Getting Pushy with Mobile Affordances

Using Push Notifications to Increase the Utility of Your Mobile Learning Efforts

Mobile Apps, Mobile Strategy, Pedagogy and Learning Comments (2)

In the March 2013 newsletter, we discussed the changing tide of mobile development tools and design techniques for creating best-of-breed mobile learning applications and websites.

I’d like to continue that discussion by focusing on a particular use case and address how to go about implementing features that can serve that need.

You need to keep your mobile learners updated and engaged in the experience you have created. Maximize the effectiveness of the training by making the person aware of changes to content and services that you have already deployed.

Mobile learners are a unique proposition for those of us coming from a traditional instructional background. No longer confined by space or time, the world is their classroom. Tasks are performed on demand, and learning is often required in conjunction with the performance of those tasks.

They may not be in the office for days or even weeks at a time. In today’s disconnected work environment, you may have remote or mobile workers that have no formal office space, per se. These workers all need to be reached in a uniform way that is tough to ignore and requires little or no user-initiated request. While mobile learning is often a pull operation – learners request data or help they need when they need it – it can also require a push intervention to make sure everyone is in sync with policy or procedure changes (see The Six Ps of Mobile Learning).

This is where one of the unique affordances of mobile learning shines. The “Push Notification” has a large number of uses that are of value to a mobile device user.

Think about your average day on your smartphone or tablet. You likely get a variety of notifications on the device – everything from software updates to calendar notifications to messages and emails, all of which take advantage of the devices ability to notify you when there is content or information that requires your attention. People may trigger these notifications, but they may be automated system notifications, as well. No matter the trigger, the user is looped into the message, and the notification is stored in a message center or notifications area on the device for later review if the user is unable to react directly to the message as it comes in.

I use some apps that notify me about news, events and other “need to know” information bits that didn’t come with my device. Weather apps alert me when an emergency warning is a broadcast; sports apps tell me when one of my teams is about to start, games let me know it’s my turn to play the next round against a friend, and so on.

Without the notifications, I would have to keep checking the apps to see if they required my attention. When using the notifications in the applications, I stay in the flow of my current activity on the device or in real life until I feel that familiar vibration and distinct tone from an app letting me know I have news to read or a sports team player trade to check out.

These notifications are potent tools that can be used for your mobile learning apps, as well.

Consider the types of apps you may be deploying for your workforce, and then contextualize yourself in the settings and use cases in which your learners are interacting with your content.

What sorts of breaking news, just-in-time changes, or other information might make a difference to their tasks? How can you improve their performance by giving them a heads-up on what’s going on in your company that they may not be aware of?

The possibilities could vary wildly between industries and learning audiences, but try some of these examples on for size:

  1. Organization-wide safety bulletins – lockdowns, weather alerts, traffic issues, closures
  2. Geolocational targeted bulletins or alerts – Useful tips to be knowledgeable of about places you’re in or nearby
  3. Application content updates – pushed from an application content management system
  4. Product bulletins or alerts – recalls, safety alerts, release information
  5. Sales alerts – major contract awarded, deadline for an RFP, process changes, pricing changes
  6. Application updates – bug fixes, optimizations, new features
  7. Team alerts – social network updates, goal/achievement messaging, assistance requests
  8. HR reminders – Incomplete training events, overdue paperwork or goal completion
  9. Collaboration assistance – “phone a friend” type scenarios, travel or destination coordination
  10. Serious games – scoreboard updates, leaderboards, play requests

These are just a few examples of how to use push notifications for mobile learning to get the juices flowing. Once you realize that mobile learning is neither a top-down nor a bottom-up, learning proposition – but rather a combination of both of them – the sky is the limit.

Setting up notifications in your apps is easier than you may think. The major platforms all have good documentation on adding the feature to your applications. These discrete OSs are primarily focused either on local notifications (notifications that are present only on your local device and require no network sync) or single-platform notifications (iOS or Android only, not cross-platform).

Generally, setting up push notifications with a server layer is a bit more difficult than a simple app deployment, requiring additional provisioning and certificates, but once you have the hang of it, you should be just fine.

There a few other things you should be aware of when planning for an app with push services. You will need a server using SSL to broker notifications between your client apps and the content management system or custom web app you are using to populate the notifications.

Some vendors out there are emerging that help solves some of the cross-platform notification issues mentioned before. Flurry, Urban Airship and all have commercial services out there to help you get up and running with notifications that work across iOS, Android, and in some cases, other platforms, as well. Many mobile application management (MAM) and mobile device management (MDM) platforms also offer features related to app notifications. Check with your vendor to see if this is something they support.

I’m sure you see the value in adding push notifications to your next mobile learning effort.

The one thing you want to keep in mind is that you should use these tools sparingly. Don’t nag the user. These vital communications should never be used to “spam” your learner or advertise products or services. A constantly chattering application will soon find its notifications disabled altogether. You should leverage these notifications to inform and educate, ultimately adding value to your application.

So, there you go. You should have some ideas bumping around now on how to leverage push notifications in your next mobile learning endeavor.

Have you got some ideas you want to share? Be sure to send us some feedback on articles like this by leaving a comment or contacting us. We are always interested in hearing from the audience on the unique work you are doing.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just realized one of my Tappestry threads got favorited by someone, I have a couple of emails that came in, and it’s my turn on Letterpress.

Contact us right away to learn more about how to use push notifications in your mobile learning efforts!

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Chad Udell is the Managing Partner, strategy and new product development, at Float. There he leads his design and development teams to successful outcomes and award-winning work via a strong background in both disciplines and a singular focus on quality. He has worked with industry-leading Fortune 500 companies and government agencies to design and develop experiences for 20 years. Chad is recognized as an expert in mobile design and development, and he speaks regularly at national and international events and conferences on related topics. Chad is author of Learning Everywhere: How Mobile Content Strategies Are Transforming Training and co-editor and chapter author, with Gary Woodill, of Mastering Mobile Learning: Tips and Techniques for Success. His newest book, Shock of the New, co-authored with Gary Woodill was released in April of 2019.

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On March 21, 2013
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2 Responses to Getting Pushy with Mobile Affordances

  1. […] Everything from location services to security, the camera to stored preferences and push notifications to gestural input have been featured on the Float […]

  2. […] I’d written about the use of push notifications to take advantage of the unique affordances that mobile devices offer, and in this article, I’d like to explore another unique technology for […]

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