Learning in an Always-Connected World

People are more connected than ever, communicating and receiving information increasingly in non-traditional ways. The typical 21-year-old has sent or received 250,000 instant messages and spent an average of 3,500 hours online.

Based on these statistics, there is no doubt that we are always connected to online media through our computers or mobile phones. Before we can develop learning for mobile phones, however, we must be aware of the issues — and opportunities — inherent in their diversity of hardware and software platforms.

Screen Resolution

Today, most Web-based training built for a personal computer (PC) is designed for screen resolutions of 800×600 or 1024×768, which is compatible with most PCs. However, when dealing with a mobile phone, screen resolutions include 128×160, 320×480, 176×220 and 240×320. In addition, newer devices often support a landscape mode where the width and height are reversed as the phone is rotated.

So it’s important to determine what screen resolution you’re designing for, in addition to the screen width and number of pixels per inch. The number of pixels per inch is important, because it will affect the details in any picture or drawing displayed.

Microsoft’s “dot-NET” (.NET) mobile framework identifies both the mobile browser and screen resolution when a phone accesses a site. Another option is to use a database with the screen resolution information. This can be done through a user agent profile, the standard way defined by the Open Mobile Alliance (formerly the WAP Forum) for detecting user agent types and devices.

Bandwidth Limitations

A typical corporate Internet connection could be 20 million bits per second (Mbps). At that speed, it would take about two seconds to download a one-minute video. Conversely, bandwidth on mobile phones varies from 56 thousand bits per second (kbps) to 1 Mbps, meaning the same one-minute video could take anywhere from 10 seconds to two minutes to download. Therefore, developers need to be aware of these download speeds and carefully choose the media elements that will be used in the course.

Differentiating Browsers

Applications like games, productivity tools and scheduling software are downloaded, stored and run off the mobile phone’s internal memory, not through its browser. So courses designed to run through phone browsers without downloading an application need to use less memory and accommodate slower processors.

Many developers make extensive use of Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight for PC-based courses, because they make it easy to integrate interactivity and animations. However, the typical mobile device may not support Flash or Silverlight.

Adobe Flash Lite is a Flash version for mobile phones. Today, over 400 Flash Lite-enabled devices are available. Silverlight should be available for newer versions of Windows Mobile and Symbian (Series 60) phones this year.

Integrating Systems

No matter what learning management system (LMS) you have, you are going to have to determine how the mobile phone will communicate with it. Your choices are to connect with the LMS through an application downloaded to the phone or through the mobile Web browser. A native-run application is more efficient in terms of data usage, but it does require a custom application to be developed and downloaded to the mobile phone to ensure there is communication with the LMS.

ISD the Same

Instructional system design (ISD) fundamentals do not change when designing programs for mobile devices. To accommodate the phone’s software, screen size and bandwidth constraints, keep the following in mind:

>> Do not make this a page-turner. Build in interactivity and be sure your designer is cognizant of each mobile device’s navigation (for example, track ball, scroll wheel and touch screen).

>> Chunk the learning into small nuggets. On a mobile device, aim for about five minutes or less of content at a time.

>> Plan the media asset mix — such as 2-D and 3-D graphics, animations and video — carefully.

A New Horizon

In a handful of years, we’ve seen mobile phones evolve from wireless telephones into sophisticated communications devices. Making calls is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what people can do — and want to do — when they’re away from their wired worlds. Today’s mobile phone technology presents unprecedented capability for organizations to take full advantage of every available opportunity for learning.

—The author of this article is Don Duquette, executive vice president, Learning Solutions for General Physics Corp. For more information, visit the Website http://us.gpworldwide.com.

People are more connected than ever, communicating and receiving information increasingly in non-traditional ways. The typical 21-year-old has sent or received 250,000 instant messages and spent an average of 3,500 hours online.

Based on these statistics, there is no doubt that we are always connected to online media through our computers or mobile phones. Before we can develop learning for mobile phones, however, we must be aware of the issues — and opportunities — inherent in their diversity of hardware and software platforms.

Screen Resolution

Today, most Web-based training built for a personal computer (PC) is designed for screen resolutions of 800×600 or 1024×768, which is compatible with most PCs. However, when dealing with a mobile phone, screen resolutions include 128×160, 320×480, 176×220 and 240×320. In addition, newer devices often support a landscape mode where the width and height are reversed as the phone is rotated.

So it’s important to determine what screen resolution you’re designing for, in addition to the screen width and number of pixels per inch. The number of pixels per inch is important, because it will affect the details in any picture or drawing displayed.

Microsoft’s “dot-NET” (.NET) mobile framework identifies both the mobile browser and screen resolution when a phone accesses a site. Another option is to use a database with the screen resolution information. This can be done through a user agent profile, the standard way defined by the Open Mobile Alliance (formerly the WAP Forum) for detecting user agent types and devices.

Bandwidth Limitations

A typical corporate Internet connection could be 20 million bits per second (Mbps). At that speed, it would take about two seconds to download a one-minute video. Conversely, bandwidth on mobile phones varies from 56 thousand bits per second (kbps) to 1 Mbps, meaning the same one-minute video could take anywhere from 10 seconds to two minutes to download. Therefore, developers need to be aware of these download speeds and carefully choose the media elements that will be used in the course.

Differentiating Browsers

Applications like games, productivity tools and scheduling software are downloaded, stored and run off the mobile phone’s internal memory, not through its browser. So courses designed to run through phone browsers without downloading an application need to use less memory and accommodate slower processors.

Many developers make extensive use of Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight for PC-based courses, because they make it easy to integrate interactivity and animations. However, the typical mobile device may not support Flash or Silverlight.

Adobe Flash Lite is a Flash version for mobile phones. Today, over 400 Flash Lite-enabled devices are available. Silverlight should be available for newer versions of Windows Mobile and Symbian (Series 60) phones this year.

Integrating Systems

No matter what learning management system (LMS) you have, you are going to have to determine how the mobile phone will communicate with it. Your choices are to connect with the LMS through an application downloaded to the phone or through the mobile Web browser. A native-run application is more efficient in terms of data usage, but it does require a custom application to be developed and downloaded to the mobile phone to ensure there is communication with the LMS.

ISD the Same

Instructional system design (ISD) fundamentals do not change when designing programs for mobile devices. To accommodate the phone’s software, screen size and bandwidth constraints, keep the following in mind:

>> Do not make this a page-turner. Build in interactivity and be sure your designer is cognizant of each mobile device’s navigation (for example, track ball, scroll wheel and touch screen).

>> Chunk the learning into small nuggets. On a mobile device, aim for about five minutes or less of content at a time.

>> Plan the media asset mix — such as 2-D and 3-D graphics, animations and video — carefully.

A New Horizon

In a handful of years, we’ve seen mobile phones evolve from wireless telephones into sophisticated communications devices. Making calls is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what people can do — and want to do — when they’re away from their wired worlds. Today’s mobile phone technology presents unprecedented capability for organizations to take full advantage of every available opportunity for learning.

—The author of this article is Don Duquette, executive vice president, Learning Solutions for General Physics Corp. For more information, visit the Website http://us.gpworldwide.com.

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