Sunday, January 3, 2010

My "Top Ten List" for Mobile Learning News in 2009

I was recently asked by one of our strategic partners to offer my "Top Ten List" of the most significant events (e.g., new stories, technical advances, market trends) that shaped the "mlearning marketplace" in 2009. It was actually a great question and I enjoyed pondering and preparing my responses to that question (as offered below). Given the constant and oftentimes harsh distractions 2009 dealt us all in terms of budget cuts, canceled/postponed projects, long decision cycles, there was actually a lot of positive news and both technical and market innovations to make 2009 an outstanding year in the maturity of mobile learning. IMO, many things happened in '09 that position us all to start benefiting more from the promise and potential of mobile learning as a way to really drive organizational performance, improve operational readiness, and simply make anytime/anywhere learning more interesting, practical and affordable too.

So, in no particular order of importance, here's my "Top Ten List" of mlearning highlights and milestones and look forward to seeing other lists and sharing comments. 

1. Market Activity/Consolidations. RIM bought Chalk for their mobile Chalkboard offering. This certainly helped establish a strong market value for platform-based mobile learning solutions and generated market interest/demand for all mlearning vendors. In my opinion, this was the biggest news of 2009 for everyone involved in the enterprise mlearning space.  In addition, longtime mobile learning tool provider Hot Lava Software was purchased by LCMS platform provider Outstart and interest in their combined offerings was well received. As they say, the rising tide lifts all ships.

2.  Market Activity/Consolidations #2Blackboard enters mlearning market by purchasing Terriblyclever Design, LLC, makers of MobilEdu(TM), for around $4M. The 2-year old company had modest sales but a growing collection of interesting higher-ed customers (including Stanford U, Texas A&M and Duke) and since the acquisition 6 months ago, has come to market with a new consolidated offering (called Blackboard Mobile) which is now one of centerpieces of Blackboard’s overall solution offering (and currently occupying the main screen on Blackboard’s corporate web site). Blackboard also just introduced a BlackBerry application to work alongside their current Apple iPhone offerings. IMO, the price and focus paid by an established LMS platform vendor are significant.

 3. Cheap but Capable Devices.  An Apple iPhone 3G can now be purchased new for US$99 (plus data plan of course) – this sets the price bar at an approachable level for virtually anyone who wants a smartphone and other vendors must cover Apple's bet here too.  Virtually all of top-shelf models from Apple, RIM, Motorola, HTC, Palm and others (save Nokia here in the USA) are available (subsidized via a 2-year plan) for around US$200.  While market research may indicate otherwise (see #4 below), I believe the rate of smartphone adoption for enterprise mobile learners is growing much faster than the smartphone market in general.  

4. Compelling Market Research.  A recent Gartner Group report highlighted mobile device trends and included some compelling news on Android’s 3-year growth projections wherein Android will start to gain on Apple while also taking market share away from current leaders Nokia and RIM.  These trends will help ensure a very complex and hybrid device ecosystem will emerge within the enterprise mlearning market that will have an effect on mlearning content creation and delivery. In short, the landscape is getting more complex, not less complex and true mobile learning solutions will need to help mitigate all these factors. Add in the recent Morgan Stanley analysis on the growth of the mobile Internet and all the right trends seem to be lining up!

In a related matter, the release of some many different Android-based phones this quarter will change the device landscape starting in 1H 2010; the early indicator is the fact that Motorola has now sold 1M Droid devices in less than 6 weeks into the USA market where iPhones and BBs and WinMos already abound. To throw some perspective in, analysts estimate that Apple will sell around 10M new iPhones this quarter (after delivering 7M in Q3); both are significant in their own right.

5. Flash Support Arrives for Mobile.  The announcement of the coming availability of Adobe's Flash Player v10.1 supporting all most major device platforms (save Apple iPhone) will provide improved ways to create and deliver mlearning content to advanced smartphones. That said, I still don’t believe this is the panacea many others think it is as Flash content will only work WELL on a select number of higher end phones and offers limited support for interactivity on most devices (e.g., all BlackBerrys except the Storm/Storm2 series devices probably can’t use their pointing devices to accomplish complex interactions).

6. Pricing for Smartphone Data Plans Decrease . The monthly price people need to pay for their data plans and messaging plans here in the USA and Canada is failing and "all you can eat" plans are becoming more popular (how truly American - we're gluttons at both the buffet and while communicating aren't we!). More people with data-enabled devices will drive demand.

7. Mobile Meets Social & They Fall In Love.  The marriage of social tools and mobile devices is getting better and better; this trend is accelerating and will drive demand for a new class of mobile learning tools and applications/platform extensions. Our company sees user-generated content as a true business driver beginning in Q1 2010 and this will make the mobile learning application suite “sticky” and help drive mobile learners to use their devices more and more resulting in a situation where they’ll be more inclined to consume content they’ve been assigned by their managers or generate by their peers (or customers or partners).

8. Mobile Starts to Make (Mean) Money. Technologies like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (and the companies behind them) are starting to really explode and make $$$ for the first time. And a key trend for 2010 seems to be enterprise-aware social networking tools. SMS in general is still gaining tremendous traction; as an example, I’ve recently started hearing and seeing adds on TV or the radio where the “call to action” isn’t “go to to learn more” but is now presented as “Text ‘tellmemore’ to 77777 to sign up for more information about XXX!”.

More to the point here, our company finally started bidding, winning and delivering projects in the mobile learning space that generated the same or higher contributions (revenues/profits) as similarly sized online/desktop elearning engagements. Real customers prove there's finally a market for mlearning platforms and tools, custom content development and related value added services. This fact will drive other previously passive/sidelined vendors into the "mobile pool" as they look for ways to stem the tide and stop losing deals to next generation competitors who can already deliver on mobile learning's promise.  

9. Increased Levels of Interest from Learning Industry Colleagues. Judy Brown’s ( first 7:15 AM "Mobile Learning Breakfast Byte" session at last year's DevLearn Conference in San Jose, CA was attended by 60+ people this year – that’s up 52 people from 3 years ago the first time I went to DevLearn. The 2009 DevLearn event also had a widest variety of mobile learning sessions and speakers of any general audience learning conference to date indicating the trends towards not only understanding but adoption are accelerating.

10.  More mLearning Books are Being Published. Several books on or covering Mobile Learning are all due out in Spring 2010 including commissioned efforts from Gary Woodill (Brandon Hall), Clark Quinn (Quinnovation) and Jeanne Meister (New Learning Playbook) and we're hoping to contribute something to all of these (e.g., case studies, insights). OnPoint also co-wrote a chapter for the upcoming ASTD book on new technologies on the ROI of mobile learning solutions. If the publishers are preparing now for the next year, the trend is growing for sure.

Looking forward to comments and reading other Top Ten lists too!

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