Is mobile learning expensive?

The cost of mobile learning depends obviously on the cost of its development.

There are essentially two ways to develop mobile learning courseware – you can either author it in HTML5 or develop it using the native apps of each device OS. Let’s consider each of these…

Development using Native apps

  1. This would be a great choice because it means that there is hardly any restriction on what you can do in terms of course engagement – interactivities, videos, audio, practice exercises, games…the works!
  2. However, a course developed using say the iOS native apps, will not play on a BlackBerry or an Android. So, the same course will have to be developed separately for each OS/device you need it to run on – one version using the iOS native apps, another using BlackBerry’s, a third using Android’s and so on. That could be expensive!
  3. You could of course choose to develop for just one operating system and keep the cost under control.  But in most cases, you won’t know which mobile devices your employees are using. So, your course is at risk of not reaching the learners at all.
  4. Also, with the number of tablets and phones out there in the market, it would be very difficult to decide which specific operating system to develop the mlearning course for.

So, the development of a mobile learning course using native apps would give you complete freedom in design but it may be restrictive in its reach.

Development using HTML 5

  1. HTML5 is completely device or rather browser and operating system-independent. It is supported by all the browsers and operating systems running on the more popular mobile devices today – Apple’s iOS, BlackBerry OS and Google’s Android.
  2. However, it is still not entirely supported by IE9, but reports say IE 10 will make that leap.
  3. So, a course developed using HTML5 will play on just about any browser which means a one-time development for multiple devices. And if you are not sure about the devices your learners use, this would be more cost-effective than using native apps.
  4. HTML5 obviously won’t allow you as much freedom in design as native apps would. But you can get most simple interactivities, animations, videos, audio and some basic games done using HTML5.

In summary, a course developed in HTML5 may not support complex design, but it could be just as effective and reach a wider target audience.

And so, in both development methods – HTML5 or native apps- there are several factors that will determine the final cost and you can weigh these to select the method you want to go with.

So now that you know that you can create effective mobile learning courses cost effectively, don’t let cost stop you from moving to mobile learning!

Should my eLearning Go Mobile?

Everyone’s talking about mlearning – it seems to be the topmost trend in the learning industry today. Companies want to build their mlearning library, quickly and effectively to keep up with this trend. But, since mlearning is still relatively in the nascent stage and since there are so many devices to consider, here are some questions going through the minds of decision makers.

  1. Is it as effective as elearning?
  2. Would it be more expensive?
  3. What are the ups…and the downs?
  4. Which devices should we create mlearning for?
  5. Should we create using native apps or HTML5?
  6. What are the best practices/FAQs/tips and tricks?

Based on our experience in developing mlearning courseware, let me try to answer these questions over this and a few more posts coming up. So, let’s start…

Is mobile learning as effective as web-based learning (or elearning)?

The effectiveness of learning depends more on sound instructional design than on its mode of delivery, don’t you think? An appropriate design approach with contextual scenarios, good visual design and a course structure that’s easy to navigate are all ingredients for developing effective courseware. And these have nothing to do with the mode of learning delivery. However, remember that mobile learning is really “learning on the go”. So, you may want to keep a few points in mind

  • Keep it short and simple – A 15 minute chunk of learning on the mobile is probably ideal. You can cover enough information in that time and learners don’t really have to go out of their way to take out 15 minutes.
  • Use this mode for “just in time” learning – Quick references, tips and tricks, important notes, short “how-to” videos are all great for mobile learning.
  • Don’t compromise on learner “engagement” – Learners will probably be taking this outside their office hours, so make it fun for them! Use all the features you find in most smart phones these days, including podcasts, social interaction, games and many more to make your mobile learning more fun and engaging.
  • Select your topics judiciously – You may not enjoy learning the intricate and complex assembly of a product on your mobile. But you won’t mind learning about the Leave Policy of your organization as a new employee or even how to handle a difficult customer as a Sales support executive! So, choose your topics judiciously when deciding on which courses should go mobile.

As long as you apply sound practices of learning design, you won’t have to worry about the modality.

Look out for my next post that answers the second most important question – Is mobile learning more expensive than elearning?

eLearning Effectiveness Enhanced Through Social Learning

I was recently reviewing some eLearning conferences planned for 2011; Learning Technologies, ASTD International, Masie’s Learning, Learning Solutions Conference & Expo and a few others, and the one thing that kept popping out at me was “Social Learning”. There were several tracks in each conference that addressed the “What, Why, How, Who” of social learning.

It looks like social learning has been claimed to be one of the two top focuses of learning today (the other being mobile learning, which I’ll cover in another blog).

So let’s look at learning in general and the three main modalities through which it can be imparted. There’s the traditional classroom training, online elearning and now social learning. We all know the advantages of elearning over classroom training, but most students of elearning courses find that even with the best courses, there is a missing element that could have further enhanced the learning effectiveness. What they miss in elearning courses is social interaction with other students and the teacher. Hence the key to enhancing learning effectiveness is to blend social interaction with elearning.

From eLearning to social interaction enabled elearning
Enhancing eLearning Effectivess Through Social Interaction

And now, with the latest technologies, social interaction within elearning courseware is easily achievable. Elearning can now include online discussions, polls and debates through blogs and other online forums. The Course Administrator can use Twitter feeds for course updates. The course itself can have links to various podcasts, videos and even online multiplayer games to enhance learning. However, like with elearning in general, the key rule for creating meaningful social interaction within a course is setting the learning “context”. Without the context being set, it is difficult to keep the interaction focused on the topic. Some other tips to keep in mind when integrating social interaction with elearning are:

  1. Ensure that the social interaction is moderated – The role of the Course Administrator is critical so that the interactions are supplemented with more information, answers and clarifications.
  2. Keep debates and discussion simple and don’t link them with further learning topics in your elearning course.
  3. Encourage blogs, comments on blogs, RSS feeds from the blog.
  4. Keep the instructor’s blog posts short and ask students to comment on them.
  5. Link to podcasts, videos, articles or other online reading material from the blog post as well as from the course.
  6. Avoid integrating chat with social interaction – like I said, social learning can be effective only when it is in context with the learning material and online chats will only take learners away from the context and thus away from learning.
  7. Try to use only free social interaction tools – Blogs, networking sites and other forums where learners don’t have to “download” or “install” anything. They can just log on and start interacting!

So go ahead, fill in the missing element in your elearning courses and tell me what your learners say!

The Customizable Product Training Framework

I spoke about this framework in my earlier blog and thought I would detail it out at this point.

A quick recap – Training people about any product and its features is an integral part of the product life cycle, be it at product development stage, its introduction in the market or its growth. At each phase of the product life cycle, there are various people to train – sales and marketing, technical support staff, customer support staff, the consumers, resellers, solution consultants, to name a few. You also need to update the courseware with every product update and upgrade.
All this training can be quite expensive!
With our many years of experience in product training design and development for customers all over the world, we at Harbinger have formulated a unique solution that gives a rare blend of easy customizability, production expertise and a templatized approach that helps crunch the training cost!
We call this the Customizable Product Training Framework and devised it in three steps.

Step 1: The Product Training Taxonomy

Product Training Taxonomy - Extract
Product Training Taxonomy - Extract

We studied and put together the integral requirements for product training which

  • identifies various training audiences
  • describes the training objective for each
  • lists what the training should cover
  • identifies the effective training modality for the content

We call this the “Product Training Taxonomy” and an excerpt from the complete taxonomy is given here.

Step 2: The Product Training Courseware Model

Product Training Units
Product Training Units

We then detailed the content coverage that will meet each course objective for each audience and broke this down by audience type and content to be covered. An excerpt of this “Product training courseware model” is given here.

Step 3: The Product Training Courseware Templates
We then studied and identified the types of screens, interactivities, exercises and assessment question types which would be typically used in product training programs and built the various screen templates that could be used to teach these content units. The templates were built using the universally accepted and easy-to-update Flash-XML architecture. In this, we have put in all the “variable” elements of a course, like graphics, audio, on-screen text etc, in XML, which can be easily updated using simple XML editors like Notepad. The “constant” elements like the user interface have been designed in Flash.

The Result
The result of this extensive thought process was a framework that allows you to do all of the following – rapidly and cost effectively:
1. Build a single product training course for multiple audiences – from sales force to consumers
2. Build multiple courses for different products based on the first product training course
3. Update the courses with each product upgrade
4. Localize the courses into multiple languages for a global reach

Write to us at for more details!

Avatars in eLearning

Okay, I’m not just trying to capitalize on James Cameron’s blockbuster being released in theatres once again with 9 minutes of earlier-unseen-footage! One question regarding the “use of Avatars in eLearning” that has reared its head often during discussions within the instructional design team at Harbinger is: How exactly do we define Avatars? So, what I’m trying to do is put forth our own conclusions here.

As instructional designers, we’ve often come across clients who’ve heard the latest buzz word, “Avatars”, in eLearning and obviously want courses developed using this concept. Avatars make learning fun and enable learners to get more out of their learning by really immersing themselves in the content. Our clients’ understanding of Avatars, however, seems to differ! Some would take the cute looking sales girl who pops up onscreen at regular intervals in a course and talks a learner through the content to be an Avatar. Others think she’s just an animated graphic whose main purpose in the course is to be a mentor! Confused?

In James Cameron’s film, Sam Worthington plays a former Marine who infiltrates the Na’vi population by controlling a genetically modified Avatar via mental link. In other words, he finds himself–quite enviably, in my opinion–immersed in the body of another being, able to control its actions, see things and react the way the other being would! Similarly, games that are truly immersive enjoy this distinction because they allow the player to ‘be someone else’ through the Avatar they control in the game. In my opinion, that’s what differentiates an Avatar from an animated character in an eLearning course as well.

In an eLearning context, Avatars should represent you, the learner, in an online learning environment. Now if you found yourself a new body in an online learning environment, you wouldn’t want content just fed to you, would you? No, you’d want to move around, explore, interact, get to the content that you want, make decisions and face consequences and, in the process, achieve your learning objectives! So, the extent to which you can immerse yourself in the role you are playing in the course is what defines the effective use of an Avatar. If you’re not doing that, chances are you’re just looking at an animated graphic of a character with moving lips and eyes, thanks to clever programming, talking you through content while you listen passively!