6 Fresh Ideas From #mLearnCon 2014

Where You Can Expect Learning and Life To Be Headed

Conferences, Experience API, Industry News, Newsletter Comments (0)

Conferences are a prime opportunity for gathering business intelligence.

This year’s mLearnCon, held June 24-26 in San Diego, did not disappoint.

When Float goes to a conference, we look for what is fresh and new from both vendors and potential clients.

Float's Dr. Gary Woodill and Oscar Marin talk to people at the Float booth at mLearnConIn an intense three-day period, the 6-person team that Float sent came away with a sense that mobile learning is entering a new phase where many large enterprises are looking seriously at it for implementation in the next year, although Adam Bockler noted that many companies have yet to commit to a specific project.

Scott McCormick sensed a shift from previous years in that people are moving from “we haven’t even started yet” to “we are looking into solutions/platforms/frameworks (pick a word) that will meet our goals.”

As Chad Udell commented, “The conversation has matured… the people who are implementing mobile learning are doing some big things and trying out stuff like iBeacons.”

There has definitely been a lot of progress in the market over the past year.

But, we also noted that there was still a lot of talk about learning management systems (LMSs) at mLearnCon. Additionally, there were some attendees wondering how to integrate mobile learning with their LMS, and a surprising number of LMS vendors in the exhibit hall.

Oscar Marin observed “there were several vendors who positioned themselves as the ‘un-LMS’ – essentially an escape route from an LMS and also touting xAPI compatibility or integration in their product.”

Float's mobile learning starter kit and books are on display at the Float booth at mLearnCon

Chad, being direct as usual, thought that LMSs are now just an “anachronistic backward thing” and was surprised that “people still seem to think that their LMS matters.” For Chad, LMSs are for collecting and reporting learning assessment and course participation data, while mobile is about experience and performance data. It is a question of what truly matters in meeting business objectives in today’s fast-changing world.

Jim Ferolo, who ran a one-day pre-conference workshop with Chad at mLearnCon, prepared a gorgeous interactive book of “blueprints” for designing mobile learning and found that workshop participants were eager to work their way through the design and prototyping process. Many walked away from the day with the beginnings of a design of an app for their own enterprise. This reinforces a message that I tried to deliver in my session on “design thinking” – the importance of actually doing something and seeing how it works, making adjustments, and moving forward.

One of my main interests is in tracking new developments in the technologies of mobile learning, so I went around to all the exhibitors trying to see what was new from last year.

Another great opportunity for sniffing out what is fresh in mobile learning is DemoFest, one of the highlights of the conference.

Together, the exhibits, DemoFest and some of the sessions were able to point to several new directions for mobile learning in the coming year. Here is what I found that was fresh:

App Stores for Employees

The rise of app stores has been associated first with Apple’s pioneering efforts, followed by Google Play, with BlackBerry and Microsoft app stores following far behind in terms of offerings. While enterprise app stores have been available for a couple of years, the new idea that I spotted was “the rise of employee app stores” based on Qualcomm’s presentation at DemoFest. In this model, the learning and development department owns the app store and uses it for both employee engagement and increase security.

Content Strategies for Multi-Device Environments

There was more talk of multi-screen/multi-device environments at this year’s mLearnCon compared with previous years. This is a recognition that content needs to be separated from the form and the same content delivered in many different ways on a variety of devices.

At least four sessions addressed this issue, but it was Karen McGrane’s challenging keynote address that highlighted this growing trend. Clark Quinn posted a helpful mind map on his blog that captured most of Karen’s points, as did Kasper Spiro.

As well, several vendors claimed that their software would “author once, publish many.” Of these, I thought that the GoMo platform by Epic was the most comprehensive solution available in this category.

Games and Gamification

The idea of learning with mobile games in the use of gamification strategies continues to grow as a topic at mLearnCon. The distinction between “serious games” and the use of select game elements (gamification) discussed in several sessions, including:

  • a pre-conference workshop with Robert Gadd and Bryan Austin,

  • an introductory session on mobile game-based learning by Nancy Reyes,

  • a demonstration of the use of gamification by Cory Colton at AutoTrader,

  • and a session by Dennis Viehland on the use of digital badges in mobile learning.

Clearly, this is a growing trend.

Messing with Reality

The capabilities of mobile learning include various ways of “messing with reality.” Adding text and object overlays onto the camera views from mobile devices is known as “augmented reality.”

At mLearnCon this year, there were at least four sessions with augmented reality in the session title. We already have the possibility of virtual reality, which will receive a major boost when Oculus Rift VR goggles and competitive products come on the market in the next year. Beckoning beyond that is the idea of “mixed reality” in which the user will be immersed in a virtual environment, but have parts of their own body re-projected into the setting, creating an even more realistic world that is both familiar and weird at the same time. This is an area of mobile learning development that is moving rapidly.

Interested In An Augmented Reality Demo?

New xAPI Applications

While Float launched the first public Experience API application two years ago with Tappestry, a number of new applications for this developing standard indicate that it is not going away and will only become more prominent in the future. Float worked with RISC to develop a cloud-based PDF annotator using xAPI, while the ADL folks combined EPUB 3 and xAPI into an open platform for activity-based mobile learning. Many of the vendors were also offering xAPI integration in their products.

Other New Ideas

Not all new ideas advance with equal rapidity. I did hear talk in several quarters about “wearables” and there seems to be recognition that they are the newest form of mobile device. But, aside from Google Glass and similar devices, there was little activity on this front at the conference.

Similarly, at Float, we think that geolocation is an immensely important variable for future apps, but other than Jody Baty’s session on Apple iBeacons, there was little evidence at this conference that vendors had embraced geolocation in their products. Of course, many vendors had iterative improvements in what they were showing compared with last year, and a few have even upgraded their booths.

Overall, we are all waiting for the “tipping point” that indicates that mobile learning has finally taken off. While it feels that we are close, you’ll have to wait till next year in Austin, Texas – June 10-12, 2015 – to see if that has happened.

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Gary Woodill is a senior analyst with Float, as well as CEO of i5 Research. Gary conducts research and market analyses, as well as assessments and forecasting for emerging technologies. Gary is the co-editor of "Mastering Mobile Learning," author of “The Mobile Learning Edge,” and the co-author of “Training and Collaboration with Virtual Worlds.” He also presents at conferences and is the author of numerous articles and research reports on emerging learning technologies. Gary holds a doctor of education degree from the University of Toronto.

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On July 8, 2014
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