First there were books, then stand-up training delivery, and then e-learning. Now, there is m-learning: on-the-go mobile learning. Mobile and wireless technologies have enabled workers to increase productivity and virtual team collaboration. Research on Blackberry users by Research in Motion found that the average user regains about 53 minutes per day by being able to manage e-mail while on the move.
Now, the most popular wireless data applications go beyond e-mail and Internet access to include spreadsheets and word processing. Combine this with the increase in WLAN hot spots and you can see how traveling knowledge-based workers will continue to increase productivity.
Adapting e-learning to these new devices will enable learning on-the-fly, potentially increasing productivity by making learning available anytime, anywhere. M-learning makes the concept of just-in-time learning a reality. For mobile workers, like those in an automotive dealership, there are numerous applications:
- Sales: A sales representative with a prospective customer out on the lot is asked to provide further details on a car's specific feature. By using her wireless mobile device, she retrieves a learning module with rich graphics and human voice technology within the interactive virtual host environment and is able to provide the customer with additional information on the spot.
- Service: A service technician who is fixing a new model car and confronted with a problem could access a learning module from the interactive virtual host environment using a wireless mobile device. Then, guided with voice technology, he could fix the problem using m-learning as an interactive job aid.
- Management: Management benefits if sales reps and service technicians can make use of idle time by playing game-like interactive learning modules on their wireless mobile devices. A point system for rewards or recognition as part of their performance and productivity measurement would provide incentive for workers to play and learn.
Transitioning from e-learning to m-learning requires a change in strategy. You can't take applications designed for full-screen PC-based e-learning and jam them into a handheld device. M-learning requires the content to be reengineered to suit the smaller screen size, reduced memory capacity and lack of a keyboard. You also must take the learning context into consideration and create short modules with content geared to just-in-time learning, if that's the way the user will be accessing the information.
Today there are four main categories of mobile wireless devices: PDAs, smart phones, tablet PCs and subnotebooks.
Personal digital assistants (PDAs) use one of two operating systems, the Windows Pocket PC or the Palm Operating System. Pocket PCs integrate well into a Microsoft Windows working environment, making it easy to access Web-based e-learning modules via a browser. PDAs are very portable, with 3.5 to 4-inch screen sizes and long battery life.
A smart phone is a combination of a mobile phone and a PDA. Smart phones have special versions of standard desktop applications, such as instant messaging, Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The newest versions of smart phones come with enough memory and storage to run multimedia e-learning modules.
Tablet PCs are about the size of a paper tablet and come in three types: convertible, slate or hybrid. They are lightweight personal computers that have advanced handwriting recognition and voice-recognition features. They have a bigger screen size than a PDA, with sizes between 10.2 to 14 inches. Tablet PCs use a superset of the Windows XP Professional operating system and have wireless networking built in. Some models also have CD-RW or DVD drives.
Subnotebooks, or ultraportable notebooks, are a hybrid of a PDA, ultra-compact notebook and a tablet PC. They weigh just over a pound and are as small as some PDAs. Their 5-inch LCD screen is touch-sensitive and can be controlled using a stylus or a thumb-stick (replacing a mouse). They run most Windows applications and a full version of Internet Explorer, making them the smallest and lightest full-power PCs on the market.
Changes in technology continue to influence the way we work and the way we learn. By creatively considering m-learning applications, companies can increase worker productivity through just-in-time learning in mobile work environments and by capitalizing on what might otherwise be down time when knowledge workers travel for business.
Chuck O'Keefe is national education and development manager at the University of Toyota's Lexus College, where he is responsible for all curriculum development, new product launches, learning technology and strategic alliances for a student body of more than 50,000 Lexus dealer associates. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.