New Emerging Need in eLearning: Offline & Tracking

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Mobile Learning has come a long way since we first started talking about it. In this article written in May 2010 where we attempted to predict the future of learning technology five years from then, we had written:

Mobiles will become the platform of choice for workplace learning delivery (or learning/knowledge management system access). Learners would be able to access content nuggets (videos, documents, or mini courses) from corporate information systems just when they need them. They will collaborate with colleagues and even contribute their own content using mobile devices.”

Technically, all of this is possible and some organizations are doing it successfully – although it is still not quite as widespread as we had anticipated. And yet, from a business perspective, almost 40% of our work today counts tablets and smartphones as primary target devices – as against 2-3% three years ago. So it does seem that Mobile Learning has finally arrived – at least the content access part of it, even if collaboration and contribution are a little way behind.

What took so long? Mobile Learning initially got bogged down in several myths and misconceptions until slowly, better strategies started to emerge. It still took almost 5-6 years for Mobile Learning to emerge as a real option for L&D and beyond. Responsive design largely provided the fillip for this, and many organizations took a staged route with tablets as an entry point, initially extending to smartphones and eventually with smartphones as primary targets in some cases. (Although given the variety of sizes and resolutions, the demarcation line just gets blurrier and blurrier!)

Need for Offline Access is Emerging

Now as more organizations and their staff move towards accessing learning content on their mobile devices, there is an emerging need for this content to be available offline. As you can imagine, mobile devices do have a tendency to go outside network coverage areas especially when you travel or if you work in areas where connectivity is an issue.

Like many other people, I believed Mobile Apps would change training forever. However, up to now, most of the learning content we’ve seen meant for mobile delivery is actually responsive eLearning packaged as SCORM files and delivered via an LMS. That makes it rather complex to make available in offline mode. Also the solution really lies in the LMS providing that facility by having its own tightly integrated offline app. A quick Google search tells you there are not many LMSs out there who currently have this facility.

And assuming you do make content available offline in some other way, what about tracking? Personally, I believe mobile is for getting stuff done so it lends itself more to performance support than it does to eLearning. And with performance support, one would think that the need for tracking would be rather low – after all, it’s more about looking up information and references when needed, rather than progressing through and completing something with a minimum acceptable score within a given time frame. Still, since we have been seeing that many organizations are looking to make complete eLearning modules or mini-modules available offline, I do see data tracking to be the key challenge to providing offline access to learning content.

xAPI (or Tin Can) will probably set us free from the LMS, one day, and allow us to track a wider variety of data. Watch this space…

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