Friday, January 7, 2011

mLearning Tech A’plenty Released at CES 2011

It is the first week in January and the annual International CES (“Consumer Electronics Show”) is in full swing out in Las Vegas – just as if Santa Claus came twice within a two-week period for gadget freaks and tech nerds alike. This year’s event is as big as ever with 100K+ attendees roaming through 2,700 vendor booths across multiple sites. In the midst of all the new 3D TVs, streaming home entertainment, futuristic toys and smart appliances, the primary market focus of this year’s show seems to be on mobility with smartphones, tablets and apps taking center stage in many of the main keynotes and featured front-and-center in larger vendor booths. And many of these advances drive the potential and increase the affordances of mobile learning and performance support across the enterprise.

Better Devices. It is starting to feel like the smartphone is finally going to start replacing the feature phone inside every knowledge worker’s pocket or purse; I’m not saying my mom is going to replace her Jitterbug anytime soon but she’s a grandmother not an enterprise employee. For those of us with the means and the desire, the choices are plentiful and reasonable in most markets and the up-trending Bring Your Own Device movement is starting to influence IT departments to allow newer Apple iOS, Google Android and Microsoft Windows Phone7 devices to coexist on the highly restricted/locked down networks IT has operated in the past. As security and control issues for enterprise-grade mlearning solutions are mitigated to infosec’s satisfaction, BYOD policies can actually save organization tremendous amounts of money every year. CES showcased a myriad of Android smartphones and tablet devices for consumers from Motorola, HTC, Samsung, LG, Sony Erickson, Dell and many others plus specialized offerings from Cisco Systems on the enterprise end of the spectrum to Vizio on the consumer end; that said, most every contemporary Android device can install/run an “app” and that brings an opportunity for learning closer to any worker in the time of need.

Tablets devices are all the rage at CES as vendors from across the world all seek to cash in on Apple’s success with their iPad. Tablets ranging in size from pocket minis to full-sized and dockable slates are featured everywhere with many supporting the newer Android 3.0/Honeycomb OS, Windows 7/Phone 7 and even some Linux variations. Tablets from the “tier one players” will obviously have an impact on the market and the fact that many of them run Flash content makes them ultra-appealing for mobile learning situations. The real question is whether the application ecosystems that surround each of these new devices can overcome the market lead Apple’s current (and future) generation iPads already enjoy. I suspect we’ll see Apple conceding some nominal but measurable market share to the new crème of the crop and this will drive most enterprise organizations to need to support multiple tablets in much the same way they support multiple smartphones for their enterprise mobile learning initiatives. I anticipate seeing projects with lots of iPads alongside several Android tabs and a smattering of BlackBerry PlayBooks all coexisting in one learning deployment. Thus, great things are coming along with increased complexity for content creation, management and distribution since the cool Flash content won't play across the range of devices an enterprise must manage for their mobile learning programs.

Way Faster Networks. To me, the more significant advances introduced at CES 2011 were the formal introductions from the leading carriers of their much anticipated “4G”, high-speed networks. All four of the major US wireless carriers (ATT, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint) plus several others announced support for next-gen device communications resulting in faster access speeds. These faster networks drive the need/desire for more capable smartphones and tablet devices that can leverage the network benefits. What’s needed are better applications to serve as the third leg of the new “technology stool” and enterprise mobile learning represents one of the real world examples that can take advantage of these faster networks, better devices and richer learning experiences anytime and anywhere.

In summary, this year’s show seems bigger and more impressive than many in recent years and I believe many of the products and services introduced this week will play a critical role in the adoption and proliferation of enterprise mobile learning here and abroad. And the gadget geek in me really looks forward to getting a new device (or four!) in the coming weeks and months as we push the future of tech into the future of learning.

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