M-Learning Message Home

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In 1982 or thereabouts a wonderful movie debuted. It was about this funny looking ET thing that ate Reese’s Pieces and hung out with some kids that were annoying and went on to have less than stellar movie careers.

Anyway, ET always talked about phoning home and since we know the technology back then was either a rotary or the new touch tone (unless you were super rich and had a cell phone bag like thing) he was limited in his options.

He faced a similar challenge we in the e-learning world suffer from today – not enough information on the mobile frontier. Except our space isn’t the universe, rather learning.

Mobile to Me is not necessarily M-Learning to you (from the vendors’ perspective)

Mobile is still on the rise, with more vendors (LMS, authoring tools, assessment, e-learning tools, etc.) jumping on the bandwagon. For some, they have been there for a few years, others just arriving. But, what may surprise you is how some spin is taking place right in front of your eyes.

We Support Mobile

If I wasn’t fully aware of the whole “mobile spin”, I’d naturally think that what is being said is that the vendor has some type of app (native/HTML5) which is available and when used it goes to their solution.

What it means most often

You can view/access (assuming solution is “in the cloud”) via a mobile device. Some vendors still only enable this capability via a smartphone, but more are incorporating tablets.  A couple of vendors even support mobile gaming devices and yep, even the iPod.

Adding to the confusion is the ol “here is my screen” on a tablet. While it definitely adds a huge plus in my opinion and should be used if you support tablets, it rarely is explained beyond that.  A real shame.

Happening Right Now

Mobile support – we support it. Hey, so do I – I mean you might be reading this on a mobile device.

We support TinCan/Experience API/xAPI

First off, all those terms mean the same thing.  Those who know subscribe to my Linkedin group (E-Learning 24/7) will know that I recommend they just use the term TinCan and move on, but that is for another day.

Saying that you support TinCan or any of the other terms, can create confusion in the consumer’s minds (consumers meaning new clients and not their learners) because it can imply that the vendor supports on/off synch.

What it means most often

They have integrated the API into their tool, platform, and so on.  That’s it.  I should note that some vendors are bypassing TinCan and creating their own API to use with mobile devices that will mimic TinCan.

Happening Right Now

It is mixed.  On one side there is a growth mode for the TinCan API or their own vendor creation, but on the other side there are a significant number of vendors holding off with the wait and see approach.

Why the hold mode? Because the previous track record when it came to SCORM. It was supposed to be this amazing standard enabling true interoperability.  The reality though was far from different. 

In latter editions, some vendors just scoffed at doing so – complaints ranged from it was too time consuming, too difficult, not sought by consumers.

Adding to the whole TinCan issue (beyond just the nomenclature – a “working title” that goes live is no longer a working title), is the whole “toss in everything including the kitchen sink” approach that vendors have often listed as a concern.

We off On/Off Synch

On/Off synch simply means that any content that is pulled down with a net connection, that when there is no net connectivity, the learner can continue to work on the content/courses/etc., and when they have net connectivity again, the data is pulled back into the tool or system.

What it means most often

Actually it means what it says it means. Vendors who offer it should state it in the clear and concise language including the benefits for it.  Many who do offer it, don’t.  So it only adds to the confusion of what is it and why would I want it.

Happening Right Now

It is in growth mode, but still slowing chugging along. Part of the problem is the number of vendors who don’t fully understand what it is and why you would want it (more on that in a sec.), and part of it is the whole BS of “our clients aren’t asking for it”, which is an easy way out of not adding it.

Why would I want it

  • The vast majority of tablets being sold in the market today are being purchased as Wi-Fi only.  Not 3G or 4G or whatever.
  • Regardless of your industry, company (internal) or B2B, B2C, the ability to access offline to take courses, etc. is an added benefit to learning, there are instructional designers/course builders who would love to build a course offline (say in an airplane) and then when back online it goes in seamlessly
  • Data plans are expensive, so much so that when the wireless carriers recommend you use Wi-Fi whenever possible that should tell you something
  • Consumers are seeking it.  It used to be that clients of mine would list “m-learning” as a must need but not on/off synch. Once I explained what it was, they all said, “yes we want that”. Lately, I have had clients who automatically state up front that they want on/off synch. Point being, more people are becoming aware of it and understand the pluses.

Our app is in the iTunes/Google Play store

All this means is that you can go to the respective online store and download their app.  It does not automatically mean that they app is self-contained (needed for on/off synch) or that they have on/off synch.

What it means most often

They have an app. That’s it.  It does not mean that you can do on/off synch.

Happening Right Now

The majority of vendors that do offer an app, are really saying that you can access their tool, system online via the app.  So, in essence, you open up the app, click and it opens up your mobile web browser.

Yippee! What’s next a Root Beer Float for my birthday?

Humor aside (okay sarcasm aside), there are vendors who offer the app, it is self-contained and have on/off synch. 

But as noted above, a high number that do offer it, do not spell it out as such.  They assume you as the consumer will know or figure it out as one vendor told me.

A huge mistake on the vendor’s part.

Messaging in a Bottle err Device

Instant Messaging

It has been around for a long time, but IM is quickly changing in the mobile landscape.  You may have recently read about Facebook buying WhatsApp for 18 billion dollars.

Or are aware that LINE, another self-contained messaging app dominates in terms of humans and generating mass cash flow – due to end users buying “stickers” of all things.

Or, you might be aware of this thing called Skype, which many folks use in the corporate world to communicate with others in their workplace and even more folks use it at home.

Regardless of the messaging app you choose the basics are pretty standard.

  • The app is self-contained, people who have the app can send text messages back to one another, make phone calls to one another including video, regardless where they are located in the world
  • Those who have the app and use it – i.e. I have the app, you have the app, do not incur any text messaging, phone call fees – it is free in other words, but you must each have the app and use it
  • I have found text messaging to work quite well, regardless of where you are, but phone call clarity is a mixed bag – sometimes great, sometimes poor
  • Video the same issue, sometimes great, sometimes locks up and freezes, sometimes drops you
  • Best usage is to do it via Wi-Fi, especially if you are traveling – saving you costs such as data fees and that 50 cent messaging fee many cell providers charge to simply receive a text message/send one

When I travel out of the U.S., I use Skype and WhatsApp.  Skype for phone calls and Whats!App for text messaging. 

I found WhatsApp to be middle of the road to poor in some countries for phone calls and Skype to be just far much better.

The point is I do not use a self-contained messaging app such as WhatsApp or any of the other hundreds out there.  

According to App Annie, I’m not alone from the U.S. perspective. 91% of all Whats!App downloads come from outside the United States (Jan. 2012 to Jan. 2014).

What it means most often

A messaging app enables people who both have the app to communicate regardless where they are located in the world and without incurring any fees for phone, video or text messaging.

Happening Right Now

Nothing in the m-learning space, but I think it shows promise.

Promise not in the sense that the vendor adds a WhatsApp API or any other self-contained messaging app API, rather that they build an app whereas SMS notifications could be sent directly to the app, without incurring any text messaging fees that exist right now if the vendor has the ability to send SMS notifications, beyond just e-mail notifications.

If the client has their system (I see it more suited for LMSs, regardless of the vertical/market), the app comes with it.  The end user downloads the app/actually gets it from the iTunes/Google Play store and now can use it, to do messaging.

And yes, it could be built into that self-contained app for on/off synch as an additional feature.

Having a built-in messaging within an app makes more sense. Especially since not everyone has unlimited text messaging or even has the ability to text message. I know plenty of people who have limited acceptance of text messaging before they incur additional fees.

SMS notifications are the future for event/course notifications in the e-learning world, especially in the LMS market.  Sadly though the vast majority of vendors only do e-mail notifications.

I know this is going to change and see real upswing in 2015-16.  As it is, in just the past three months, I have seen more vendors adding it as a capability than I did in the past nine months prior.  Overall though it is slow.

Bottom Line

There used to be a time when saying mobile meant mobile. And mobile learning meant learning via a mobile device.

It was so simple, then.

Now it is more difficult.

Why do you ask?

Because as a whole, the industry is poor when it comes to explaining, especially something simple.

And that isn’t a message that is easy to deliver.

Or receive.

E-Learning 24/7


One comment

  1. Good article. I would add a note about content not all existing content works in the mobile world. Plus the quality of the content is often just a copy and paste from an e learning course. Its time people started to offer learning with more of a broadcast cast approach.

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