion app downloads in 2011 alone – according to the records of the global mobile communications market, (Cisco Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast), in 2012 there are likely to be more mobile communication devices in the world than people.
Mobile Internet use and the associated transformation of the device landscape are well underway, and its grounds are started with Notebooks, PDAs and Blackberries that have reached perfection with tablet PCs and smartphones.
The device manufacturers trump one another with more and more powerful and visually appealing examples of the mobile companion. Generally speaking, smartphones and tablets are in both practical, conducive to increasing productivity and are a lifestyle symbol.
Employees in companies function effectively and use interfaces of the mobile devices in their everyday vocational life. In more cases, employees use their private devices for business purposes, whereas there are less cases where the companies provide mobile devices to the employees. This phenomenon is known as “Bring your own device“ (BYOD) or “consumerization“ and it is dismissed by many managers in companies as they often overlook that BYOD is already in place in everyday commercial life. According to a survey by the Accenture of over 4,100 respondents from 16 countries, 23% already use their personal device for work.
The advantages of this trend are obvious, as the boundaries between vocational and private life are becoming more and more blurred. It is reasonable for employees to use one device for both purposes, and by having constant access to both private and commercial data, they can arrange their available time as they like, use waiting time effectively and can always be reached. This results in a more efficient, productive way of working, and increased customer satisfaction due to working with their own – usually more powerful – hardware and software.
According to Accenture, over 36% of the respondents pay no attention to the employer’s IT security regulations and 15% even mix business with personal data.
Bring your own device has been reality for a long time and companies are lagging behind this trend. From the perspective of companies, a lot of catching up still needs to be done in terms of providing mobile devices, supplying suitable applications and data, especially with the correct processing of sensitive company data.
Training market turns into mobile
Many companies still have difficulties with the sensible use of mobile courses, regardless of the fact that the e-learning sector has already recognized the sign of the times. At the pertinent e-learning fairs in the beginning of 2012 – LEARNTEC in Karlsruhe, Learning Technologies in London, the Swiss e-learning conference in Zurich and the Australian e-learning congress in Sydney, mobile learning was number one topic. Bersin & Associates regard mobile learning as a further evolutionary step in the continuing education field, which uses the assets of the mobile internet and sensibly brings formal, informal and social learning.
The term „mobile learning” or „m-learning“, is not a new one. It describes learning of the learners’ not defined location or when he or she uses the benefits of mobile technology when learning. Mobile learning was previously limited to laptops, but today it mainly refers to smartphones, tablet PCs or mobile gaming and entertainment consoles.
The strengths of mobile learning lie primarily in the use of learning programs not dependent on time or place, that are in the extremely efficient use of the available time. Periods of idle time between customer meetings or waiting times at airports can be used to access learning modules. Therefore, the vision behind this is the learning is to get what you want, where you want and when you want.
Digital natives programs
Target group for mobile learning are employees who are frequently travelling, and young, technically-minded employees, called digital natives, raised with modern technology. This learning is virtually taken for granted for technically-minded users that they move in the digital world and have information readily at hand when needed. The use of modern hardware such as video game consoles, computers, smartphones and tablet PCs is an integral part of the everyday’s lives of these digital natives. Text-heavy and less appealing learning programs in terms of multimedia are received quickly and are becoming clear instantly. This target group makes up a growing proportion in companies, therefore commercial learning adapts to the needs of the younger generation, to encourage these people to learn and to use as effectively as possible the potential of modern devices for learning.
How can companies make m-learning a concrete part of their training and development concept and create mobile learning programs?
The development and provision of mobile learning content differ from the distribution of classical e-learning content. For suppliers of mobile learning, this means that they must tackle the general technological requirements in the mobile environment and must integrate the new conditions into the existing IT concepts.
Suppliers must be aware that the mobile communication market possesses a high degree of innovation and is very heterogeneous. The developments in recent years together with the breakthrough of the mobile Internet, have resulted in there being numerous different suppliers who want to promote their own technology on the market.
Major providers like Google (60.5% global market share), with its Open Source model Android, recorded strong growth rates in m-learning in 2011. Apple (17.3% market share) relies on lifestyle and user friendliness and Microsoft (1.7% market share) has a bright future in the mobile communications market. Research in Motion (12.7% market share) remains to be heavily represented in the commercial environment.
These and other providers use their own operating system and their own platforms for the distribution of additional applications for the mobile devices, though the compatibility of the individual platforms is not always guaranteed.
The individual devices support or favor different development technologies. The operating system iOS from Apple does not support plug-ins such as AdobeFlash, which are frequently used as development standards, especially in relation to web technology. The third component is the browser used, which also have different technological characteristics.
The company generally has to provide the content from one source and via the providers’ platforms. To lower the development costs and retain the sovereignty of the data, the companies must set up a company-wide device concept and use development technology which guarantees simpler distribution of the content.
A company-wide device concept
The mobile device concept of a company should fundamentally orient on the operating systems, technologies, provision and security. Do the devices restrict the providers the use of an operating system, selected by the company or can the employees decide themselves which devices they would like to use?
In terms of BYOD the latter is presumably more likely. To avoid multiple developments for the same content, it is advisable to use development technologies supported by all the operating systems currently on the market. An example of this is HTML5, a new standard for displaying websites and web applications, supporting all the current browsers such as Firefox, Opera, Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer and can display media such as audio, video and animation without the use of additional plug-ins such as Flash. HTML5 content can be used on virtually all mobile devices and on desktop PCs.
Another standard that can be used on different devices and which is used for publishing e-books in particular is the EPUB3 format. The provision of the content is significantly simplified by the use of technologies such as HTML5, CSS3 and EPUB3 as it is not mandatory to use the providers’ platforms.
HTML5 content, can be provided in the company’s own content management system, that avoids tedious administrative processes with the platform provider and has the advantage that the organisation‘s own data does not slip out of the company.
Smartphones and the like are vulnerable to hacking attacks as PCs, therefore the companies should observe the company‘s internal data security guidelines with respect to mobile devices. The technological safeguarding of the devices, defining secure passwords and raising awareness amongst employees are the general issues to be considered.
Content for the mobile devices can be provided in various formats, but how do the various manifestations differ, what are the advantages and disadvantages of the individual formats and what are the options with regard to technological development?
Native apps are service programs designed for a specific operating system, programmed in the development technologies supported by it and installed locally on the respective devices. The advantage of native apps is that they can fully exploit the options of the mobile device. For example, they can access hardware such as loudspeakers, cameras and GPS sensors, can also be available offline and can save the required data or documents and read out the current location of the user and refer to it. Other benefits include the usability and the appearance of the graphics – apps don’t have to be opened in the browser, but can be accessed directly via the home screen. By using the development technology preferred by the operating system, apps offer very extensive options for graphic design. The disadvantage of native apps is that their use is restricted to a single operating system and that the development technology is predetermined accordingly.
If it is possible to use the app for devices with various operating systems, each app is to be programmed per operating system, which in some cases can cause
costs to shoot up considerably. To make the applications available, it is necessary to upload these in the supplier‘s own app marketplace. In this case, the company’s own data needs to be provided from one source and in some cases it is necessary to accept long delays due to the provider’s administrative processes before provision takes place.
However, the store system can be used to advantage, if you would like to offer the content for a fee. The providers’ shops contain a central handling of payments
and the target group for app users which are located on these platforms anyway is reached without any detours.
Mobile websites are accessed via an URL in the browser, and the programming of a single application is sufficient for all devices used. The independence of the operating system, another major advantage, is that the websites can adapt to the peculiarities of smartphones, tablets etc. The display is scaled using the screen size and it is possible to depict content in a modified way. The content on the website can be reduced or content with large amounts of data can be faded out to avoid transmission problems.
Mobile websites are not available via an app marketplace, they can be administered by the company itself, which means the licensing process in the provider’s own shop is no longer applicable and updates can be implemented quicker. The disadvantage of web applications is that, unlike native apps, they cannot access the specific hardware functions of individual devices and the graphic design offers less space than with device- specific apps
Electronic books were projects from 1988 aiming in making books accessible electronically. In that time the e-books were primarily implemented with the help of floppy discs, and with time they have developed into an independent format which has major growth potential. E-books are electronic copies of printed books, available using special e-book readers and PCs, tablets and smartphones via online shops from publishing houses or device providers.
Pricewaterhouse Coopers predicts that by 2015 there will be a significant increase in the market share in the area of fiction, whereas Apple announces that it intends to become more involved with the education market with its e-book Store, which is likely to give the format a further boost.
Over the years, numerous formats and technologies have been used in the digitalization of the books, with three currently dominating the market. IMobipocket, PDF and EPUB are the most convenient ones. They can it be used across different formats, and can automatically be adjusted to the characteristics of the mobile devices, in terms of screen size for instance.
With the increased sales of mobile devices, the dissemination of e-books will increase with apps or mobile websites adapting to the functions of the devices. Interactive e-books include simple transmission of the originally printed text, with integration of, web links, videos, quiz questions and other continuative context is significant. The characteristic – wipe and zoom – movements also are components of interactive e-books. Books, brochures and other publications can thus be meaningfully supplemented and upgraded with continuative information, interactions and graphic highlights.
In a technical respect, m-learning differs from classical training opportunities. What has to be taken into account when one is preparing mobile learning content? What options are there and where could the journey take us? For one, the learners use their mobile devices for business and require the company to provide content for this as well. In this sense, it seems reasonable to make the existing learning programs – such as the available PowerPoint presentations, PDF documents and web based training – accessible on smartphones and tablets as well.
But, this is by no means mobile learning, since mobile devices are handy, quick and look good. The simple transfer of classical learning content which is designed for face-to-face events or PCs, goes against this principle and thus is successful very occasionally. Mobile learning content should be uncomplicated, quickly accessible and attractively designed. This starts with the loading times, extends to adaptation to the smallest of screens and leads to the inclusion of the characteristic function of mobile devices. The modern touch screen functionalities where the iPad or similar tablets have is attractive learning content that combines the transfer of knowledge with playful elements like wipe, swivel and shake, as well as the cameras, code readers and GPS functions is the essence.
Micro-learning for rapid learning success
Mobile learning’s characteristic is the short learning phases. This is convenient as on one hand, short time budgets are available when travelling, therefore the reproduction of the learning material is enable. On the other side, it is frequently the objective of the learner to receive quickly the answer to a question or to look something up.
Micro-learning content is therefore ideal for mobile use – it describes the phenomenon mobile- whereby users only call up and can repeat learning content when a specific question emerges. In this way one can independently work out concrete solutions and take in the study material.
The micro-aspect refers to several dimensions:
1. The learning content can be restricted in terms of both time (short learning stages) and also content (limited topics and simple learning modules or test questions).
2. Direct success feedback, which contributes to increasing learning motivation and breaks down learning barriers.
3. It is widespread in the e-learning environment and can take various forms depending on learning type and user customs.
Examples of micro-learning content are: notices or video sequences, test questions, images, screenshots, web-based training etc. Apps, quizzes and educational games are increasing popularity and also fall under the heading of micro-learning.
The objective of mobile learning is to offer short, attractive learning sequences which give the learners a brief introduction into a topic and leave them wanting more through the playful use of the hardware potential.
Entertainment vs. employee support
The entertainment of employees should not be the only thing which comes to the fore. It is more important to give added value for the user. The challenge is to provide real support for the employee not only with acquiring knowledge, but also in the daily work flow. This means providing the basic information and answer questions at the touch of a button when a problem occurs in the sense of „lookup“. Increased employees’ support, means helping the employees make their work processes more efficient.
In order to integrate m-learning appropriately into the individual training concept and to fully exploit the performance support nature of the short learning sequences, it is sensible to create blended learning programs. „Blended“ can be understood to mean a link between face-to-face events and mobile learning programs, and a combination of classical e-learning and mobile learning.
Here are some examples:
• face-to-face events with follow-up test questions on mobile devices,
• mobile integration of participants in the form of charts or communities in the run-up to or subsequent to the training,
• add-on modules for smartphones etc. supplementing classical e-learning programs,
• summaries of e-learning sessions or face-to-face events in the form of check lists.
Mobile learning solutions – Content is the King
If the necessary framework conditions, technologies and formats are selected, the question on the content have to be prepared. Creativity and professional expertise, is required in the productivity-increasing service programs, entertaining games or the regular provision of information. The content is easily accessible and attractively prepared, by offering the user genuine value.
In order to be able to work effectively on the move, access to data from the company IT department is essential. This is possible with a laptop, but it is
time-consuming and inconvenient. The more elegant solution is connecting the employees via their mobile devices. Access to the companies’ applications such as ERP and CRM systems, or learning management systems in the area of development, is usually via the appropriate mobile apps which exchange data with the company software and thus make all information easily accessible at the touch of a button.
Augmented reality (expanded reality) creates a union of fiction and reality. Real surrounding objects are enriched with useful additional information, simulations or visual representations. Augmented reality can be used in numerous areas, and it is especially suitable for the learning field and knowledge transfer because the learners use their mobile device to explore their environment and access learning content in a context based way. The programmers utilize, hardware features in the mobile devices such as cameras or special software that ease the learning process. Examples of augmented reality applications are virtual content tours or special simulations.
The integration of m-learning programs within the framework of blended learning and the continuous support of the user with small learning units (micro-learning) is best designed when the participants are provided regularly with lessons which are current or build upon one another. Providing the learner with this in push-mode offers long-term involvement with the learning material and contributes to sustained internalization of the content.
Games, fun and excitement
In the e-learning field games are often selected to prepare complex or „dry“ content in an exciting way and to motivate the learner. Tablets and Co. are suited for the use of learning games, as they combine playful movements such as „wiping“, „shaking“ and „zooming“ with a discerning graphics design. With these, the transfer of knowledge is accompanied by an exciting adventure or amusing games function.
Inform and motivate
If the focus is simply on information provision, the use of playful elements is sparingly used on the other hand. The recipient must be motivated and won over for the acceptance of information. Appealing graphic elements and useful or productivity-increasing additional functions ensure the content is both interesting and serious.
The future of mobile learning
The m-communications market already offers numerous options for providing m-learning content as a meaningful supplement to classical education programs. The current situation is a long way from being the end of the story. Components which have proved their worth in classical e-learning are not yet available in mobile form. Several m-learning initiatives are therefore concentrating on further promoting of m-technologies in the field of e-learning with the aim to provide an integrated m-learning environment. In addition to mobile content which can be accessed via e-learning and field management apps that synchronise with a cloud-based LMS, the independent creation of m-learning content is a key feature. This results in an integrated overall solution which regards m-learning as a logical component of an innovative learning concept.
CLIX Mobile for iPhones and Android is a mobile learning management system which connects employees to their companies’ learning infrastructure. Via their smartphone, learners can access the CLIX learning management system and access personalized learning content, course catalogues and company news. There is automatic synchronization with the learning management system, so that all learning content is always completely up to date.
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