Friday, December 30, 2011

Enterprise mLearning Predictions for 2012

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!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Enterprise Mobile Learning 2011 - Year in Review

a.k.a. How On Target Were My 2011 Predictions?

It’s time once again to take stock of what happened in enterprise mobile learning and see if any of my 2011 predictions hit their intended targets. One year ago today, I offered nine predictions running the gamut of hardware, software, industry players and general market movements based on trends we were experiencing in the commercial mobile learning marketplace; here’s my analysis of where these predictions landed twelve months later.

Prediction #1 - mLearning Engagements Expand. If 2010 was the year of the pilot, 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.
On the Target – But Barely.  2011 proved to be another year more focused on the pilot project rather than the production deployment for enterprise mobile learning solutions. True, most of our partners and customers who launched mLearning initiatives in 2009 and after all seemed to be ramping up their efforts to include other divisions and geographies but pilots remained “the norm” for newer accounts. There are certainly fewer obstacles holding back broader enterprise deployments of mobile learning solutions but an array of challenges remain including limited budgets, limited experience, the scarcity of flexible AND AVAILABLE authoring tools (see #5 below) and general macro-economic concerns every company is harboring. 

Prediction #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...
Bullseye! This one was spot-on and even I was amazed how quickly the omnipresent BlackBerry wireless handset, the standard issue weapon of choice for mobile enterprise workers, started to lose its’ place inside every corporate pocket and purse. Not only did we witness many IT organizations allowing non-BlackBerry devices like iOS and Android handsets onto their networks, several historical “BB only shops” moved to cut the venerable BlackBerry totally out of their long-term device strategies. The BYOD movement certainly gained momentum in 2011 across a simple majority of enterprise organizations we work with too. 
Finally, the trend towards “single user with multiple devices” really started to resonate with mobile learners wherever the option was available for that learner to access training on whatever device they happened to be carrying, be it corporate provided or personally owned, and enablement of the notion they could switch between their handset, tablet, eBook reader or desktop/laptop to seamlessly continue a training interaction whenever the mood struck them. 

Prediction #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… 

Near Bullseye. I still think the Mobile App is King in the enterprise mobile learning space although the drum thumps of HTML5-based mobile web apps can be heard faintly in the distance. We still contend there’s no real comparison between a native app and any web app equivalent especially as it relates to core functionality that IT teams really care about like security, encryption, remote wipe ability, off-line access, support for device features (cameras, recorders), data synchronization, content tracking, and the overall playback experience. We should know – we offer a mobile web app and virtually no one opts to use it when the native app is also available given the lack of content types and features supported today. 

HTML5 web apps might be ideal for consumer-centric marketing efforts, mobile games and some social tools but these experiences are one-dimensional compared with the full-on, multi-functional mLearning experiences mixing formal and informal interactions, performance tools, ready access to information and experts, gaming systems and more. We’ll certainly see the features and functionality of HTML5 maturing through 2012 along with access to better and faster networks (LTE, 4G, Wi-Max) but, for now, we still feel the best customer/user/learner experience happens via a native but customizable app framework.  After all, would you rather check your email, Twitter or Facebook on your smartphone using your device’s native email/twitter/FB app or launch your mobile web browser to stay connected? Vendors (and consultants) touting the “myriad benefits” of the mobile web over the mobile app are everywhere but most are latecomers playing mobile catch up and haven’t spent the requisite time needed to learn and master the  native app IDEs that are central to success today. 

Prediction #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.

Bullseye #2! The adoption of tablets, initiated by Apple’s iPad but closely followed by several others, proved to be a true driver for enterprise mobility in general and mobile learning is a real beneficiary of this trend. We witnessed more than two dozen companies who had purchased 200+ tablets for their workforce because it was cool rather than with a plan in mind – this situation drove ample opportunity given employee training and workforce development are universally needed and desired by every organization and tablets are viewed by many as the first practical mobile device to overcome the plethora of perceived limitations in mLearning (e.g., tiny screens, static content, awkward user experience, others). 
The other interesting tablet trend we experienced in 2011 centered on heterogeneous versus homogenous device selection criteria; either the customer wanted their mobile learning accessible on any tablet (iPad, Android Xoom, RIM PlayBook, Kindle Fire, whatever!) or they locked down their choice to just one platform (iPad only, Android only, PlayBook only) based on a combination of factors including support for existing content and sometimes just price. Wherein more deals were “iPad only” in the first half of the year, an increasing number of mLearning programs went non-iPad in the latter half of 2011.  As tablets get ever more popular, and people start bringing their own to work in their briefcase or satchel, we think this form factor will be the key ingredient to driving mobile learning adoption and leverage into the enterprise.     

Prediction #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.  
Near Bullseye. The prediction was right but the market timing lagged a bit as the leading authoring tool vendors accepted the fact Flash content wasn’t going to rule the mobile learning market the same way it did the online learning space but the practical reality was it harder for these established vendors to design and ship their next generation, mobile-friendly alternatives to their waiting customers than I thought. As 2011 draws to a close, Articulate’s new Storyline offering is about to be released but without the promised “Publish to HTML5” option in its inaugural flavor. Adobe’s Q4 announcement that it planned to stop developing Flash Player plug-ins for future mobile web browsers was huge and then they directed they were redirecting their own focus towards adding HTML5 output options in Adobe Captivate and their other popular learning market tools also took many by surprise especially given the timing; they essentially burned their ships with these announcements given the needed tools to support their new notions were far from commercially available.
Other capable suppliers have jumped into the void left open for now including some nice offerings like dominKnow’s Claro package, Rapid Intake’s mLearning Studio, Impatica’s Impaticafor PowerPoint version 5, Brainshark’s Slideshark (iPad only), Xyleme Pastiche, edCetra Anan, and a few more.  All that said, it is worth noting that HTML5 content is not a 100% solution either given most of the HTML5-based outputs we're testing don’t run on every mobile device – the older the device the less likely it will run – and the content itself isn’t scalable in the same way Flash content always has been meaning certain handsets with super high resolution displays -- like the latest Samsung Galaxy Nexus -- will render courses optimized for last year’s Samsung Nexus One with a huge border around that content.

Prediction #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. 
Target Missed! I missed this one completely…perhaps planting the arrow in my foot instead of the target given public social networks like Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter still reign supreme over virtually all private social networks. That said, the trend towards enterprise social collaboration is still one to watch and will probably become something of a reality in the coming year as companies like Yammer and Jive Software (who delivered one of the most successful tech IPOs of 2011) have proven that enterprises want to build and manage their own internal and proprietary social networks and that security is key to marshalling our intellectual assets as they ricochet around our social circles. 

Google’s new Google+ offering aims to start making inroads into enterprise social interactions as well and the message layer social functions of Microsoft’s SharePoint platform are perhaps the only mobile friendly features of that platform ready to work on today’s most popular mobile handsets and tablets. Suffice it to say, mobile and social are becoming intertwined so this prediction may just need another year. 

Prediction #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.

Bullseye #3. As crazy as I thought this prediction was last year, it proved to be center-of-the-target with several large transactions and events occurring throughout the year. Indeed, Nokia not only decided to ship Nokia handsets with Microsoft’s Windows Phone mobile OS they actually killed off their own Symbian OS in the process; talk about burning your ships on the shore! RIM was beleaguered throughout 2011 with tepid market perceptions about its aging handset line and its not-ready-for-prime-time PlayBook tablet resulting in their stock being off 75% from historical highs and even rumors of a possible buyout in the future. Google surprised everyone by buying Motorola Mobility for $12.5B in 2011 and plans to jump square into the hardware game to better control the Android experience. We can all trust there will be more market consolidation next year across both markets and industries as mobility becomes a central tenant in every overall IT strategy. 

Prediction #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…
Middle Ring. A few popped up but not as many as I predicted.  That said, every vendor and consultant is now a tablet-carrying, smartphone talking resource and where there’s money to be made, there’s plenty of shingles to get hung out. Content shops are definitely getting into the game and offering expertise in the design and delivery of content and games for tablets like the Apple iPad. The web sites of virtually every top tier LMS/Talent Management provider now touts their mobile capabilities and makes sure their customers (and investors!) know they’re in position to take advantage of any mobility opportunities that come their way. I also find it interesting the concept of mobile now gets injected into the conversation as early and often as possible in industry announcements and press releases.  For example, the byline of press release detailing SAP’s recent acquisition of SuccessFactors clearly states the importance of mobile in their decision to acquire (and pay handsomely for) SFSF’s cloud and mobile-centric offerings but the actual depth of that mobile offering is weak in comparison to other available solution sets.

Prediction #9. New Features and New PossibilitiesOne 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.

A Hit and a Miss – for Now. We start each calendar quarter with some solid ideas of what we’re going to be working on as a development team – or at least what we planned to work on – but the real world tends to bend your arrows as they leave the bow (so to speak). My predictions about working on near field/NFC and augmented reality/AR functionality certainly got sidetracked for a variety of reasons (lack of devices in the first case and lack of market interest associated with payment in the second) but that didn’t matter and those missions remain on the long-term road map.  What did we fill our time doing? 
We actually scored direct center hits on several fronts with these efforts:
  • We succeeded in our efforts to make our entire platform more enterprise IT friendly with enhanced security functionality, single sign-on integration and more sophisticated APIs to tie our tools into other 3rd party platforms (e.g., LMS and TM platforms, CRM, ERP, SFA platforms too).
  • Our quest to support the universal inbox concept matured far beyond our vision for it with the outcome of a extensive scripting library we developed that makes it much easier for our customers to integrate whatever learning tasks they’ve defined with not only the learner’s inbox but provides pipes that connect to other 3rd party applications as well.
  • We added device-specific Mobile Apps to support several new tablets including Android 4/Ice Cream Sandwich, Cisco Cius, Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook eReaders, and RIM’s PlayBook.
  • We’ve now added a new gamification layer to our enterprise mobile learning platform – think support for badges, leader boards, rewards/incentives, levels, etc. and these are available to learners whenever they are online or mobile.  While all of these advances are great in and of themselves, the most demand we’re experiencing is coming from the interest in using these new gamification features.

Conclusion.  All tallied, not a bad showing on my 2011 predictions. It is safe to assume that 2012 will prove to be an even more interesting, challenging and rewarding year for everyone involved in enterprise mobile learning. Thanks for reading this far down the page and in advance for sharing with others as you feel appropriate!

All the best to everyone in 2012.  And watch for my new predictions later this week too!

Robert :?)