Learning on the move

A mere ten years or so ago, the new name on the lips of those involved in organisational learning was ‘e-learning’. That migrated to ‘blended learning’ but now the new kid on the block – thanks to further rapid developments in technology - is mobile learning. Consequently, it was mobile learning that was the theme of a conference held at the Reuters’ headquarters in London’s Docklands recently.
Organised by mobile learning experts Ambient Performance, the event was a one-day thought-leadership seminar for learning professionals and managers to explore the business drivers and solutions to better address the learning and performance needs of increasingly mobile workers. The theme for the event was ‘the mobile internet – working in real time and supporting mobile workforce capability’.

Renowned speakers
Fabrizio Cardinali, the newly elected co-chair of the European Learning Industry Group (ELIG) and CEO of the vendor of e-learning and mobile learning content management solutions, Giunti Labs, was among the keynote speakers. Other speakers with international reputations included Tom Glocer, CEO of Reuters, the world’s largest multimedia news agency; the California-based world-renowned e-learning guru, Jay Cross, and Ericsson’s Paul Landers.
The event was chaired by the former BBC executive Nigel Paine, who commented: “I attended a conference in Las Vegas last week where mobile learning was on everyone’s agenda – but no one there has ‘the answer’ yet. In contrast, this conference provides a whole bunch of answers. “The problem is that technologists are talking about what they can do, but they’re not relating it to how this can help people to learn,” he added.

First in europe
Cardinali’s response to Paine’s challenge was to discuss ‘geolearning’, narrowcasting, personal media and virtual learning worlds. In Cardinali’s view, mobile learning will happen first in Europe - rather than, for example, the USA - because Europe has an unequalled, stable telecom infrastructure and also has access to innovation skills. Moreover, its corporations recognise that they need mobile learning technology in order to compete effectively with those in the world’s growing economies, such as India and China.
“From 1996 to 2000, people merely put information on the internet and expected students to flock to it,” he said. “They were just copying the old model of learning, using traditional pedagogy and content. Consequently, these learning materials produced low average satisfaction per user.
“Instead, we need a blended publishing approach where publishers collaborate – perhaps in a more authoritative version of Wikipedia,” he said. “We need to combine this with talent development and performance support elements to produce Personal Ambient Learning Services (PALS). These can bridge the gap between learning and personal development plans.
“Moreover, all this needs to be ‘sexy’ – highly adaptable and user-focused – offering a viable alternative for users to indulging in gambling and sex on the internet in order to encourage them to become involved with ‘mobile learning’. This means that we need new business models.”

The technology
Cardinali explained that research carried out by a Mr Tomata, in Japan, reveals a gap between ‘mass media’ communication technologies and technologies that allow individuals to communicate. Cardinali commented: “Filling this gap is the job of the personal media revolution, with such technologies as narrowcasting.
“The problem is that, as yet, there is little learning material available to meet this demand. This learning material needs to adopt the principles of the Socratic form of learning. It must be just-in-time, just-enough and, above all, it must take the form of informal learning. The key point to note is that this is now do-able and sustainable.”
Cardinali illustrated his assertion by outlining some of the recent projects involving Giunti Labs. Having revealed that Giunti Labs is working closely with key players such as Cisco Systems, Ericsson and Microsoft, to shape the business availability of innovative mobile and virtual solutions for learning online while also improving the media based personalisation of learning materials, he continued: “We are producing training and testing ‘nuggets’, known as ‘LearnPills’, for many new personal devices including Blackberry mailers, Windows Mobile PCs, Symbian smartphones and Xybernaut wearable computers. Location based delivery is also added to increase the context awareness of streamed learning experiences.
“Learners log on to the Giunti Labs’ learn eXact Lobster portal to ‘pull’ these nuggets to them, or they receive an email of SMS based notification to download the materials (a ‘push’ approach). LearnPills have SCORM sequencing and tracking via one of the device installed eXact Gloves (or General Learning Objects Viewing Environments) – which sends data to Lobster or any third party LMS or VLE.”

Emergency situations
Giunti Labs is also working with Microsoft and Google Maps on ‘GeoPills’ to provide just-in-time, just-when-you-need-it, location-based learning – perhaps to teach someone what to do to cope with an emergency in an industrial or risk management situation. This has particular applications for the emergency services and, according to Cardinali, fire and police services in Europe are experimenting with this technology.
“We’re also blending GeoPills with virtual reality to offer remote coaching,” revealed Cardinali. “The learner is at a location, equipped with GPS. The coach is remote but can interact with the learner via a virtual world which faithfully reproduces the actual location. “This technology already exists. What is beginning to develop is the vision to apply virtual reality (VR) technology to mobile learning,” he concluded.

Informal vs formal learning
Jay Cross - head of the Internet Time Group based in Berkeley, California, the man who first coined the term ‘e-learning’ and a regular contributor of articles and podcasts to the members’ portal at Learning Light, the Yorkshire Forward supported non-profit organisation seeking to establish itself as a centre of excellence in the use of learning technologies in the workplace – considered ‘informal learning’. He explained that having ‘networks’ speeds communications and that, in turn, speeds development and achievements.
“Of course, learning is adapting to change and, in uncertain times, the best learners survive,” he said, pointing out the paradox that more learning budget is spent on formal learning, while most actual learning that takes place in an organisation is informal learning.
“The key to successful learning, especially when learning remotely – via mobile or internet technology – is to make the right linkages to the right communities of learning,” he added. “In the future, working and learning will continue to converge. In many ways, learning is the work that people do.”

Growing numbers
Among the other speakers at the summit were Charles Jennings, of Reuters; serious play specialist Kristina Nyzell, and Paul Landers, of Ericsson’s Learning Consultancy Services, based in Stockholm, who said: “There are 3bn reasons for mobile learning – since that is the estimated number of subscribers to mobile phone technology in the world in 2007/08. There are over 400m mobile phone users in China alone and the number of mobile phone users in India increases by 6m each month.”
Landers pointed out that mobile learning didn’t exist before 2002 because it was only then that WAP technology was developed that enabled text based content to be delivered to mobile phones. He added: “Over the last five years, technology has advanced and so today’s mobile learning content not only ‘looks better’ but is easier to create.
“Mobile learning further increases people’s access to learning materials; it can be used to ‘push’ learning materials to large numbers of widely dispersed people, and it provides a quick method of getting learning to those who need it, thus reducing the ‘time to market’ not only for the learning materials but also for the products and services to which they refer.”
According to Landers, the recent advent of mobile broadband enables mobile learning materials to include video and television. It is also allowing ‘m-tutoring’ – along the lines already outlined by Giunti Labs’ Cardinali.

Live demonstrations
The conference ended with a number of demonstrations of mobile learning. These included Stephen Clee, of the streaming media specialists Datmedia, who showed how the latest Nokia phone can deliver m-learning materials; Claus Nehmzow, who showed how PA Consulting is using the ‘Second Life’ virtual reality experience as a recruiting tool by providing information on PA Consulting’s range of services to players’ visiting avatars; and Professor Lizbeth Goodman of the University of East London’s SMARTlab Digital Media Institute, who explored, within issues related to accessibility, how mobile gaming is providing learning opportunities for the differently abled.
It was left to Saffron Interactive’s Hanif Sazen to sound a note of caution over m-learning. Sazen said: “M-learning can be a less formal, less structured learning experience. It is certainly not e-learning materials sent to a mobile device. Rather, for them to be effective, the learning materials must be specially developed for delivery via mobile technology. One size does not fit all where learning is concerned.”

For more information
Ambient Performance, 456-458 The Strand #336, London WC2R 0DZ UK Tel 0870 286 3812; www.ambientperformance.com

Reuters, the Reuters Building, 30 South Colonnade, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5EP Tel 020 7250 1122;  www.reuters.co.uk

Giunti Labs, Exchange House, 494 Midsummer Boulevard, Milton Keynes MK9 2EA Tel 01908 306009/ 07733 365063; www.giuntilabs.com

Jay Cross, c/o Learning Light, Sheffield Technology Park, Cooper Buildings, Arundel Street, Sheffield, S1 2NS, Tel +44 (0)114 201 5703; www.learninglight.com

Claus Nehmzow, PA Consulting Group,
123 Buckingham Palace Road,
London SW1W 9SR. Tel 0207 730 9000; www.paconsulting.com

Hanif Sazen, Saffron Interactive, Northburgh House 10 Northburgh Street London EC1V 0AT. www.saffroninteractive.com