Monday, January 31, 2011

New mLearning Authoring Offerings - Wave #1

As detailed in my list of mobile learning predictions for 2011, a collection of smart and savvy authoring tool vendors offering solutions for online training delivery will start to introduce specialized tools that will enable some form of single sourcing that outputs mobile-friendly content with little or nominal effort over and above what's already been invested to create online courseware and training materials.  It took no longer than the end of January for new product announcements to be made by two of the leading authoring tool vendors who are now offering both Flash and HTML5 course publication output options to instructional designers using their respective applications. Let's take a quick look at both companies and their respective offerings:

Rapid Intake's mLearning Studio.  Garin Hess and his team over at Rapid Intake have announced a new suite of tools called mLearning Studio that will allow content authors to output SCORM-conformant courseware along with included assessments as either web-friendly Flash courseware or mobile-friendly HTML5 packages with the click of a button.  I got to play around with some early content samples and found their mobile packaging to be clean, flexible and very well structured for playback on compatible mobile devices based on Apple's iOS or on Android-based mobiles or tablets. We are still experimenting to determine if the produced content can be easily managed when downloaded and secured to a mobile device for offline playback using the app-based approach but online delivery works quite nicely with gesture-based navigation, nice media support and engaging assessment capabilities.  Moreover, we really like what we see in their "version 1.0" effort here and look forward to seeing where they can take it all when supporting legacy mobile devices like the ever popular BlackBerry in the enterprise as well as newer smartphones like those based on Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 OS that don't fully support the HTML5 spec as of yet. Rapid Intake is considering releasing their mobility options as both a standalone mlearning authoring tool as well as via an extension to their core Unison offering. You can learn more about the upcoming release of mLearning Studio in a video featured on their web site here.

Harbinger Group's RaptivityRaptivity is a well regarded "rapid interactivity builder" application used by many companies to "add some spice" to their online learning courses through the delivery of interactive exercises. To facilitate wider mobile delivery of these interactions, Vikas Joshi and his team over at Harbinger have added new functionality that allows IDs to output defined interactions as either Flash or HTML5 packages that can then be assigned and taken via online or offline delivery.  No word yet as to whether the mobile-friendly Raptivity interactions can also be embedded into a Rapid Intake mLearning Studio-based mobile course but given these two companies have interacted fully in the past, its logical to think they will at some point. You can learn more about the new mobile-friendly Raptivity offering here.

We are excited every time new tools are introduced and these two organizations are leading the way in 2011 by delivering viable options for mobile learning content creation and delivery where there's much to gain and not much at all IDs need to learn to make the jump from online to mobile for their learning communities.

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.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

GeoLearning Acquired by SumTotal: The mLearning Impact?

 The enterprise learning market witnessed another big consolidation event today as SumTotal Systems announced it acquired GeoLearning thus further positioning SumTotal as the largest platform provider for LMS and talent management solutions in the industry. According to leading analyst Josh Bersin, the combined entity will grow SumTotal's "total market share to 12.5% ... (and) makes SumTotal approximately 50% larger than the #2 LMS player (Saba), clearly establishing their leadership in the market."  Interesting news indeed.

So, what does this move mean to the enterprise mobile learning market? 

From my perspective, both companies have worked on "baking and serving up" a mobile learning strategy to one extent or another but both have placed a higher priority on building out their talent management suites rather than their mobility solutions -- for good reason too as that's where the money has been in recent years as mobile has been taking shape. SumTotal's ToolBook authoring tool, now in version 10.x, is a well crafted desktop-based application that we've used many times in the past to help design and produce mobile learning content that can be packaged for delivery with many different enterprise mobile learning platforms including our own, Intuition's and others. There are also nice hooks in place to allow mobile-ready courses to be accessed by mlearners via the SumTotal LMS using a mobile web browser but SumTotal has yet to take the leap from basic "mobile web" delivery into the more sophisticated and polished "mobile app" methods.

GeoLearning, on the other hand, has made solid strides in recent months with their GeoMaestro Mobility Solution to design and develop their own mobile apps (for iPhone, iPad, Android and WebOS/Palm-based devices) and provide a continuum of mobile authoring, delivery and reporting via their GeoMaestro suite to the benefit of their customers now considering mobile learning for the first time (and who isn't?). I certainly applaud their efforts to get into the pool but I can state with conviction that any "version 1.0" effort only represents the first steps on a long journey as we move into the highly complex arena of mobility with its vastly different technologies and delivery models when compared with delivering online content in the enterprise LMS space. In short, "getting a course on a phone" is relatively easy while the 250+ other things the  enterprise is now concerned with represent the challenges that need to be addressed to ensure the learning experience is fully functional, appropriate, customizable, secure and fully scalable. But actually getting a version 1.0 out the door IS an important start! Geo's new "client-side" tools/apps may represent a key ingredient for SumTotal's push into the enterprise mobile learning market but, unfortunately, the official press release doesn't mention mobile in any shape or fashion. 

SumTotal would be well served to take a quick and hard look at the GeoLearning tools and figure out how they can start to leverage them under the bigger umbrella this consolidation represents as it will serve their combined customer base well. And the increased visibility and adoption of mobile learning across the broader market is good news for everyone in the enterprise mLearning space as more and more companies seek solutions that can meet their current and future requirements.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Enterprise mLearning Predictions for 2011

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.