Tuesday, October 30

Wave Riding Theory - a fresh look at learning technology adoption

Is there a gap between mobile learning theory, and practice?

How should teachers decide which approaches, technologies, or approaches to adopt with their mobile learning?

As part of my session at MobiMOOC 2012 we explored some of the current theories often applied to m-learning, trying to map them to practice.

Together with my team, we have been deeply involved in mobile learning (both envisioning it, and making it) for over 11 years, but very little of that time has been spent in pure theory, so it was an interesting exercise mapping some of the current theories to live examples, and then discussing with the attendees where the gaps lay (and how we might bridge them)

In the process, we realised that the most crucial step any practitioners needed to take was realising that mobile is coming at them whether they are ready or not. It is not a flood that can be stopped, more a wave that needs to be ridden! This wave-riding theme kept growing, as we discussed the different approaches to coping with the myriad of available devices and approaches, until it became a theory in it's own right!

Wave Riding Theory

The basic tenet of this, is an awareness that mobile consumer technologies are rushing towards us whether we are fully prepared for them or not. Already, more smartphones are sold than PCs, and a huge majority of our learners will use their mobile device as their primary reference / communication / collaboration tool (even if it is for Facebook!)

Rather than try to hold back the tide, our role as educational-techies is to help practitioners learn how to ride it. The wave is rushing at us regardless. It won't wait till we have perfected our art. Instead we just need to jump on, and learn as we ride.

We used this surfing-metaphor to look at various aspects of mobile learning, to extract our key advice. The next slides show advice both for Learning Designers, and for Implementers:

1: The importance of trial and error. Start small. Practice. Keep improving.

Start small. Practice. Keep improving.

2: Keeping supple and flexible.

Keeping supple and flexible

3: Building in resilience. Prepare for the unexpected.

Building in resilience

4: Success is as ART as much as a science.

mobile learning as an art

What do you think? Does the wave-riding metaphor work for you?

The mobiMOOC attendees certainly thought so, encouraging me to do this post, and proceeding to work with us to develop their own top tips for m-learning practitioners

I hope you find them useful!

Tuesday, October 2

Top tips for mlearning: wisdom of the crowd

Last week I ran a session at MobiMOOC2012 with educators and learning technologists from across the world, exploring different pedagogies, and learning theory often associated with mobile learning. Our aim was to explore the gap between the theory, and practice. The week started with a presentation from me, culminating in an open question:
What advice could the attendees (and other MobiMOOCers) offer to others interested in getting started with mobile learning?
Discussions raged on for the rest of the week, with some great suggestions, and observations. The list, below, were our TOP TIPS:

  mind the gap - top tips for mlearning

 Our collective MobiMOOC top tips were:
  • One size does not fit all: choose the tools to fit the need and context
  • Let learning design inform the technology (not the other way round)
  • ACTIVE Learning: use mobile tools to do stuff - in the classroom, in the world
  • Empowerment: allow the learners lead
  • Use social media to collaborate and share
  • Keep learning strategies AGILE: allow time, and space to iterate
  • Start from the CONTEXT of use, involve learners and be creative
  • Small, reusable content is more flexible for mobile use
This is what the MobiMOOC class of 2012 came up with. What do you think?

Some additional quotes from attendees that help back this up are:
  • Forget what you think the tech can do - what do you want to do?
  • Information is everywhere, learners are mobile, m-devices are the bridge between them (Involve real-life tasks into educational activities)
  • Let learners do things their way -- congratulate yourself if they do not proceed exactly like you had planned.
  • While with technologies there is access to an abundance of information, this does not necessarily imply learning. It is what learners do with this information that leads to learning
  • Small-size devices, straightforward activities (Reduce complicated learning procedures).

Friday, September 28

Open Standards for m-learning?

As enthusiasm for m-learning grows around the world, and more mobile content gets developed, the problem of "re-use" keeps growing. If I build for an iPhone, what about Android? How can I ensure that all possible learners benefit from my awesome app? What happens with that great learning content I optimised for an earlier platform that is no longer popular?

If you are looking for guidelines on how to ensure longevity for your content without locking into one mega platform, or system, you have come to the right place.

We have been working with researchers and techies in UK, USA and Europe trying to understand the options, and build them into real apps which have been deployed across over 20 nations, via iTunes and Play app stores.

The bad news: there is no specific set of standards for m-learning to solve this

The good news: there are quite a few OTHER sets of standards that are very useful, if applied right.

The first step is to clarify exactly where you want to sit on the "native app, one device" <-> "simple media, all devices" spectrum. In our work we found huge benefits in making content as richly interactive as possible, so we have narrowed our focus to high-end devices only (smartphones, tablets, wifi devices), but because we invest a lot of our energy into the media quality, it is essential to us that it travels well between Android - iOS - Windows Phone - others

We have put ourselves here (see image above). We aim to put as much content as possible into html5, but do NOT deploy as a web app, rather wrapping it into a shell native app. 

I'll try to explain this a little more clearly, below 

We package our learning content into small, zipped packages of html5, ensuring all media files are formatted to play on all targeted devices. Packages can also contain non-html5 media (like eBooks). These we host on our online library. Users can download the app from the app store, and then log into our library, and download content. The same library, and the same content whatever the platform their app is running on.

We have spent the best part of the past year trying to optimise the balance between what is HTML (viewed in an embedded browser), and what is native. 

If you want to see this in action, download our Global MedAid app from your local app store. (it was made for the www.mole-project.net and includes a fairly weighty 40Mb of media, and content)

The screens above are from Global MedAid. You can see how some of the menus, search functions, popups are managed natively, while underlying content is in a browser window. The reasons are ALL performance based.

This is how we manage the "cross platform content" piece, but what about the wider standards? Our approach here is to look at every "join" between different layers, or different aspects of the platform, and then look for related standards. See below: 

Depending on exactly what you are needing to do, I'd suggest you look into the different standards listed here, to keep things as open, and re-usable as possible.

(And if you are thinking of signing up for a big authoring system offering you "mobile", make sure that you can get at open versions of your content at every one of those "joins"!)

The ideas, above, are working really well for us. We have apps built on this being used across the world, in several languages. The biggest of which is with a US Government learning portal, who has adopted this open approach, and is using it with all their mobile learning suppliers. All content is delivered, zipped and packaged up, into the cloud. Authorised users download an app designed for their particular smartphone, and then go and get whichever cross-platform mobile content / courses / tools / activities they want

If you are interested in further details, see also our free report on cross platform app development

Wednesday, September 26

MobiMOOC 2012: Mind the Gap

This morning I completed the second of two online presentations as part of MobiMOOC 2012 (an online, free to access course on mobile learning).

 Initially, when I was asked to do a session on "mLearning pedagogy and learning theory" I thought they had the wrong guy. I have been deeply involved in mobile learning (both envisioning it, and making it) for over 11 years, but very little of that time has been spent in pure theory.

Almost all my time has been spent trying to understand how to REALLY make mobile learning work, in a meaningful and practical way. Not just the theory, but the real down-n-dirty practice. Together with my team we have been building apps / authoring tools / SMS engines / platforms / mobilized content and then using these with hard-to-access learners across the globe, trying to figure out what really does work, and add benefit.

After confessing this to the organisers, it turned out that this was exactly why they wanted our input, so we did a session titled Mind the Gap (or, where mlearning theory meets practice)

This is the ppt we did. There is also a youtube recording of the entire session!

Our main approach was to:
  1. explore briefly some of the academic theory, and frameworks often mentioned in mobile learning
  2. discuss the challenges in really making use of them, practically
  3. work together to propose some suggestions / guidelines
  4. look at a few real life examples. Projects my team have been involved in.
Feedback from the online attendees was overwhelmingly positive, and we had an animated debate running in parallel (with huge thanks to my colleague, Jo Colley, for keeping it flowing).

What do you think of the issues, and ideas?

Monday, September 24

MobiMOOC - free online m-learning course happening now!

MobimoocThere have been a flurry of reports in the news recently about MOOCs. Massive, Open, Online courses. Several notable startups have waded in (Coursera, Udacity, edX, Ted-ed), and the early results look impressive.

But did you know that Mobile Learning was one of the early adopters?

MobiMOOC 2011 started the ball rolling last year. A massively online, free, collaboration between m-learning gurus from across the globe (see our summary report)

The next one, MobiMOOC 2012 is happening RIGHT NOW. It is part way through, free, and waiting for you to join in as a lurker, a caution contributor, or a down-right enthusiast!

For a preview of the speakers and sessions, explore the MobiMOOC site

I am curating a strand this week, presenting live on both Tuesday (late) and Wednesday (early), with a parallel discussion forum. The title is "Mind the Gap: exploring the gap between m-learning theory, and practice"

Do drop in. I'd love to see you online.

Friday, August 31

Mobile Learning Guidelines - essential reading for learning leaders

Those nice folks at UNESCO continue to champion mobile learning.Unesco logo Earlier this year we praised their grass-roots style Mobile Learning Series, and now they have taken that one step further by developing a set of guidelines for policy makers and learning leaders to help them benefit from m-learning. As they say in their report:
This year the number of connected mobile devices, the vast majority of which are mobile phones, will surpass the world’s population for the first time in history. Yet despite their ubiquity and the unique types of learning they support, these technologies are often prohibited or ignored in formal systems of education. This represents a missed opportunity. The learning potentials of mobile devices are impressive and, in many instances, well-established: they can help address a number of pressing educational needs in new and cost effective ways. In a world that is increasingly reliant on connectivity and access to information, these devices are not a passing fad. As mobile technologies continue to grow in power and functionality, their utility as educational tools is likely to expand and, with it, their centrality to formal education. For these reasons, UNESCO believes that mobile learning deserves the careful consideration of policy makers.
The guidelines were initiated (by several of my peers) at a workshop earlier this year, and are now consolidated into some great advice, available for all. If you are a learning leader, or policy maker I advise you to download their Draft Policy Guidelines. If you are quick, you still have a chance to send in your comments (by 2 Sept). The final Guidelines will be released in 2013. enjoy!

Thursday, July 19

Mobile Learning interview - geoffstead

While in the states I met up with Ewan MacLeod of MobileIndustryReview who was enthusiastic enough about our mobile learning work to interview us for his site.

As he was new to m-learning (and a good interviewer), the video ended up like a crash course in mobile learning. What works. what doesn't. What we are up to.

Check it out. You'll get our current thinking on the industry, as well as the first public info about the work we are doing to mobilise the US Department of Defense. They are using our mobile toolkit to roll out m-learning across vast numbers of their learners.

Go live within the month.


Ewan, thanks for the enthusiasm.

Do you agree with the points in the interview? I'd love to hear your comments.

Tuesday, June 26

mLearnCon 2012

I was honoured to do a Key Note at mLearnCon 2012 in Silicon Valley, sharing a combined session with Clarke Quinn (@Quinnovator) and /David Metcalf (@dmetcalf)

It was a fun and dynamic session, which seemed to catch the right mix of theory, practise and vision. See my presentation, below:

The session was focussed on some practical lessons from the field (the 3 of us are major m-learning veterans!). My key themes were:

Mobile is NOW, and personal - when your learners are already mobile web users, and smartphones are already mainstream … it is pointless debating whether m-learning is good or not. It is already here. We just need to get better at harnessing it!

One size does not fit all – there isn't only one approach. You need to plan your mobile learning around YOUR learners, YOUR scenario. YOUR domain area.

Learner centred design – It is the learner’s own phone. You need to design your learning around their context, and their needs.

Native app PLUS HTML5 – We are big fans of using HTML5 for all our content, and then blending that with the native app. We use PhoneGap, and build custom plugins, and javascript code to optimise for learning.

Standards decrease risk, and increase resilience – Where ever possible, make sure your content. Your data. The divide between different sections of your platform communicate with open, standard formats.

What do you think? Let’s hear your comment!

Monday, June 18

Top m-learning reports of 2012

Filtering out the best, so you don’t have to! Links to our top m-learning reports for 2012:
You know that mobile learning has hit the mainstream when the big guys start to get it … and 2012 is the year that this happened. With solid reports, and reviews from UNESCO, GSMA and other global giants, as well as a flurry from mobile consultancies across the planet!
Here are a few of the best (free) reports:

image GSMA have a whole collection of reports, the meatiest of which is a McKinsey market report. It is good stuff, but bear in mind their audience. This is not about empowering learning. It is about helping network operators (GSMA) understand the commercial opportunities. So good on stats, a little heavy on corporate speak, but a little lame on education. Teachers may find the other reports (Case Studies) more helpful.

image UNESCO have also launched a Mobile Learning Series, with some great reports, and resources. These are the opposite end of the spectrum from the GSMA ones. Very grass-roots up. Trying to understand the impact on individual students, and looking at challenges faced by education institutions. They hosted a mobile learning week earlier this year. If you are new to m-learning I recommend their summary of the week. By reading section 2, you get a crash course in all the current discourse of m-learning!

imageJISC infoNet in the UK put together a great summary of what is going on in learning technologies (“Emerging Practice in a Digital Age”), and included with it a special section on m-learning: The Mobile Learning infoKit. JISC are all about empowering teachers, so they contain real, grounded advice and guidance. It is a great report, but even better for those visual learners amongst you, there is a great, simple slideshow that comes with it, summarizing all the main themes!

imageOr if you like your reports more academic, check out IAMLearn – the International Association of Mobile Learning. They have a small sample of their prodigious output online.

imagem-learning.org – of course it would be remiss of me not to point you at our own m-learning.org site for a wealth of free research, and reports. Or see also the reports section of our MoLE project site

So much for the meaty reports …  for more current news, there are some great developer teams (like ours!) and practitioners publishing tips and tricks. See TribalLabs, MobLearn, Float Mobile Learning, Upside Learning, LearningInHand, IgnatiaWebs, Mobile Learning Edge, or aggregators like mlearnopedia.
But if you REALLY want your news fresh, go to #mlearning on twitter!

Monday, March 26

Mobile learning in Iceland

Tour bus drivers in Iceland are using our mobile learning to improve their English language skills.
I had the huge privilege of a trip to Reykjavik to meet some of our mobile learners. I loved it. Iceland is awesome. The people we met were great fun (and perfect hosts). IMG_7073
The entire island is dominated by nature in the raw. Waterfalls. Geysers. Volcanoes. Glaciers. Wild seas. Lava fields and piles of ash.
But the most impressive thing of all was one of the learners I met!
He was one of the older drivers, and he took me aside for a chat. 5 weeks before he could speak no English at all, and here he was explaining to me the m-learning programme he was involved in, and discussing which bits he liked best. In English! Wow! Especially since he is exactly the type of learner that some people say "don't get mobile". He doesn't have a smartphone of his own. He must be close to 60. Here are some quotes from some of the others:
Erlendur: “I realized I am better than I thought I was. I am no longer afraid to speak. Now I like speaking English – even to my colleagues“
Gudni: “We had a great time learning together. I liked it a lot. I felt I was not at school. Using the phone was good fun.“
Karl: “I liked the combination of learning in the group and on my own, the phone was a good companion. I felt comfortable.“
Pall: “This course would be good for all our other colleagues as well“
Laugi: “Now I can speak to the tourists - I would do it again!“
The training was organised by BEST training, from Austria. Long time partners of ours. They were using mobile devices and content sent over from our office in the UK, but then blended by them into a 5 week programme delivered in Iceland ... with a mix of a few face to face sessions, and a lot of working alone, in free fragments of time.
We've been using the terms microlearning, and bite-sized learning to describe these short, sharp learning interventions.
I was there as part of the evaluation, and had the chance to work with senior members of the unions, employers, tour guide association and training funds. Very enlightening, and reassuring how good training is good training, wherever in the planet it happens!
Thanks again to the entire Iceland crew. I look forward to the next chapter

Thursday, January 19

iBooks 2 – Introducing the future textbook?

iBooks 2
Today Apple released iBooks 2, a beautiful new format for interactive books that they hope to use to “re-invent the textbook”.
Steve Jobs reportedly spent the last few years of his life planning to shake up the textbook market, and revitalise education. Today’s event in New York is the first education-only launch from Apple in a long time. Has Steve added to his legacy? Or is this announcement just hype?

The background: Textbooks are big business. They are expensive. The industry is dominated by a few publishing giants. Steve Jobs is quoted as saying the US market for text books is worth $8bn per year. According to Reuters, 90% of this market is controlled by the big three: Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The Apple vision is by moving textbooks onto the iPad, they can be cheaper, more interactive, and ultimately more useful as educational reference tools. And at first glance it does look exactly like that.

So what is the iBooks 2 format about?
The iBook format has been enhanced, to allow embedded video, interactivities, quizzes etc. In itself this is nothing new. There are several beautiful eBooks that have been released as apps that do exactly this (like The Elements). But the big difference here is that these capabilities are included in the eBook format itself, so you don’t need to create an app to distribute it. You can do so as an eBook. You can also highlight and annotate the books, and even generate flash-cards to help you learn key sections.

Which textbooks are available? textbooks
All three of the major publishers mentioned above have been signed up already. Right now there are only a few in iTunes (none available outside the US), but there is a very lovely (free) sample called Life On Earth, which is well worth a viewing.
Early pictures from the event, here: http://www.theverge.com/apple/2012/1/19/2718539/ibooks-2-first-hands-on-photos

And who else is making the new eBooks? Right now, anybody can! iBooks Author
The best bit about the format is the free iBooks Author which allows anybody to create an eBook, and add media, and interactivities. We are not just talking textbooks here. Anybody with a great book idea can add their own media!

The theory is you can even add rich HTML / Javascript but we haven’t tried this yet. 
If you would like to see more samples, those good people at TheVerge have a bunch of photos of it in action over at http://www.theverge.com/2012/1/19/2718646/ibooks-author-hands-on#2879838

Will this transform educational publishing? Yes, I think so.
Especially in the marketplaces like the US where so much money is currently being spent on the old-skool paper versions.
But I also think that Open Educational Resources will transform educational publishing too. As will other non-Apple platforms. Remember, these eBooks are iPad only. So this is an important step forward for education at large, but not the only way.

Will this transform education? No.
This is the point where technology enthusiasts and real teachers often get “their streams a little crossed”. It is useful to have a richly engaging eBook? Absolutely! Do on-screen interactivities take away the need for any interaction with peers and teachers? Of course not!

So – we are hugely enthusiastic about the new format, especially given the free authoring tools. But also slightly concerned that the hype is masking some more significant issues ahead. As Seb Schmoller says, we probably need to watch and wait to see how many of the details pan out over the next 18 months.

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