Fragmentation and NFC in Your Pedagogy – Don't Worry, It's Not Painful

Mobile Strategy, Pedagogy and Learning Comments (0)

About ten months ago, I wrote a post here on the Float blog called, “Ubiquitous? Context? Wha?” that took a look at some words that were being bandied about in mLearning circles but needed clarification. Maybe it seemed the words were being misused or many in the industry just flat out didn’t know what they meant. Whatever the case, I figured if I needed to know more, then maybe others did as well. Nearly a year has passed and some other words have become prevalent in the mobile learning dialogue that bear a closer look. Gaining an understanding of these terms is not just an exercise to enrich your vocabulary but comprehension is critical because they all represent important factors that have an influence in the mobile learning space.

You may have heard the term fragmentation, especially in discussions about the Android operating system. That’s because there are many different versions of the Android OS being used by mobile device owners and there are so many Android devices in general in the market, each with different hardware capabilities and even UI layers. But the truth is, all operating systems suffer from fragmentation to some degree. Blackberry, Windows and even Apple have different versions scattered about the mobile landscape and as mLearning strategists and developers we have to take that into account. One of the early steps of mobile learning implementation within your enterprise is to survey the mobile landscape.  Does your audience have mobile devices? If so, what kind? What operating systems are represented and what versions exist? Are they personally owned or company-issued? Obviously, the ideal situation is to control the distribution of devices and get everyone on the same page, er, OS. All these questions will present challenges having to do with fragmentation. Last November, fragmentation became a high profile issue when the developers of the game Angry Birds announced they were going to have to build a different version to accommodate “lower end Android devices.” And Steve Jobs didn’t pass up the opportunity to bash Android for its fragmentation last October.  No developer wants to build parallel versions of a deliverable, whether it is a game or a training initiative. You can find yourself in the same quandary if you have a variety of devices spread throughout your audience. Fragmentation can force you into some tough decisions even to a point of having to exclude some of your learners. Do a thorough inventory of your audience and what mobile devices and operating systems they own and operate.

Fragmentation is likely to increase in the future, not decrease. As smartphones continue to rapidly grow in market share, choices in handsets and their capabilities are going to widen. As legacy smartphones are handed down from user to user, or simply rejuvenated by replacing the battery or upgrading the OS, many permutations of use cases are going to surface. We as mobile learning professionals must recognize this and craft strategies that take the fragmentation into account for our audiences.

Now let’s take a look at pedagogy. You see and hear this word and forms of it frequently in learning circles. You word entomology fans might recognize some root words in there like “ped” for “child” such as in pediatrics and “ago” for “lead.” So the basis of the word is “to lead (or instruct) a child.” Generally speaking, it‘s like other “-ologies“ like biology and mythology, so it more literally means “the science of teaching.” But in the learning community it has a deeper meaning. When I hear pedagogy used at conferences and in discussions with colleagues it is more about the strategy of training or the style of training. As you might guess, different types of learning or training have their own pedagogies. ILT has a different pedagogy than eLearning and of mLearning. And there can be different pedagogies within a discipline such as eLearning. You might have a strategy or approach that you feel is more effective than another and that becomes your pedagogy. Did you know that you were a pedagogue?

The discussion of pedagogy is a very important component of  mobile learning. At Float we often say that the transition from eLearning to mLearning is the most dramatic change in learning recently, and perhaps ever. That’s because the pedagogies of mobile learning need to be innovative, creative, provocative and groundbreaking. So much is radically new in the mobile learning experience: the audience is on the move, learning at their own pace anytime, anywhere, they are looking at small screens on devices packed with extra features that can enhance learning and content needs to be delivered in bite-size chunks.  These are just a few of the variables you have to consider when you conceive your own pedagogy of mLearning. You can’t just take an eLearning pedagogy and slap it on to the mobile learning experience.  Building a sound and effective path to learning is crucial for your mobile learning implementation.

Let’s move from the strategic to the technological for our next word. If you haven’t already, you are going to hear the acronym “NFC” in mLearning circles a lot in 2011 and the conversation won’t be about football. NFC stands for “near-field communication” and it is becoming more prevalent on mobile devices. Near-field communication is the wireless transmission of information or data between two NFC devices or objects. Moving from science fiction to reality, Android already has this technology on their most recent devices and the rumor mill is saying that the iPad 2 and the iPhone 5 will also have NFC hardware/software.  So, not only can the mobile device read information like it does with a QR code but it can also send information to the other device.  You can imagine the ideas that are being considered if devices can interact with each other and exchange specific data. A mobile device enabled with NFC technology can act as a credit card, start a car, or turn on devices in your home when you arrive.

How can this technology be used in the mobile learning space? Let’s say one of your sales representatives was using NFC technology to track your inventory at customer locations.  If the mobile device found that a certain product wasn’t selling at a specific location, it could launch a short training app that gave the sales rep pointers on how to push the product with the store manager. NFC technology reinforces the fact that mobile learning can be on-demand, just-in-time learning and that it can happen anytime and anywhere. What ideas come to mind for you and your organization when you hear about near-field communication? Keep an eye out for NFC this year and let us know the creative ways you are seeing it being used.

Fragmentation. Pedagogy. Near-field communication. These are terms you need to understand and apply to your mLearning thinking and strategies in 2011. Smartly stated, your pedagogy should include considerations of the impact of both the ongoing device fragmentation and the impending arrival of NFC enabled devices on your mobile learning. When you use all three words in a sentence, you’ll be turning heads for sure.

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Scott McCormick is a founding partner of Float. Building on more than 30 years of experience in training, eLearning, and mLearning efforts for Fortune 500 companies, Scott helps companies embrace new learning strategies and deliver results. Scott is in charge of client relationships with global leaders in healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality, and insurance, and is instrumental in building new business and contributing to Float’s thought leadership efforts. Scott is featured in Float’s latest book, “Mastering Mobile Learning,” available from Wiley and ASTD Press.

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On February 16, 2011
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