It is time once again to ponder the research, extrapolate on recent experience, and attempt to read the tea leaves so we can predict the future of enterprise mobile learning in 2011. After such an exciting and rewarding 2010, my predictions for the coming year seem broader and more varied given the fast changing dynamics of the marketplace and accelerated adoption of mobile learning by organizations of all sizes.
1. mLearning Engagements Expand. If 2010 was the year of the pilot, then 2011 will be the year of the deployment. As I stated in the previous post assessing my 2010 predictions, the size and complexity of mobile learning projects/programs will continue to expand across all geographical and line-of-business boundaries. I think case studies from enterprise organizations on the leading edge will abound by year’s end for successful mobile learning initiatives by thus providing the “I want to do what they did!” examples the industry has waited for over the past many years. Case studies featuring accelerated ROI with tens of thousands of learners (or more!) using different types of devices in multitudes of languages across diverse geographies are sure to drive awareness in mobile learning and generate interest from organizations of all sizes seeking to achieve their own successes and become more innovative in the way the train and support their ever-mobile learning communities.
2. Device Diversity is the “New Normal”. After years of BlackBerry dominance in the pockets and purses of enterprise personnel, iOS (Apple) and Android-based mobile phones and tablet devices will supplant RIM-supplied smartphones as the primary desired (and likely used) smart devices for mobile learning – at least in North America. This shift will be driven by a combination of factors including learner (and executive) demand, IT acceptance and infosec approval plus a movement towards the adoption of “bring your own device” use policies within the enterprise. Sure, companies may still provided workers with an old BlackBerry (on a 2-year contract), but increasingly more people will opt to use their own iPhones/iPads or Android handsets or tablets once their devices can be secured and supported within their organizations.
3. Mobile Apps Become Essential to Enterprise mLearning. As stated in our previous post, the mobile learning “app” has proved its superiority over less compelling mobile web-delivered training materials. True, mobile apps are harder to create and to support but the value derived from an installed app proves far more beneficial and powerful for the typical enterprise customer, especially those looking to support their own defined workforces versus a broad general audience. I will agree that accessing mobile learning content via a device’s embedded web browser can be an effective and useful delivery modality (and is improving every year) but the overall experience is generally watered down and less effective and engaging. Conversely, mobile learning apps provides better and more varied content, are FAR more secure, work anywhere the learner needs to learn and can integrate better into the way learners think about and use their mobile devices. Remember, there’s a reason we all use an app on our smartphones to access email, check our calendar, search our contacts and watch media clips instead of trying to log into a server somewhere to accomplish those same tasks.
4. Pad/Tablet Use Explodes! The emerging pad/tablet market will gain further momentum and an increasing number of enterprise organizations will start to support/provide the larger form factored devices to their field sales, technical and professional staff. Given the fact these devices slot into our device lineup somewhere between the typical smartphone and a laptop in terms of size and capabilities, many organizations will start to drop the laptop and supply BOTH a tablet and a smartphone for every mobile worker/learner – and don’t be surprised if these are supplied by different vendors too like having a BlackBerry (or similar) handheld AND an iPad (or similar) tablet. The challenge for T&D and IT departments becomes how they will support the use of multiple devices for each worker with issues ranging from “single sourcing” content production (write once/deploy anywhere) to content distribution to security to cross-platform tracking and synchronization (think: completion of an assignment on a learner’s BB device must then be reflected on their iPad device ASAHP).
I speculate RIM’s first generation PlayBook tablet will also ship to mixed fanfare for enterprise mobile learning customers due to the lack of available applications supporting off-grid learning. After almost 18 months, RIM’s AppWorld site has only grown to around 15K “apps” for BlackBerry wireless handhelds and none of these current apps work on the upcoming PlayBook tablet meaning a whole new series of apps must be written – the classic “chicken & egg” problem. Meanwhile, next generation iPads and Android 3.x devices – each with tens of thousands of available apps – will help fuel continued adoption of Apple and Google-designed tablets in the learning space.
5. Authoring Tools Will Evolve. Flash will still not be supported on iOS devices in 2011 but this fact will matter far less over time. Apple’s insistence on never wanting to support Flash content on iOS devices will drive innovation across the authoring tool market that is sure to benefit everyone in the Training & Development field. I feel the time is just around the corner than “Publish to HTML5” options appear within the leading content authoring tools making it easier to design, generate and support compelling interactions and animations without needing a Flash Player on-board the device. On balance, the downside to this means we will actually need more tools to create content that spans all the mobile devices we are targeting for training delivery given most older enterprise mobile devices support neither Flash nor HTML5 due to their very dated browsers. If we lived in a world where everyone had brand new (and updated) devices, mobile learning would be easy but they don’t so it isn’t.
6. Private Social Networks Win Over Public. It was no surprise to many of us that Facebook was the most heavily trafficked web site in 2010 and displaced Google for the first time in many years. There’s no denying the power and reach of social networking in the technology space but we remain convinced that PUBLIC SOCIAL sites like Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube all have diminished value as part of an enterprise learning community when compared with the various PRIVATE SOCIAL sites and applications now available. We strongly agree having anytime/anywhere access to our business social network can provide great value, that having tools to share information like pictures and videos and podcasts generated by users instead of business functions can bridge learning divides, and that weaving informal into formal makes us all better equipped and informed. We believe that public sites like Facebook and Twitter (amongst others) will not end up becoming the hubs where the learning organization wants their community to gather and share insights due to the lack of security, privacy, oversight and control that are relevant today and even more essential tomorrow. As such, most business-centric social interactions must to seamlessly integrated into the enterprise learning environment and at every mobile access point too.
7. Market Consolidations Will Occur. Some form of consolidation will come to the mobile device/handset sector as a few of the key but descending players –namely Nokia, Microsoft, HP and RIM – aligning themselves together to try and overcome the momentum of the two ascending players – namely Apple and Google. We wouldn't be shocked to find Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 OS appearing on upcoming Nokia handsets or tablet devices, or RIM getting acquired by Microsoft or another tech titan like IBM Global Services in a deal akin to HP acquiring Palm in 2010.
8. Here Come the Experts! The growth of mobile learning in 2011 will beget a slew of newly-minted mobile learning and mobile content experts, boutique consultancies, mobile development shops and “me too” vendors all claiming they possess the knowledge, expertise and experience we all need to make us successful in mobile; take most such claims with a grain of salt. The stark reality is the practice of mobile learning is vastly different than what online learning has been to this industry for 15+ years and just owning a few iPhones or Android tablets or RIM PlayBooks and surfing the web for a few days doesn’t yield any tangible experience when looking to help someone plan, structure, build, deploy, support and integrate a new mobility strategy into an overall enterprise learning program. Expertise using just one authoring tool, or design method, or supporting one kind of mobile device translates poorly for replicating an inaugural success into different work environments. Whenever you're encountering/considering tools from mobile vendors, remember the adage anything labeled "version 1.0" is probably more akin to "version 0.82 (beta)" and the proven iteration you'd bet your business on is probably "version 2.0" or higher. Buyer, beware!
9. New Features and New Possibilities. One of the greatest joys and challenges of being in the mobility space is keeping up with the constant pace of change and innovation. In our experience, learners within and teams supporting enterprise mobile learning environments are all interested in finding ways to derive the benefit of new features and functionality offered on better and faster devices. Our own development roadmap is expanding with the many possibilities afforded through upcoming advances like (a) geo-location, (b) near field communications (“NFC”) that may help contextualize learning at a specific location or assist in the bi-directional exchange of pertinent data, (c) augmented reality delivering just-in-time learning opportunities via interactive overlays, (d) the use of gaming scenarios integrated within a structured mobile learning experience, and (e) tighter integration between learning and a devices universal in-box function. And along the way we plan continue to innovate and iterate on “mil-spec” mobile security, authentication/single sign-on, cross-platform integration tools, and interface customization features that will benefit all our customers and partners.
So now it’s time to sit back and watch it all play out for the next twelve months. We look forward to the many opportunities to will come our way this coming year and to overcoming the myriad challenges that pop up in our path as we help make mobile learning a positive reality and measurable benefit for all the customers, vendors and institutions out there looking to leverage mobile learning in 2011.