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.