Friday, September 28

Open Standards for m-learning?

As enthusiasm for m-learning grows around the world, and more mobile content gets developed, the problem of "re-use" keeps growing. If I build for an iPhone, what about Android? How can I ensure that all possible learners benefit from my awesome app? What happens with that great learning content I optimised for an earlier platform that is no longer popular?

If you are looking for guidelines on how to ensure longevity for your content without locking into one mega platform, or system, you have come to the right place.

We have been working with researchers and techies in UK, USA and Europe trying to understand the options, and build them into real apps which have been deployed across over 20 nations, via iTunes and Play app stores.

The bad news: there is no specific set of standards for m-learning to solve this

The good news: there are quite a few OTHER sets of standards that are very useful, if applied right.

The first step is to clarify exactly where you want to sit on the "native app, one device" <-> "simple media, all devices" spectrum. In our work we found huge benefits in making content as richly interactive as possible, so we have narrowed our focus to high-end devices only (smartphones, tablets, wifi devices), but because we invest a lot of our energy into the media quality, it is essential to us that it travels well between Android - iOS - Windows Phone - others

We have put ourselves here (see image above). We aim to put as much content as possible into html5, but do NOT deploy as a web app, rather wrapping it into a shell native app. 

I'll try to explain this a little more clearly, below 

We package our learning content into small, zipped packages of html5, ensuring all media files are formatted to play on all targeted devices. Packages can also contain non-html5 media (like eBooks). These we host on our online library. Users can download the app from the app store, and then log into our library, and download content. The same library, and the same content whatever the platform their app is running on.

We have spent the best part of the past year trying to optimise the balance between what is HTML (viewed in an embedded browser), and what is native. 

If you want to see this in action, download our Global MedAid app from your local app store. (it was made for the and includes a fairly weighty 40Mb of media, and content)

The screens above are from Global MedAid. You can see how some of the menus, search functions, popups are managed natively, while underlying content is in a browser window. The reasons are ALL performance based.

This is how we manage the "cross platform content" piece, but what about the wider standards? Our approach here is to look at every "join" between different layers, or different aspects of the platform, and then look for related standards. See below: 

Depending on exactly what you are needing to do, I'd suggest you look into the different standards listed here, to keep things as open, and re-usable as possible.

(And if you are thinking of signing up for a big authoring system offering you "mobile", make sure that you can get at open versions of your content at every one of those "joins"!)

The ideas, above, are working really well for us. We have apps built on this being used across the world, in several languages. The biggest of which is with a US Government learning portal, who has adopted this open approach, and is using it with all their mobile learning suppliers. All content is delivered, zipped and packaged up, into the cloud. Authorised users download an app designed for their particular smartphone, and then go and get whichever cross-platform mobile content / courses / tools / activities they want

If you are interested in further details, see also our free report on cross platform app development

Wednesday, September 26

MobiMOOC 2012: Mind the Gap

This morning I completed the second of two online presentations as part of MobiMOOC 2012 (an online, free to access course on mobile learning).

 Initially, when I was asked to do a session on "mLearning pedagogy and learning theory" I thought they had the wrong guy. I have been deeply involved in mobile learning (both envisioning it, and making it) for over 11 years, but very little of that time has been spent in pure theory.

Almost all my time has been spent trying to understand how to REALLY make mobile learning work, in a meaningful and practical way. Not just the theory, but the real down-n-dirty practice. Together with my team we have been building apps / authoring tools / SMS engines / platforms / mobilized content and then using these with hard-to-access learners across the globe, trying to figure out what really does work, and add benefit.

After confessing this to the organisers, it turned out that this was exactly why they wanted our input, so we did a session titled Mind the Gap (or, where mlearning theory meets practice)

This is the ppt we did. There is also a youtube recording of the entire session!

Our main approach was to:
  1. explore briefly some of the academic theory, and frameworks often mentioned in mobile learning
  2. discuss the challenges in really making use of them, practically
  3. work together to propose some suggestions / guidelines
  4. look at a few real life examples. Projects my team have been involved in.
Feedback from the online attendees was overwhelmingly positive, and we had an animated debate running in parallel (with huge thanks to my colleague, Jo Colley, for keeping it flowing).

What do you think of the issues, and ideas?

Monday, September 24

MobiMOOC - free online m-learning course happening now!

MobimoocThere have been a flurry of reports in the news recently about MOOCs. Massive, Open, Online courses. Several notable startups have waded in (Coursera, Udacity, edX, Ted-ed), and the early results look impressive.

But did you know that Mobile Learning was one of the early adopters?

MobiMOOC 2011 started the ball rolling last year. A massively online, free, collaboration between m-learning gurus from across the globe (see our summary report)

The next one, MobiMOOC 2012 is happening RIGHT NOW. It is part way through, free, and waiting for you to join in as a lurker, a caution contributor, or a down-right enthusiast!

For a preview of the speakers and sessions, explore the MobiMOOC site

I am curating a strand this week, presenting live on both Tuesday (late) and Wednesday (early), with a parallel discussion forum. The title is "Mind the Gap: exploring the gap between m-learning theory, and practice"

Do drop in. I'd love to see you online.

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