BYOD and e-learning: Three pointers for avoiding a ‘future shock’

In 1970 the futurologist Alvin Toffler wrote his best-selling book, Future Shock, predicting a society under siege from mass ‘stress and disorientation’ caused by information overload and (broadly) too much change in too short a period of time…

As it turns out, our ‘super-industrial’ society has proved surprisingly resilient to the ever-accelerating pace of technological change. If you don’t believe me, just look at this Youtube video of a nine-month-old baby who is at perfectly at ease with an iPad.

But the probably unstoppable rise of the ‘Bring your own device’ (BYOD) phenomenon is causing a little future-shock. The main victims are IT teams – and learning professionals – in the business arena. Whilst 64% of firms are expanding ‘mobility support’ according to Forrester, and many tech companies are embracing the change on a strategic level (Cisco, for example, has seen 13,000 personal iPads enter its BYOD programme so far), others are suffering.

Smartphones and tablets logged into company email servers and private networks can very easily be lost, hacked or simply stolen. And how about troubleshooting a business critical application across an eco-system consisting of dozens of different handsets and three or four operating systems? You get the picture.

But the benefits are there too, especially for e-learning. Steve Wheeler wrote in March about how the BYOD debate in education was shaping up and pointed to ‘teachers who believe that allowing students to bring their own devices to school will liberate learning’. Nowadays very few are arguing that e-learning will become less effective once learners are able to access it anywhere and anytime.

The facts on the ground are that, over the past 18 months, mobile learning has evolved from a buzzword into an actually existing requirement. Important decision-makers now want assessed and interactive e-learning courses on mobile devices, especially for programmes targeting top-tier employees and graduates. Tablet learning, in short, is becoming an important factor in the war for talent. But can e-learning professionals deliver?

I’ve pinned down three areas where I think the e-learning community has some work to do if viable BYOD e-learning can become a reality.

  • Is your e-learning actually mobile responsive? Really? Not just the videos? At Saffron we’re aiming to make all new courses multi-device using HTML5 technology. How you do that is a different matter. (I’ll leave the ‘to scroll or not to scroll’ debate for another post…)
  • Is your learning management system mobile optimised? This one could be very tricky for some, so what’s the work-around? By the way, yesterday Udemy released an iPad app.
  • If your e-learning courses live in an internal server, how will that private user information fare in the big, wide, mobile world? Secure sign-on is a problem, but a dedicated native app might be the answer. Cisco has already created an enterprise App store, for example.

Rather than solving the problem, these three pointers are intended to help frame the debate. What do you think? Is a BYOD future-shock for e-learning avoidable?