Here on the last day of the year, I offer my predications for the big and shaping trends we’ll see in the enterprise mobile learning space for 2012. As in the past, this year’s list includes predictions across a gamut of new technologies, consumer/buyer trends plus a few anticipated seismic shifts in the world of business that should collectively reshape the landscape for the adoption and accelerated growth of mobile learning for businesses.
So, in no certain order, here are my predictions…
1. Mobile Learning Goes Mainstream. Or perhaps this is more a case of the classic “frog in boiling water” scenario. Whatever it is, this one is music to my ears after many years of toiling away to make mLearning a reality for the enterprise. The acceptance of mobile learning within the business community probably won’t happen with much fanfare, it will just happen and be accepted as a “norm” wherein the market no longer asks “should we offer learning to our employees (or partners or customers) via mobile device?” and will simply state “we need to offer learning to our workers via their omnipresent mobiles!” The reasons will be plentiful but largely driven by better/cheaper/more ubiquitous technologies and everyone’s acceptance of the fact we all use our phones (tablets, et al) to improve both personal and business communications and to be more productive.
2. Access Points Diversify. There will be more types of devices and ways to connect with our mobile learning world in 2012. And I am not just talking about the classic iOS vs. Android vs. other argument but the fact that different classes of hardware will start to get into our learning mix too. By next December, the average corporate learner will likely have a capable smartphone and their desktop/laptop PLUS a media tablet and/or eBook reader and perhaps even a smart TV back at home that is web-connected and runs apps. The ability to move seamlessly from one device experience to another will be critical with complete synchronization of our learning progress, status, achievements, etc. no matter where or when we choose/need to learn.
3. Mobile Web vs. Mobile App Debate Intensifies. Is enterprise mobile learning best delivered via native mobile apps or using mobile web apps? I agree the technologies to create, deploy and manage HTML5-based mobile web apps will greatly improve in 2012 but I don't feel they will mature to the point they can replace all native apps – at least in most of the primary enterprise use cases for learning that’s managed and tracked. The many advantages of mobile web apps – like cross platform OS support for iOS, Android and others – will still be mitigated in key areas like security, off-line storage, sync updates, access to device features like cameras (although this is improving in the spec) plus critical infosec concerns like SSO support when disconnected and remote wipe capabilities that just don’t work in mobile web apps yet. We do sense that mobile web apps will start to take their rightful place when looking to support an organization’s external learners (e.g., partners, customers) where ease of install/access are paramount and the required features can be limited to what’s essential instead of everything that’s required by IT, security and management. We also think hybrid apps that mix the best of native apps and mobile web apps will have a bigger impact on enterprise mobile learning thoroughout 2012 than just pure mobile web apps for that same market.
4. Flash Falters, HTML5 & ePUBs Gain in Popularity. 2012 will be a pivotal year in the way enterprises must think about designing, producing, delivering and managing their content strategies, and mobility strategies will alter many of our current tool kit and business process choices. Adobe’s move to stop developing Flash Player plug-ins for mobile web browsers set a BIG BALL in motion that quelled the desire for many Instructional Designers to use pure Flash or popular rapid development tools outputting Flash-based content as their unified content delivery strategy. Part of this shift was driven by the fact that Flash-based content actually didn’t perform/behave well on most Flash-enabled handsets and tablets especially when the content was local rather than on a server. Much has been said and written about the next wave of HTML5-based authoring tools or updates that will transform yesterday’s authoring tools into tomorrow’s more flexible and functional authoring systems and I suspect we’ll have nice working versions of the top five offerings able to create content that’s both desktop and mobile device friendly by mid year with commercial ready offerings from Adobe, Articulate and a host of others.
I also think many teams will begin to rethink their content creation and delivery options resulting in new ways to chuck up or package content that’s friendly to both online and mobile consumption scenarios. One trend is to move away from monolithic, structured 20 to 30 minute courses that worked fine online via a PC towards the notion of shorter, standalone learning objects that can be more easily discovered, accessed and consumed at the time of need from any device/app. Another counter-balanced trend gaining momentum will be the use of eBook style delivery formats that make it easier to produce and manage long-form content that is far more feature rich than static PDF files. Growing interest in the ePUB content formats, especially media-friendly ePUB-3s, will allow learners to gain more from and interact better with the content packages themselves and enable cool functionality like highlighting, like better indexing/threading and both personal and shared note taking all with the same level of access control and tracking that’s generally only found today with an online eLearning course.
5. Gamification Accelerates mLearning Adoption. Once everyone has the right devices and organizations accept the mandate to provide training, performance support and business communications via mobile, what will compel learners to participate and keep them engaged when there are so many distractions like Facebook, Twitter, Farmville and mobile shopping? Gamification seems to be a likely answer to that question. Not that companies need to even create “games” per se; rather, the trend will be towards gamifying our standard formal learning actions and informal social interactions through the addition of point systems, achievement leveling/scaling, overall leader boards, badging systems and tangible reward/incentives. Increased awareness of who’s ahead and how can others beat them to the finish line will drive learner engagement and overall organizational behavior and mobile access to these learning materials and communities makes it easier to participate and stay connected whenever the mood suits us.
6. Fewer but More Capable Tablets. I suspect the annual Consumer Electronics Show (“CES”) event in Las Vegas next week will have far fewer tech OEMs wading into the tablet pool as compared with January 2011. Apple’s iPad will continue to be the market leader in 2012 though a collection of tablet devices based on Android (in older Honeycomb to newer Ice Cream Sandwich flavors), Microsoft Windows 8 and possibly even RIM’s PlayBook 2.0 OS will continue to eat away at Apple’s market share as organizations seek to take advantage of the tablets for media consumption, user-generated content creation and in situ selling supported. Interest in using tablets for business purposes comes across business sectors large and small alike too and we see the broader trend of tablets replacing laptops in many instances and even becoming shared devices in certain use cases (e.g., retail sales, in field tech trucks, departmental loaners) but requiring enterprise level controls and security too.
7. Cool Mobile Tech Sparks Learning Innovations. The latest mobile devices support a wide array of new features that will ignite some nifty innovations in the learning space throughout 2012. As people and companies replace their older BlackBerries, iPhones and Android devices, their new equipment will sport cool next-gen functions like dual core processors making big media and big data easier to manage on our smaller devices. We will benefit from faster data speeds using LTE (“long term evolution”) or true 4G radios enabling quicker access to high value content as well as video access to our experts and web conferencing access to scheduled ILT events. And more advanced operating systems combined with embedded chips will provide support for new forms of proximity computing using Near Field Communication (“NFC”) thus allowing new kinds of location-based services for learning. I feel the positive effects of the aforementioned evolutions will be more pronounced than similar advances in areas like augmented reality that will remain costly to design, produce and manage.
8. Market Consolidations Continue/Accelerate. The big will continue to eat the small as larger vendors seek to increase their market appeal to both customers and investors. According to Bersin & Associates, 2011 already saw several of the tier one Talent Management vendors actively engaged in expanding their market reach and the portfolio offerings through strategic acquisitions and mergers and these moves make the resulting companies far more attractive acquisitions to the larger enterprise software whales that rule their respective oceans. SAP’s planned takeover of SuccessFactors and Oracle’s move on RightNow (approved this week) all are harbingers of more market consolidation as larger companies look to flesh out their cloud, mobile and social strategies.
Summary. That is what I see in my crystal ball. It should prove to be an interesting year for all of us involved in the training & development and technology spaces and I, for one, look forward to seeing how these cited advances and many others we can’t foresee today will influence how we all interact and learn.
Happy New Year 2012!