Friday, 17 February 2012

Going Mobile

So here's the thing; I travel a bit sometimes like many others (I'd say like all of you but that's a bit pretentious as I probably get less hits than Villi Manilli these days - but at least I perform my own work). I've switched down in size from my 19 inch mega-powerful (yet still incredibly slow to start up of course) laptop PC to smaller screens until finally giving in and going for the smooth little iPad 2. Despite being a huge fan of the open source world and working in Microsoft dominated environments most of my life, here I am now with iPhone and iPad. Have I sold out or just moved from one corporate giant to another? My take is neither, I prefer a certain ideology, but ultimately I choose my tools based upon usability with a pinch of style and cost effectiveness thrown in.

The point is I can do so much between my pad and phone that travelling with a laptop is no longer necessary.. or is it? You can probably see where this is heading right? It's going to end up about Flash. I use iOS devices and they can't run Flash which leaves me 99% happy most of the time. I can even run mine and client versions of Totara LMS or Moodle quite happily on the pad and have used it to demonstrate on several occasions. Anything that relies heavily on Flash video files usually has an app that I can download for free or close to it and I'm away. But there's one area that leaves me cold. E-learning. My chosen profession and area of expertise (okay, maybe strong, but at least the area I know more about in relation to the rest of things). The real issue isn't the Flash (well.. it is.. but.. ) it's the SCORM. Share Content thingeys that we often care so much about. The things that let us track and report back to Totara or whatever your LMS is. This is the core of the e-learning problem we're faced with.

Again I can hear the Newtonian's among you (that's a stretch even for my rambling metaphors) coming up with the simple solution of simply changing my platform to Android. But that's not the answer (you have to compare Apples with apples?) as regardless of what I use, my clients have users and we can't control what they use. And these aren't French Golden Delicious; they're popular Apples and sell by the kilo (even in America). Fortunately we are saved by the Apps aren't we? Don't both Apple and Android have lots of Apps? Yes and No, or technically No and Yes; they have plenty of Apps, they're different for each platform and they don't solve the SCORM issue.

I'm sure someone is clever enough to find a way around this with Apps but currently our tracking would be no more than saying an object has been launched and there's no great advantage in that. Yes, cool content no doubt but a lot of effort (and cost if you're going through Apple) for essentially a step backwards in e-learning. So the answer must by HTML 5 right? I'm not sure. As I understand it even Articulate Storyline that publishes in 5 will be limited by requiring an App to play the formerly Flash content. If that's the case we still won't be able to track unless the App has perhaps a plug-in for your LMS? That would be ironic though, creating as close to a universal standard for e-learning and then finding we had to go back to plug-ins for each LMS to make it work!

Realising I'm not really solving much in the m-learning space today a quick change of tack is necessary. What if we didn't do it? Or what if we did it but we approached the whole thing differently? Firstly, how much m-learning is actually going on? It does, we do a very limited amount, but there are a number of questions, particularly when targeting a phone as the platform. For formal learning for organisations should the phone even be considered? Perhaps it should be a tool to assist or support e-learning rather than an alternate platform? Remember when originally m-learning meant a text from your tutor? What if m-learning meant avoiding the Flash thing by not using flash things? Would this mean bucking the trend of recent e-learning into more engaging visual experiences for learners or would it mean actually returning e-learning to focus on the learning rather than the visual impact? I'm not sure, but what I do know is that these challenges are often in place to test our creativity and sometimes, though not intentionally, to steer us into solutions that will benefit us all in the long run.

We do have to accept that these mobile devices have replaced a lot of laptops and that's a key area to address. Tablets (Apple or otherwise) have taken hold because the market for them is big. They're not in direct competition with your computer or even your laptop, they're a complimentary piece of kit (just go to any airport and watch) and we need to be aware that people want to use their tablet like we used to use our laptops on the go.

For now I'm glad Totara and Moodle play nicely with Apples and that any content I write in them can be used on the devices (and yes, thanks Dave for the new steer on themes that can even detect and run your Totara specifically for mobile devices). If you're using another cloud-based LMS I'm sure you're fine too (Flash dependent of course) but if not, let me know how you get around this.

It's a mobile world and I don't want this to happen..