Maybe it was reading Dick Tracy and Buck Rogers cartoon strips as a child that did it, but as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with what electronic devices might mean for the advancement of humankind.
By 1997, I was one of a group of learning professionals who thought a remarkable opportunity was emerging for mobile learning, or m-learning.
Today, progress with m-learning is very encouraging, but there is also a disturbing set of issues associated with using mobile devices that demand your attention, personal action and advocacy.
Ten years ago, we pictured people on beaches, at ski runs, in mountaintop resorts and riding in midtown taxis, using mobile devices to learn languages, advance their professional skills and bone up on issues related to their next sales call while en route to a meeting.
We pictured technicians who could access obscure service manuals on mobile devices at the field site where the information was needed. We imagined insurance claims representatives being able to evaluate a claim for loss, complete the forms and trigger the payment process at the point of incidence. We envisioned doctors helping emergency medical technicians access diagnostic information at the site of an accident or disease discovery.
In 2000, I commissioned a group of engineers and learning specialists at Motorola University to accelerate our exploration for the potential to use hand-held and mobile devices that could take advantage of the confluence of factors that gave us the sense of strategic opportunity. Learning objects were being identified as the way to create a bookshelf of modular content that could be packaged quickly to produce a customized learning solution.
Learners’ average attention span was decreasing as a result of influences such as TV and electronic games. Appetite for reading was diminishing, which was accompanied by declining book and paper sales. Mobile phone and paging technologies were advancing rapidly, along with cell tower coverage.
We were beginning to see that people in the field locations had a dramatic thirst for just-in-time learning and that primitive search engines were on the rise. But we were just a little too early, and our business plans had not matured enough to attract serious attention.
We never imagined advertising as a part of our business model, and without an idea like that, we could not justify the millions of dollars required to create an impressive mobile learning system.
Today, the convergence of functions and systems that makes the iPhone and the BlackBerry commercially successful also makes it clear that the potential was real and that, eventually, there would be a robust market for ideas like these.
Players’ increasing sophistication is now bringing the dream to reality. Even the early resistance to e-books is starting to weaken as screen views improve, title availability expands, and storage and battery life grow.
Although it’s gratifying to see all these exciting and positive validations of our early ideas, there are some storm clouds that demand attention. The most serious is the issue of safety — people who use mobile devices while they drive put themselves, their passengers and other drivers at significant risk. According to a survey by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., 19 percent of people send text messages while driving.
The other area of increasing misuse is the almost universal addiction to the use of mobile devices during meetings, family functions and vacations. Not only is this enormously rude, but it debases respectful and meaningful interpersonal communication.
Perhaps I’m just a whining moralist stuck with a boomer mentality about what constitutes effective human interaction. Even so, I am urging you, as a leader in learning, to take a stand for the responsible use of our miraculous new toy. Dick Tracy and Buck Rogers would approve.