What’s Up with Mobile Learning?

The United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) plans to “develop and implement a plan to put mobile digital devices in the hands of all soldiers no later than

The United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) plans to “develop and implement a plan to put mobile digital devices in the hands of all soldiers no later than 2013.” TRADOC describes the future learning environment as requiring “a significantly expanded and more robust capability to deliver learning content at the point of need. Future distributed learning modules must be up-to-date, engaging and easily accessible.”

And according to the Army’s Learning Concept 2015 (ALC 2015), ubiquitous mobile technologies have begun to provide a viable solution to many training and learning requirements.

A.D.L. and Mobile Learning

Mobile technologies significantly decrease the need for a learner to be in a classroom or logged into a learning management system. The Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (A.D.L.) organized its Mobile Learning Team to: (1) investigate the potential uses for mobile technologies and (2) be the source of information and support for all DoD mobile learning initiatives.

A.D.L.’s research involves the effective use of hand-held devices to improve personalized learning: the right learning resources and performance aids, delivered to the right person at the right time and place.

Over the past several years, improved software, improved hardware, and changing habits of mobile device users have continued to increase the opportunities for military training to be tailored to individuals at their moment of need. Mobile learning is definitely not just “e-learning lite.” Mobile devices can provide an excellent solution for many situations.

Converting to Mobile

Ideally, learning materials should be created first with mobile delivery in mind, but this is not always possible. As part of its tasking, the A.D.L. Mobile Learning Team was recently involved in a test project for converting existing e-learning content, which provided interesting results. The team was asked to convert an existing course on Trafficking in Persons (T.I.P.) created by the DoD Combating Trafficking in Persons Office. The T.I.P. course is mandatory training for all deployed military.

First, it conducted a small survey of DoD stakeholders to investigate mobile device proliferation and usage. The results from this preliminary survey were used to help drive conversion, development and deployment decisions for the T.I.P. course.

It then created a mobile version that is accessible from any mobile device with a browser as well as in native format for Apple and Android devices — all from the same source code and also available in an EPUB format.

The course was tested by representatives of all services. Results of the field tests and focus group study are detailed in a paper entitled “From eLearning to mLearning: The Effectiveness of Mobile Course Delivery” that will be presented December’s Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) 2011 in Orlando, Fla. The survey and study results should also help to generate new ideas within the DoD learning community regarding the challenges associated with course conversions and mobile deployment.

In addition, more than a dozen commercial vendors developed a version of one of the six modules using their own tools. As the initial course was built in HTML with Flash interactions, it has been very interesting to see the various methods developers used to replace the original desktop interactivity on mobile devices.

‘Augmented Mobile’

While mobile learning is not appropriate in all instances, it can be an important part of the total learning and training support infrastructure. The future capabilities for education and training with ubiquitous access to connected devices cannot be overestimated. Smartphone growth continues to expand in all areas, which will enable many more opportunities, many of which will spawn from innovations that cannot even be envisioned at the present.

According to a survey by Gartner, Inc., consumers in the United States are more likely to buy a smartphone in 2011 than PCs, mobile phones, e-readers, media tablets and gaming products. In June, the number of active smartphones and wireless-enabled P.D.A.s in the U.S. had reached 95.8 million, a 57 percent increase over the prior year.

In May, Ambient Insight Research determined that mobile learning products have entered the value-creation phase, a period of a product’s lifecycle characterized by innovation and wide adoption via expanding distribution channels. Among Ambient Insight’s findings were that “innovation coming out of the U.S. federal government is now a major catalyst for the overall mobile learning market.”

—Authors are Judy Brown of Katmai Support Services, who leads the Mobile Learning Team at A.D.L., and Jason Haag, who focuses on mobile platforms and technology as a contractor with The Tolliver Group, Inc. To read the complete article, see the Nov./Dec. issue of Government Elearning! magazine or visit the Website www.gov.2elearning.com.

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