Top Down & Bottom Up LMS implementation approaches for employee training

When it comes to LMS implementation in any organization for internal training, most common approach is top down. Top down approach is heavily based on maintaining controls at the top level and selectively giving some rights to lower levels in the training delivery hierarchy (which is generally same as org structure).

top-down

This approach requires lot of upfront planning, identifying stakeholders across the organization and resolving internal conflicts within different teams to create common ground for a centralized LMS. On many occasions, this whole process takes several months to a year before LMS can be fully rolled out to employees, thus resulting in huge upfront cost. Even after rollout, the top down control of rights creates an ongoing battle of control and sometime conflict of interest among different groups who needs to use the LMS. All these factors limit the adoption, and returns on the investment.

If we look deeper into why this happens so frequently, we find the biggest cause is a common issue with many LMS products; most of them are built with assumption of global role based controls. In most systems, only admin or instructor can do activities like course creation and setting up its delivery. These rights are not available for individual team or group level, resulting in big process bottlenecks. Course content has to be managed by a few selected people (L&D managers or Curriculum developers), for a very large number of teams. Team leads do not get the ability to quickly create their own training courses and deliver them to their teams. This also makes the job very tough for the L&D managers who typically are at the top of the Training Delivery hierarchy. They must find time to create & facilitate training courses and provision them for entire organization. This process takes too much time to plan and becomes difficult to execute. As a result, not all departments get equal attention and become indifferent to LMS or find their own (adhoc) solutions. A clear symptom of this effect we see is – existence of multiple LMS in the same organization, which is owned by different teams. Although this gives full control of the LMS these teams own, but as a whole the organization doesn’t get a clean & coordinated learning environment, and the cost becomes too high.

Top down approach has its merits in many kinds of training such as compliance, that requires full control, but there are several other kinds of training usage (especially informal) where it becomes a limiting factor.

EduBrite offers a clean solution to this problem by allowing possibility of a Bottom Up implementation strategy. We discussed this topic in our webinar last week, recording of which can be accessed here – http://bit.ly/1mSodHO

bottom-up1

Bottom up approach works by allowing everyone to create training content (courses) and managing its delivery. LMS implementation can be done at rapid speed with just a potential announcement of its availability and may be a “getting started” video, and allowing different team leads to start using it for their teams. No setup of org hierarchy / departments / roles etc. is needed. The team, who need the LMS most, can be the first to adopt, and lead the way for other teams to follow. Leaders or experts can join hands and create community groups (super groups) as well by merging or sharing resources from their own group and evolve onto a organically grown Group structure for training/learning activities.

bottom-up2

Regardless how large the overall organization is, team level implementation seems very simple and quick. L&D managers can still be overall admin for the system and can visualize the system usage, and other analytics about the adoption. They can even create a healthy competition among teams to make best use of the LMS. From the cost perspective also, you can get high return on investment by not buying a large number of seats for the LMS upfront; rather follow the scaling model based on the demand growth.

Since Bottom up approach is based on participation by teams, it becomes a more stable and likely more successful implementation, compared to top down model. If LMS permits (like EduBrite does) you can also have mixed implementation approach in the same system.

mixed

Key product features that allow implementation of bottom up strategy are –

  • Allows training content creation, ownership and provisioning rights to all users, so they can develop and deliver trainings for their teams
  • Allows Group level roles, sharing content across groups
  • Allows multiple group membership by the same user, so they can play different roles in different groups
  • Makes it easy to evolve the group hierarchy and allows possibility of multiple alternate hierarchies to co-exist in the same LMS
  • Allows re-use of training materials to create different variations or courses and programs by re-packaging it to make it suitable for different groups
  • Hierarchical group based permissions for administration, data visibility and reporting

Best implementation strategy heavily depends on the specific usage and may be different in each organization, but having familiarity with the options and availability of the right features in the LMS can give you full flexibility.

 

SCORM Quiz – Item Analysis issues & solution

SCORM is widely used in the eLearning community so I will not get into what it is, rather I will get straight into the fundamental issue it presents for a Learning Management System (LMS) from Quiz reporting perspective. This is based on my first hand experience while developing EduBrite LMS and having seen a variety of SCORM content thru several customers.

Most LMSs (including EduBrite) have some kind of built in Quiz creation feature. (We are focusing the discussion only on LMSs that provide quiz-authoring capabilities). As a eLearning content developer you have option to use the built in Quiz feature or embed the Quiz questions inside a SCORM package that you can create using authoring tools (like Storyline or Captivate). You can even hand code a SCORM if you are taking deep dive into 700+ pages specification and have reasonable experience with Javascript.

In this article I will discuss the implications of your choice, from the reporting perspective between SCORM based quizzes vs natively created quiz in LMS. This will also help in setting the right reporting expectation from LMS, an eLearning developer can have.

Generally, for the Quizzes created in LMS, we have seen far superior and usable reporting but for SCORM based quizzes, the reporting doesn’t go that far or isn’t that usable especially from the non-technical user’s perspective. And it often leads to dissatisfaction among the LMS customers, because they expect LMS to provide same usable reports, regardless of whether they are using SCORM or using built in quiz in LMS.

At EduBrite we created a mechanism based on data mining to provide same reporting for SCORM quizzes as what is available for quizzes directly built in LMS. But this feature is experimental and isn’t full proof yet to cover all scenarios, especially considering wide variety of authoring tools and few areas where SCORM specification leaves things open to implementations.

In this article I will first describe technical challenge in reporting for SCORM based quizzes, and that would explain the differences and limitation you will find when you use then in any LMS. I will also explain how EduBrite tried to solve it (although not with full perfection), and (few) shortcomings in our solution.

To set the context for remainder of this article, lets look at an example of a very commonly seen multiple-choice quiz question.

Question

What is 10+2

Choices

  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13

 

Design time

First let’s look at the design time (authoring time) difference from the data awareness point, and by design time, I mean until this question is attempted by a user. When you create the quiz/question in LMS, it knows everything about it, like question id (internally assigned by LMS), question type, question statement, choices, correct answer. But when you create the same question in SCORM, and upload the package (zip) in LMS, LMS knows nothing about this question. What you packaged inside the SCORM zip file is completely opaque to the LMS, except for the manifest, which only describes SCO you have inside the package.

Runtime

Let’s look at what data points LMS can get in both cases, when a student attempts the question.

A. LMS Quiz

When you use built in authoring of LMS, it is able to capture student’s answers to this question and link it to the already known question id in the LMS.

Consider that student picked up a correct answer 12 (3rd choice). LMS would immediately know that out of the four available choices, user has picked 3rd choice which was correct, when was the question attempted, how much time the user spent on the question and what should be the score for this attempt.

If the above question is attempted multiple times, by multiple students, LMS can provide an Item Analysis report about difficulty level of the question, e.g.

item-analysis

LMS can also provide a report to show student’s attempt and full context of the answers they selected.

question-result

B. SCORM Quiz

Now if we were using SCORM, lets see how the situation changes. When student submits the response to the question, SCORM will send a set of data elements known as interactions in specification. For example SCORM might send something like this to the LMS –

cmi.interactions.0.id – Q1
cmi.interactions.0.type - choice
cmi.interactions.n.learner_response - 12
cmi.interactions.n.correct_responses._count - 1
cmi.interactions.n.correct_responses.0.pattern - 12
cmi.interactions.n.result – correct (we have seen variations like correct/incorrect or 1/0 in content produced in different authoring tools)
cmi.interactions.n.weighting – 1 (commonly interpreted as score or relative score w.r.t. total score)
cmi.interactions.n.timestamp – 114-01-04T21:23:37 (interaction time)
cmi.interactions.2.latency - PT00H00M02S (time spent on this interaction)

So upon receiving this data set, LMS becomes aware of this question for the first time in its lifecycle. It knows the question ID, the type of question, what was student’s response, what is the correct response, whether the student’s response was correct or incorrect, score, time of the attempt and time spent on the attempt.

Important things that LMS doesn’t know yet, which was available when question was built in LMS are –

  • What exactly was the question (statement)?
  • How many choices were there in the question, or what other choices were available to pick from, that may be correct or incorrect

 

We can address first of the above two points by using SCORM 2004 (if LMS also supports it). In SCORM 2004, new data element “description” was introduced for interactions. You can send following new element about the interaction to the LMS.

 cmi.interactions.0.description = What is 10+2

With this new element, LMS can report what was the question, and what was student’s answer, and whether it was correct or incorrect. But it still doesn’t know about the other available choices (other three that are incorrect but are not picked by the student).

Solution

As a LMS provider, here is how we tried to tackle this issue, and provide full report similar to questions created in LMS.

If large number of students attempts the above question in SCORM over a sufficiently long period, statistically at some point some student will pick each available choice (probability 1/4). And if LMS could correlate several interactions record to correspond to same question ID, it can learn about all other incorrect choices, or keep learning more possible incorrect choices with time.

E.g. when a student picks the first (incorrect) choice, LMS will see following data elements:

cmi.interactions.0.id – Q1
cmi.interactions.n.learner_response – 10
cmi.interactions.n.result – incorrect
cmi.interactions.n.weighting – 0

And assuming LMS has seen question id Q1 before, it can check whether it has also seen the answer 10 before or not. If not, it can add 10, to the other available choice for the same question. And it also knows that this is the incorrect answer.

Similarly when LMS sees another incorrect answer

cmi.interactions.n.learner_response – 11

it would learn that there is another incorrect option available for the same question. Eventually LMS will learn about the fourth (all) option when it sees

cmi.interactions.n.learner_response – 13

By correlating all the above interactions to same question, it can fully re-engineer how the question looks like. And now, it can provide same kind of report, as the quiz created natively in LMS. It can also show the question context when showing details of a student’s attempt.

But in order to accomplish this correlation, LMS should be able to unambiguously match question ids among several interactions (from several students) that are reported to it. The first thing that is needed is to only consider the interactions reported by the same SCORM package. And this is where the ID of the SCORM package as mentioned in the manifest can be used, along with the internal id that LMS may have assigned to the uploaded SCORM.

So it appears that we do have a solution that can give same (full) reports for the quiz question (interactions) embedded within SCORM. Nice. But there are few cases where we need to be cautious.

1. Multiple Attempts (interactions)

Multiple interactions on the same question (or re-attempts) provide an interesting case. We noticed that different authoring tools (or elearning developers) have different ways to represent the interactions ids.

Some re-use the same question id (effectively overwriting the previously stored answer) following a technique referred as Sate, while some other tools add an attempt count suffix to the question id, for each unique interaction. E.g. Q1_1, Q1_2 etc, referred as Journaling. (ref – Tim Martin http://scorm.com/blog/2010/11/4-things-every-scorm-test-should-do-when-reporting-interactions/). Although we found inconsistencies among tools in how they generate Ids even when using Journaling to not overwrite answers from previous attempts.

This presents a potential problem while reverse engineering; because LMS can’t cleanly (or consistently) correlate these interactions to the same question ID and might interpret each attempt of the same question as a new question. This effectively limits the accuracy of the item analysis because same question may be reported (or interpreted) as different question depending on the attempt (first attempt, second attempt).

Based on our analysis of several packages from several authoring tools (like created in Storyline, Captivate and few others), we have devised a pattern-based logic to derive the question id and attempt numbers accurately. But this may not be fully accurate in handling all authoring tools and ID naming conventions.

2. SCORM ID in Manifest

If content developer changes the SCORM content (questions and/or choices) but keeps the same ID in the manifest and replaces it for the existing uploaded package in LMS, the reporting can completely go out of sync. Because LMS would incorrectly correlate unrelated questions because they will be assumed to be part of same SCORM due to same ID in the manifest. This can be avoided easily by using new ID in the manifest (unless the changes are minor).

3. Randomization

If the SCORM has internal logic to randomize the questions, but it doesn’t sends the consistent interaction IDs regardless of the position (sequence), then the reporting becomes inconsistent. eLarning developers can also solve this by using IDs in consistent manner.

4. Multiple correct answers

We have noticed inconsistent behavior in how SCORM tools report the correct_responses and learner_response. Some tools embed choice identifier (like a, b, c etc) in the response, while others don’t. Similarly when there are multiple answers some use comma delimited while others use space, tab or other conventions. This is one of the open problems we are working on and based on known conventions of many tools we can solve it to some extent.

5. Probability

We assume that statistically all choices will be picked up at least ones, but practically there is no finite time-frame in which it will happen. So when you are looking at reports, you might find an incomplete list of choices for a question in LMS.

All the above problems can be avoided during SCORM content development, by having a little more closer attention to the IDs and having a perspective that what runtime data SCORM sends to LMS can be used for further correlation and analysis.

New Features Timeline – 2014

 

look-back-2014

2014 is behind us and it was an year in which we continued our platform growth. EduBrite LMS grew by direct feedback from very engaged customers. We kept our eyes and ears open to see and listen to their genuine needs rather than what some experts may be saying. Let’s look at our important milestones in 2014.

Read more – https://www.edubrite.com/oltpublish/theme-lms/cms.do?view=year2014

 

 

Thinking about Learning Platform, Review your delivery needs

Trainings delivery methods can be as diverse as you can think of, such as self paced eLearning, instructor led (classroom/online), hands on experiments (online or offline), informal or combination of all. In this post let’s look at some common delivery characteristics you should consider when you look for a LMS. LMSs have different flavors and not all of them would be a good fit in all situations. This is second in the series, previous one discussed about Content aspects

Scheduling: Some training sessions are short like an instructor led online session for few hours and some are few days to months long which may be fully or partially self paced. Different capabilities are needed in LMS to make it good for both kinds of delivery. In professional trainings you might have some parts of the trainings done as seminar/webinar also. Does your LMS provide you flexibility to be used in all such scenarios? You should be able to setup the delivery, which could be for few hours, days or even weeks and months. Scheduling of individual items (like modules) should also be possible, especially in case of full or partial instructor led trainings. In case of self-paced delivery, system should allow you to setup number of days allowed in each step of the training, after which access to that step would get revoked.

Assessments: Multiple ways of assessments are needed depending on the kind of trainings you provide. Some examples are – embedded multiple-choice questions in the eLearning courses, giving online assignments (like a business plan writing), offline activity (like doing a presentation or experiment) or conducting formal exams. In some cases, you might find a printed questionnaire would be better suited to collect trainees responses which could be for assessment or survey. LMSs must be able meet these different kinds of assessment needs, otherwise an important aspect of trainings would have to be done outside of the LMS which will reduce its effectiveness.

Informal: To reduce the cost of managing scheduling of training programs, you might benefit more by making courses accessible to learners even without scheduling or assigning them. This is a kind of informal training practice, where teams (or training department) can create library of courses (just like a document library). There should be a way for learners to find and launch these courses and system should track and report the activities. This can be a powerful model to train your employees, customers and partners informally.

Access: Depending on who is getting trained, sometime you need to apply different access policies for the same course. E.g. its okay to given free access to the course for self-enrollment to employees, while your customers and partners may need to go thru online payment before they can enroll in the course. Depending on the kind of partner or customer, you might have different prices for the same course, and may also provide access to the course for different durations. You might also want to use the same course (or part of it) in instructor led programs where an instructor would utilize the course content. Check whether your LMS allows this flexibility or not. Any restriction or requiring you to make copies of course for different delivery situations would become a big overhead.

Learner’s Experience: Learners have very simplistic view about how they take online trainings. Ideally learners shouldn’t need any special training to use the LMS. Everything from learner’s perspective such as their enrolled and completed courses or catalog of available courses and events should be available to them on their dashboard. While going thru eLearning courses, learners should be able to easily navigate between the different content items in-place in the same context. On mobile devices, your training delivery should provide native experience with touch, swipe, zooming and panning just like any other app. Learners should be provided visual feedback about their progress and guided to advance in the course. Some other abilities such as pause and resume (even across multiple login sessions) auto bookmarking (to resume from where you left) and notes taking are quite important as well. For mobile delivery, think about whether you can make full or part of it available for offline access.

Download/Print/Email: Based on the kind of trainings, learners might be needed to download some parts of the course material – like an assignment, handout etc. Course creator should be able to allow selective download of certain items, and while viewing the course, learners should be provided visual clue about what is downloadable and what is not. Even in case of instructor led trainings, instructors might need to download/print some lessons to use in classrooms. Downloading should not compromise content security of the overall course.

Collaboration & Sharing: Having exposed to social platforms every day in personal or professional life, we all can see how essential it is to have collaboration among all participants in the trainings. Giving ability of discussion and sharing to the learners can enhance the learner’s experience and effectiveness of your trainings.

Thinking about Learning Platform, Understand your Content first

There are various dimensions in a learning platform and as a customer, they are quite important to understand as you look to implement a LMS. This is first in a series of posts about several dimensions of an Online Learning Platform (also referred as LMS). Just like any other business platforms, LMSs exist in all shapes and sizes and are used in different manner across the customer segments. Each product team in LMS space has made some design choices based on the kind of problems they like to address, and how well they address it varies.

In this post, let’s look at one of the most important dimension, Content.

Simple text like Wikipedia: Most support documentation on any product site exists in brow-sable open format. If you are looking for this kind of open resources without much tracking needs, look for a wiki like tool. You can even use a CMS or Blog tool to create such an informal learning resource site. Many wiki tools now allow creating nicely formatted pages using pre-defined templates. Some LMSs also allow creating this kind of open learning resources. A unique advantage of content, which exists as web/wiki pages, is that search engines can easily index them.

Example course with various content types

Various Content Types

Video and Slides

Video and Slides

Quiz

Quiz

Rich Text based courses: If your content consists in rich documents like PDF, Word and Presentations, you need a platform, which provides ability to upload existing documents and presentations and then delivers it in a format which is user friendly. Viewer should be able to browse thru the pages or slides, zoom and maximize the view. You can also check about some subtle differentiations like preserving the presentation notes (if you have any ILT requirements), animations and transitions etc. that exist among various tools. Products also vary widely on their delivery aspect of these kind of content because these content require a specialized player widget to render them inside the browser.

Multimedia: If your course consists of video and audio, along with the documents and presentations, your options become somewhat less in terms of available products. Not all learning platforms support streaming videos along with documents and presentations based courses. Even among those do support it, there are big differences in the way they provide these features and how far they go in their support. Some of the factors you should consider checking are – is there any limit to the duration of the videos, is there any limit to the quality (SD or HD), can the video be played back on computer and mobile devices, is it possible to use externally hosted videos from 3rd party streaming providers or even from social video sites like YouTube and Vimeo. Systems which support more than one video source can prove cost effective.

Animations, Simulations, Interactivity: If your courses consist of advanced interactions and animations, it is generally best to consider a separate tool for authoring as most Learning Platforms have limited built in ability to also act as a best of the breed authoring tool. You can buy a standalone course designer one time and create nay number of courses in a cost effective manner and without compromising the quality of the courses. For this you must check whether the learning platform you are considering supports SCORM/AICC and allows you to upload pre-built courses created in other tools. Common technology which is used to build the interactivity is based on Flash, which works fine for the PC/Laptops but is a show-stopper for iPad and iPhone if you are looking to support those. There aren’t many options available to create platform neutral highly interactive courses, so you will have to consider platform specific ways to create your content. HTML5 and SVG are possible solutions in future, but at present available tools are more suitable for Flash based content.

Quizzes: If you need to include quizzes in the course, then you either need to rely on SCORM based course creation and having a learning platform which can play and track the quiz results. If you are not using SCORM then your choices for learning platforms with quiz editing abilities become quite less. Not every learning platform supports creation of quizzes the way you might need. Check the type of questions you can create in the editor. And for bigger quizzes, check the ability to randomize questions and choices, timing controls and scoring options provided by the tool.

Re-usability: One aspect we find very often neglected in many platforms is the re-usability of learning resources. In many situations you might need to create a derivative of one course with some lessons/quizzes removed or added. In some situations we learned the customer wanted to create library of slides, videos and quizzes and allow different combination of courses created from the same library. Check whether the learning platform has this kind of library feature or linking feature which allows you to reuse the SCORM modules, lessons and quizzes across multiple courses without re-uploading them. It will not only save you storage cost but also would simplify the management of learning assets.

Content Security: It takes a lot of effort to build the content for the courses, and you don’t want to loose control on your content. Whether you are using desktop tools or cloud based systems, you should ensure that you can get your content back from the learning platform when you require. And more importantly, your content should stay protected from unauthorized copy/download possibilities. What kind of content protection you need

Internationalization/Localization: You should also check whether the learning platform you are considering supports ability to create course content in different languages. Although we believe most systems do this already, but its good to know that if you don’t check it, this could create surprise later. Ask if the particular system supports UTF-8 character set.

Pre Packaged Courses: Some services provide a library of pre-created courses on common training topics (such as OSHA, HIPAA, Business Ethics), which can be subscribed for your users with or without the ability to create your own courses. If you are looking to train people in common training topics for which off the shelf content is easy to get, look for a course provider rather than a learning platform provider. A few course providers also allow you to build your own courses along with the library of off the shelf courses.

Hope you find this information useful, we’ll look at the content (course) delivery aspects in detail in the next post.

Active Vs Passive Learning

How to you define active and passing learning and to that matter active or passive learners?

Traditionally approach for the learning leaders, instructors or curriculum developers when designing the learning environment has been to think of the students mind as empty vessels or sponges which can be easily filled with knowledge and students were expected to absorb most of it. This approach typically results in and encourages passive learning, where students are listening to instructors, reading books as per instructor’s instructions, looking at presentations or slides, etc. Passive learners always quietly take in new information, but they typically don’t engage with it. They do not interact, share their insight or contribute to it.

Interestingly enough, passive behavior to the most part is a learned behavior in itself. When the kids are born, most of them are not passive to start with. Almost every toddler wants to explore the world around them. They want to touch, feel and sense things to understand their environment better. They may want to crawl to the television to understand what is behind those pictures or want to hold the magic tool called ‘remote’ or emulate elders around the house, or do other funny or sometimes dangerous things, since they are and want to be actively engaged. It is primarily the cultural and behavioral factors and family norms and environment which plays a significant role in individual’s upbringing and results in converting children from adopting a passive style instead of
staying active.

Things have changed dramatically today. The reality is that the learning leaders, program owners and instructors today strive to create a learning environment in which student is engaged and motivated even before the actual learning starts and student can restructure and merge the prior knowledge with the new information and get the new insight and start practicing it, i.e. “active learning”. The active learning puts the responsibility on student and encourages them to get and stay engaged in class discussions and exercises and compel them to read, speak, listen and think.

The focus of active learning is on changing behavior. And that is the true motivation for active learners. They want to engage, learn and put learning to practice so they can learn new things or get better at things they want to pursue. They are able to construct their own knowledge, discover relationships, and organize subject matter on their own that is meaningful. And for the program managers and leaders, engaged learners who actively seek to learn and to change their behavior is exactly what they want. To accomplish this learning leader’s needed to create environment that trigger the desire and motivation to learn and encourages active participation. Where people are not just showing up in class or attending it, but are engaged in conversation and contributing to it.

Knowing the importance of active engagement and learning is great, but how to enable and foster it? The key as we discussed earlier is the “Active learning culture”. One of the things it requires is using combination of formal and informal learning opportunities. For example: it may include a formal class, group presentations, hands on assignments, role play, simulations, collaborative learning, mentoring/shadowing, etc. Technology and tool enablers for this could be multiple resources such as formal training system, social networking and learning platform, push and pull models, well established development and talent management processes, etc. The concept is to provide complete and simple mechanism for the people to engage in learning at the time and the manner that makes most sense for them. Providing the rationale is another element which eases the transition for many learners from their passive role to being active. If they understand the purpose to why they are doing what they are doing, they will be more receptive and adaptive. Besides the tools, another key element which needs to be part of learning culture is to give both ownership and autonomy to learners to create and contribute in it. When a group is created with a purpose and responsibility to solve a problem or for informational exchanges, in social networking setup, the passive lurking behaviors go down. It is because these groups have a clear purpose and direction and with opportunities and autonomy to contribute, they become more actively involved and feel more accountable. This results in change of behavior for them. To foster the active learning culture further, learning leaders need to recognize and reward such groups or individuals who demonstrate such behavior. They are the critical assets for the success of such initiatives. This encourages them and others and fuel motivation. Public recognition of good behaviors always motivates others to follow and emulate them.

I will end this discussion with some quotes here which summarize the concept of active learning really well. Ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; and involve me and I’ll understand.” This was further modified by Silberman, in 1996 as “What I hear, I forget; What I hear and see, I remember a little; What I hear, see and ask questions about or discuss with someone else, I begin to understand; What I hear, see, discuss and do, I acquire knowledge and skill; What I teach other, I master.

Author: Praveen Khurana
Praveen Khurana is a learning technology specialist in learning management and human capital systems. He has 16+ years of experience in this industry and has consulted with and has implemented learning, talent and knowledge management systems for many fortune 500
companies.

Mobile learning – Why and how

Well, if I have to simply put it, I would say that more and more people are using mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones and prefer access to easy and just-in-time (JIT) learning. Hence it makes logical sense for the learning organization to provide learning on mobile devices (m-learning).

How would you define mobile learning (m-learning) though? Mobile learning is actually any kind of learning intervention which could be carried out by use of mobile device and using wireless technology. And to create that intervention and support the learning through mobile devices it is very important to have the right adaptable learning content available on the mobile devices. There are several factors which make it a compelling case for delivering learning content and applications on mobile devices. A recent 2011 e-Learning Guild survey reports that about 70% of respondents are using their personal mobile devices for business applications. That means they are using their devices for browsing web, connecting to social networks, playing games and learning. Also there has been a significant increase in the number of employees who travel and work from outside their base offices and just-in-time information can help them overcome many challenges. Mobile learning provides convenience and flexibility to access information at any time and any place. It helps employees make use of their downtime, be it at a hotel, airport or while waiting for a client meeting to start. Not just corporate employees, mobile learning is a great avenue for anyone who needs to access any kind of information at any place and time.

The goal of mobile Learning should be to enhance the learning experience while providing learning content to learners. If delivered in right manner it can be an excellent tool for anything and everything learner would need, be it a streaming online content or on-the-job training materials or real-life simulation scenarios. Companies can also push out updates, offer reference materials via wikis and blogs, and provides collaboration through social networking, coaching or mentoring.

Mobile learning is not just repackaging of existing e-learning content and making it available through mobile devices. There are various challenges associated to the application and content delivery when it comes to mobile devices. The biggest challenge is availability of varying platforms and formats with no formal standardization to ensure the automatic adoption of apps or content on these devices. Also issues around content bandwidth, its security and integration with corporate systems such as LMS, LCMS and other systems create barriers in rapid deployment and adoption by organizations.

There are various organizations including learning content providers, application software providers, LMS systems providers who are doing great work in this area to enable and support mobile learning. These organizations are using some straightforward and simple but effective approaches which are helping them to be somewhat successful in overcoming many of the barriers.

One of the approaches many successful organizations are taking is to target their learning environment and/or content to specific mobile devices and not trying to support every possible device available. They have selected specific devices based on accessibility for their audience and of course popularity and adaptability to help them focus and support on key devices. Another key strategy is to focus on high performance just-in-time content and not design and create long full-fledged courses. Keeping the application designs for mobile tools simple and intuitive is another important strategy to enable mobile adoption. Users always like to use the experience which is simple and straightforward, has required functionality and eliminates any type of complexity. This type of interface on mobile tools provides easy and efficient access to the learning.

Some organizations while focusing on specific devices try to take advantage of inherent features of device itself to provide easy accessibility and interactivity. For example: Apple products such iPad and iPhone have lot of inbuilt features to make content interactive. Some organizations are also trying to provide collaborative learning environment by integrating the learning environment with social networking applications. These are all great techniques and strategies which are helping organizations to integrate the learning with the social and informal learning culture most of us have become part of and also keeping it interactive and fun.

Of course industry has long way to go, but there are some great and promising technological enhancements happening in the area of mobile learning which is for sure going to change the shape of it.

Author: Praveen Khurana
Praveen Khurana is a learning technology specialist in learning management and human capital systems. He has 16+ years of experience in this industry and has consulted with and has implemented learning, talent and knowledge management systems for many fortune 500 companies.

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