Computer-based learning management systems have been available since the 1960s, but really took off in the late 1990s and early 2000s. With the speed of change that is happening in the world of education and training software, it is not surprising that some learning management systems are starting to look stale and worn. At the same time, many LMS companies recognize that their market is reaching a limit of saturation and are looking for new ways to sell their intellectual property. Just-in-time, along comes the mobile learning revolution, presenting new opportunities for learning management system companies to market their wares. How they have done that, however, varies greatly.
Some LMS companies have simply added the word “mobile” to their offerings without much change at all. Others have done cosmetic changes, redesigning their interface to fit on a small screen. A few companies have gone beyond this to have mobile learning management systems actually work on smart phones and tablets. Some have even developed stand-alone LMSs that do not need to be connected to a non-mobile LMS. And finally, a few LMS companies have dipped their toes into the waters of innovation and tried to create something new.
In reviewing mobile learning management systems, I have identified five levels:
- Level 0 – LMSs not ready for mobile learning
- Level I – LMSs graphically redesigned for mobile devices
- Level II – mobile extensions (“plugins”) for existing learning management systems – the extension only works in conjunction with a non-mobile LMS
- Level III – stand-alone, self-sufficient mobile learning management systems
- Level IV – innovative mobile learning management systems that use some of the new affordances of mobile devices such as location or cloud computing
If we place some of the available mobile learning management systems on a continuum from Level I to Level IV it might look something like this (this is not a complete list of mobile LMSs, just examples):
As you can see, a few of the open-source learning management systems have been designed with mobile computing in mind. For example, the Moodle interface consists of a three-column layout that is very mobile friendly. Sakai, another open-source learning management system, has a group of developers that is producing features that make this LMS mobile-ready. But, these LMSs are not very different in their mobile and non-mobile versions.
Another approach is to design “plug-ins” or “extensions” for existing learning management systems (Level II). Moodle has several plug-ins designed for it including MLE-Moodle and MOMO (Mobile Moodle). Blackboard has an extension for their Learn 9.1 platform called Blackboard Mobile that lets users receive notification of updates to their Blackboard courses, including new assignments, course content, study group updates, community discussions, and their grades/assessment results.
At Level III, there are stand-alone mobile learning systems that manage learning materials for users without needing to reference a non-mobile LMS. Examples are BlackBerry Pushcast (formerly Mobile Chalkboard) which runs only on the BlackBerry platform and is mostly used for delivering training to users (hence the emphasis on “push” in the name). It features text, graphics, video, and audio, and will handle surveys, call requests, or e-mail requests. It administers tests, and tracks results and content usage. Similarly, KMx from Knowledge Management Solutions provides development and delivery of e-learning courseware, knowledge management, and collaboration tools for mobile devices with full conformance to the shareable content object reference model (SCORM).
Another contender in this category is Cellcast from OnPoint Digital. This mobile learning program allows users to create, notify, deliver, and track audio and video learning content on a wide variety of smart phones, tablets, and netbook computers. It also allows for the delivery and tracking of mobile web content, web and PDF files, videos, animated narrated slide presentations, and spoken word and text-based assessments. Cellcast is fully integrated with OnPoint Digital’s learning management system, but can operate independently without reference to any LMS.
Unfortunately, there are no mobile learning management systems that I would classify as having reached Level IV. However, there are signs of innovative new solutions that will transform the world of mobile learning management systems, and not simply rehash the concepts of desk top LMSs. One example is the mEKP mobile learning management system from Net Dimensions that delivers a full featured learning management system on a USB stick. This allows students to go off-line, do their work, and have it tracked without a connection to the Internet. They simply take their USB stick with them and plug it into an Internet-connected computer at the first opportunity.
The results of their work are then uploaded to a full Net Dimensions enterprise learning management system. This approach shows that Net Dimensions is moving towards the new definition of mobile learning – a definition that is about the needs of the learner on the move, not about mobile technology, per se.
Finally, Giunti Labs in Italy has been experimenting with a novel wearable learning management system called eXact iTutor. It is described on the Giunti website as “the world’s first wearable, wireless mobile learning platform.” It is location-based and voice/gaze controlled for workplace delivery of crisis management instructions and just-in-time training materials. Unfortunately, in speaking with their North American representatives, I learned that this mobile LMS is just a prototype, and is not yet in production. However, it is definitely a step in the right direction in that its design is using some of the unique possibilities of mobile learning that have not been available before.
The examples of mobile learning managements systems of any kind are few and far between. Of the several hundred LMSs on the market, only three or four actually have any features that support mobile learning. In the next year, watch for many more mobile LMSs to come on the market, as they jump on the mobile bandwagon. At the same time, pay attention to the market leaders described above – they will have the most experience in this new category of learning software.
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