There is little doubt that the ‘chatter’ surrounding m-learning is increasing in volume. Learning and development people are intrigued (and a little frightened) by the thought, business managers love the idea of training taking place during ‘dead’ time and learners see the undoubted value of training that can be accessed whenever they need it. Some of the chatter is hype but businesses ignore the potential value of m-learning at their peril.
The key to making m-learning successful, however, is not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Since the time of Plato, we’ve used the classroom model to teach. When e-learning came along, we took the classroom approach, removed the trainer and put the material online. At this point, I’m not sure why the industry was surprised that learners hated e-learning but it was. We’d taken the best bit, the experienced trainer, out and added very little to the bit we all hate – the dreaded PowerPoint deck.
The scary thing for me is that I’m starting to see mobile learning that looks very much like the worst examples of e-learning that I have seen. Building animated PowerPoint slides on small screens and trying to teach subjects like health and safety is just a recipe for disaster – with this model m-learning will never take off.
m-Learning should be about easily accessible, bite sized chunks of learning that I want to do – note WANT not HAVE to do. It should not try to replicate the hour long course that Plato may have run for his students.
One way to achieve success with m-learning is to look at how you can use video. Video provides a good medium for m-learning because:
- Video is easy to distribute – Most organisations have an array of mobile devices which use a variety of technologies. Most of these devices, however, support video. This makes the content hassle free for the learner and makes it possible for the learner to easily share the content.
- Video is compelling As proven by YouTube, people like to watch videos and today’s technology allows even amateurs to create high-quality, highly engaging content.
- Video is the right medium for m-learning – Often, learning is about persuasion – you are trying to get people to behave differently. The impact of this persuasion is diluted when presented as series of animated slides. Video on the other had can be used to convey passion and emotion. It can show fear or excitement. Today’s technology also means that video does not have to passive, it can be interactive with all the assessment tools and engaging interventions that we all love!
In conjunction with the people behind Red Nose Day, Saffron Interactive developed a fun and challenging online game to raise money for Comic Relief. Our Brain Game proved to be a great success with countless people playing everyday, testing their reactions and observation skills, and vying for the top score!
We received many generous donations to our Red Nose Day Giving page, raising a grand total of £655.51!
So, from all the team at Saffron, a big thank you to all who sponsored us and played our Brain Game. Click here to view the final scoreboard and to see who won the prize of exclusive FA Cup semi-final tickets!
Here at Saffron we’ve been interested in the concept of Mobile Learning, or m-learning, for some time. Ever since mobile devices began to offer more than just Tetris and telephone calls there has been a growing eagerness amongst us, and the rest of the industry, to utilise this new medium as much as possible for the purposes of learning.
Over the past few years we’ve developed several learning applications for mobile devices, such as Blackberry-based training, video podcasts and our i-Cast services. Recently however, an improvement in mobile technology and an increase in public interest in mobile content have come together to make it possible for m-learning to be taken to an even more advanced level.
This progress is best shown by the success of Apple’s iPhone. 17 million of these devices have been sold since it was released in June 2007, and a quick glance around on the tube or bus shows that the iPhone is beginning to reach the level of ubiquity previously only seen with Harry Potter novels and the iPhone’s predecessor – the iPod.
This week Apple announced improvements to the iPhone’s software that seem set to increase its reach further, and which should have an impact on the possibilities for m-learning. Apple has already made tools available to developers to give them the opportunity to create applications for the iPhone and the iPod Touch, and distribute them via its App Store. Users can quickly and easily download these applications directly to their device and use them straight away. The simplicity and attractiveness of this service is shown by the 800 million downloads from the App Store to date. The improvements to the developer tools and the distribution and payment models announced this week should make the whole process even simpler.
Developers can now access and utilise many more of the iPhone’s features, allowing more advanced video content, audio integration and even location-based services. The potential this offers for learning content is considerable. “Push” services have also been improved on the device, meaning that updates and alerts can automatically be sent to users so they can always be made aware of the latest content. Since the iPhone also has an always-on, high speed Internet connection, it’s possible to deliver content to users, and retrieve data, such as tracking information, feedback or assessment results. In short, mobile users can now have all the features they expect from their computer-based eLearning, but in a more immediate, and accessible form.
Following the success of Apple’s services, Blackberry is on the verge of launching their own application store, and the development of new, more advanced applications for Blackberry devices is gearing up to meet the new market.
The challenge is to find ways of using the features that best serve the learner, and to do so using technology and coding languages that may not be immediately familiar to many e-learning developers. This is a challenge that is worth embracing though, as success will not only allow learning to be delivered directly to the considerable iPhone and Blackberry market, but it will also help progress the scope of m-learning overall.
It’s an interesting and rewarding time for m-learning, and here at Saffron we’re excited about turning the new possibilities into realities.
Whilst attending the Learning Technologies Show in January, one particular statement grabbed my attention. According to Dr. Itiel, former senior lecturer in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Southampton, on average, 70-80% of information that people “learn”, they will forget after 24 hours. So, for all of us who create learning courses, we really do have a tough job on our hands to ensure that participants remember the learning points for longer than a day!
In particular, this made me consider the assessments our clients often request at the end of an e-learning course. If we are assessing the participants on how much they have learnt then we should be aware that testing them within 24 hours of completing the course perhaps doesn’t give a fair representation of this. If someone achieves 90% on the assessment part at the end of a data protection course then we hail that as an achievement; that employee now knows how to handle data correctly! But, for how long? What if, 24 hours later, they are confronted with a data protection situation; will they remember what to do? If they’re lucky, the issue they face will draw from the 20-30% of learning they still remember.
But, before we all go and change our careers, let’s not forget that there are so many factors which influence why people “learn” or remember. For example, age, ability, cognitive load, relevance of the material and motivation for taking the course could all play a part. Dr Itiel’s point was that, as people who design learning, we just need to be aware of these factors and use them to our advantage. He carried out an experiment regarding the impact of the layout and structure of an e-learning course on learners’ information retention. He used three different layouts experimenting with the display of the information and the degree of control the learner had over the course navigation and their learning path. He tested participants immediately after taking the course and then two weeks later. His results found that immediately after the course there was no real difference between the layouts as to how much information was remembered. Two weeks later, however, learners remembered the most from the linear format with no user-control over the learning path or navigation. His theory behind this was related to cognitive load, perhaps the more you are thinking about how to navigate through the course, the less brain power you have available to absorb the learning from the course.
This is just one small investigation into one of the influencing factors on learning and retention, and Dr Itiel is still working on researching this topic in more detail. Obviously there are no clear-cut answers or set formats to which a course should adhere, but for the moment let’s just be aware of the impact of these factors when designing our courses. Next month in part two, I’ll take a look at the use of videos in e-learning courses and their effect on information retention and learning.
For more information on Dr Itiel’s studies please visit: http://users.ecs.soton.ac.uk/id/train.html
It’s true, the very best learning includes a large dose of ‘involve me’, of user interaction—but it’s so easy to overdose. A classic example is systems training. In its early years, it involved a virtual coach describing the system’s features and navigation while you were required to stare at the screen and follow an animated cursor around as it magically clicked, double-clicked, right-clicked and hovered over various things on the screen, supposedly simulating ‘real life’. If that was real life…
As systems training has evolved, it has become less talk and more action. Simulations allow users to physically interact with virtual systems without the fear of causing irreversible damage, and have largely become a key influence on the way systems training is now designed. Of late, however, I’ve noticed there’s more clicking than anything else.
A couple of years ago I sampled a course created for nursing staff, to train them on the hospital’s patient management system. It ran for three hours. Simulation after simulation, the coach led me through each and every click. The learning outcomes boldly stated that by the end of the course I’d be able to track patient treatment. However, even after completing the course I still didn’t have a clue and if I was let loose in the hospital there would have been a huge legal bill to pay. I bet the company paid someone thousands of pounds to create the training, but I was bored stiff and left unenlightened by this great attempt to disguise a page-turning exercise.
User interaction is often mistaken for the ‘involve me’ element, but that’s only one half of the story. The other half is the context—a scenario or story based on real life, one that will get the learner to think about their own experiences. That said, there also has to be a need for each simulation in systems training. There’s no point creating a simulation for everything as this often renders the course to be little more than a sophisticated online help manual, not the ‘behaviour-changing’ course it was meant to be!
So, when you’re creating your next systems training, be sure to think about the learners’ sanity. Use case studies and real life examples to add weight to the content. Make it interactive but limit the number of simulations and the length of each one so that they really do add value, continue to engage the learner, and most importantly, meet the desired learning objectives.