Resources or Courses?

In the e-learning business we are increasingly hearing the mantra, “Resources not courses.” It sounds simple – replace courses with resources that are accessible at the point of need to deliver seamless just-in-time learning. In some circumstances it can be a good strategy, and when it comes to mobile devices resources are much simpler to access than courses, but before we get too carried away with this idea let’s take a deeper look at the difference between a resource and a course.

A resource is a piece of information covering a specific topic or sub-topic. It could be a document, an article, a blog post, an image, a video or an infographic. Some resources may be fairly comprehensive (e.g. a 10 page PDF guide to Project Management) while some might be fairly simple (e.g. an image showing the project lifecycle). Most resources are indexable by search engines though additional metadata may need to be supplied for images and videos. This makes them easy to find in a hurry. Resources are normally discrete and unconnected. There might be a collection of resources relating to a specific theme (e.g. Project Management) but it’s up to users to make the connections and to infer meaning from a resource collection.

A course moves things up a gear or two. It differs from a resource in that it has been developed using pedagogical principles. What does the pedagogical approach add? The course designer has identified the areas where understanding is weak and developed strategies to overcome these blocks to understanding. The course designer uses a range of instructional techniques to overcome these issues ranging from metaphor, analogy, stories, visual aids and learning scaffolds. They then check that the material is understood though practice, questioning and reflection.

Some of the best resources are almost like courses while some of the worst courses are almost like resources but it’s important to recognise the role of each as part of a hollistic approach to learning.

There is a lot of value in sharing and using resources (like this blog post) but added value comes from either collecting resources together under a common theme or curating resources to create a narrative journey through a specific topic. To add further value those resources can be developed into a course complete with the whole gamut of instructional approaches and techniques. Each approach has its own strengths and weaknesses but it’s important to remember that they aren’t always interchangeable.

Resources or courses

 

BYOD for e-Learning

The e-learning industry is currently engaged in a mad rush to get their stuff to work on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets). This rush is driven primarily by clients who can be a little naive when it comes to the tricky technical bits (think of those car buyers who are never interested in looking under the bonnet). For many projects we get a reasonably sensible brief but then tacked on the end is the request that the e-learning also has to be ‘accessible on mobile devices’. Now, in the words of software development, this is ‘non-trivial’ – there are many challenges to developing e-learning that works across the vast number of mobile devices.

However, one of the key challenges is not actually technical at all. It’s about device ownership – because in the majority of cases the mobile devices that learners will be expected to use to access their work based learning are their own personal devices. These are devices that they have purchased and for which they pay all the bandwidth usage costs. This simple fact can throw a big spanner in the works for any roll-out of work based learning on mobile devices.

The simple solution of course is a ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) policy and here’s a really useful infographic that explores the pros and cons of BYOD.

“BYOD has freed up many enterprises from the responsibility of exclusively purchasing and maintaining computing devices, such as notebooks, tablets and smartphones, but companies still need to have policies set in place to make things work.”

BYOD for e-learning

Infographic from http://www.biztechmagazine.com

World of Learning 2012

Redware M-Learing App Store

Redware App Store in the Technology Zone

I went along last week to a pretty uninspiring World of Learning show. I wasn’t at the conference but I did catch some of the seminars in the various show ‘theatres’.

World of Learning is normally heavily biased in favour of face-to-face training – but this year there was reasonable variety of learning technology solutions on offer. Not all of these are e-learning solutions, in fact the term e-learning wasn’t massively in evidence, but they do utilise technology in some way to support learning.

Not surprisingly quite a few vendors are pushing mobile learning (m-learning). I had a play with a few of these m-learning solutions in the technology zone a special area where you could play with the devices and software without the vendor trying to sell to you. It’s a cool idea actually – something that would work well at Learning Technologies.

In the technology zone I played with:

Seminar Learning Author
This is a template driven rapid authoring environment that publishes iPad friendly content. It’s pretty easy to use and is a good alternative to Articulate Studio if you feel more comfortable with a template driven approach. It’s not cheap though at £995.

Seminar Knowledge Centre
I really like this simple no frills LMS from Seminar Learning (an offshoot of Information Transfer – now Aceton). I’ve played with a demo before and it’s easy to set-up and use. It also works really well on a tablet device. I’m going to do a full review in a forthcoming blog.

Redware Learning App Store 
Redware appear to be the new kids on the m-learning block. I played with their mobile learning delivery platform which looked and worked just like Apple’s App store. It looked pretty cool but it was hard in the limited time I had to establish the full extent of their service/product offer. The web site isn’t much better I’m afraid and I couldn’t find a single screenshot of the tablet product. Nor any explainer videos which would really help. I did get a free bottle of tomato sauce however – now all I need is a bag of chips!

Absorb LMS
This is a Flash based LMS which I have demoed in the past. It looks good but Flash powering your LMS? I don’t think so.

Exscien Food Hygiene Game
This game is based on a 3D cartoon environment. It was fun to play for about 5 minutes but I would question the amount of learning that likely to take place. You can download the demo from Apple’s App Store – search for ‘KitchenMaster’.

Exscien KitchenMaster

Exscien KitchenMaster


It was good to see Moodle featured on at least three stands. Mind Click, CPD Online and Remote Learner.

Franklin Covey were giving away free Nexus 7s but only of you had a lucky barcode on one of their flyers (sadly I didn’t so I’m going to have to actually buy one at some point). It’s amazing how much mileage a company can get out of one piece of IP ( Covey’s original Seven Habits book) but more of that in a forthcoming blog.

I talked to quite a few of the conventional training companies – mainly to see what their position was on e-learning. Generally they still see it as poor solution that will hopefully go away. They are of course wrong. The problem many of them have is that their understanding of e-learning is poor. Typically they have seen a poorly designed page turner with a test at the end but they have little understanding of online learning beyond the 30 minute compliance driven e-learning module. Some see virtual classrooms and webinars as their route to online learning but their understanding of approaches beyond that is generally poor. I’m currently trying to work with the more enlightened ones – helping them to explore how online learning really can transform their learning offer, and more significantly, their business model too.

On the subject of new business models Martin Belton and Kate Graham from Ascot Communications ran a seminar on learning marketplaces (Udemy, Course Park, Udacity, etc.) and launched their own platform called  MyLearningWorx. I’m a big fan of these marketplaces – they enable course designers to create complete courses (mainly using video) and sell them online. Some of the underlying LMS technologies are really impressive with the emphasis firmly on ease of use both for the course designer and the learner. MyLearningWorx is currently in beta but I’m hoping to get onboard and give it a test drive.

See you at Learning Technologies in January!

HTML5 Explained in 1m 32s

HTML5 is causing all sorts of headaches for us learning technologists at the moment. Suddenly everyone wants their e-learning to be developed in HTML5 without having a clue what it actually is. Of course much of this behaviour is down to Apple and its fashionable iPad but even Google have now dropped support for Flash on mobile devices from Android 4.0 onwards. Here’s a video that explains what HTML5 is in 1m 32s.

Note the use of the word ‘hope‘, the phrase ‘working hard‘, and the phrase ‘some day in the future‘. Enjoy.

m-Learning with GoMo

GoMo-Header-image



If you are involved in e-learning then you will know that customers already have high expectations that any ‘courses’ or ‘courseware’ you develop will also be accessible on mobile devices. Now this sounds simple from the viewpoint of the customer  – a mobile device is simply another screen (even if it is sometimes short on pixel real estate). However as someone who has lived for a while with the web and the myriad of devices, operating systems, middleware and applications software it fills me with trepidation. Accessing learning content on mobile devices is ‘non-trivial’.

In practice we can’t simply re-purpose existing learning content to run on a mobile device (see my previous post ‘M-learning or E-learning?‘). What we need to do is to consider the mobile device as a delivery channel in its own right.

What is a mobile device?

The vast majority of mobile devices are smartphones (some are smarter than others) but tablets such as the iPad are also classified as mobile devices. Paradoxically laptops or netbooks, no matter how ultra light and slim they are, are NOT classified as mobile devices. Why is this? Probably because they run a desktop OS and software that is designed primarily to be used in a static location either physically connected to a network or via a secure WiFi. In the context of e-learning the key difference is probably that mobile devices are always on and are used for shorter periods of activity.

mobile devices situational-usage

Recognising that we can’t simply re-package existing e-learning content for mobile devices we need to consider what content will be appropriate on a mobile device and then develop this as part of our ‘courseware’.

What courseware will work well in m-learning?

Quick and convenient access is key but the ability to handle audio and video seamlessly is also a big advantage of mobile devices. Here are some learning activities that work well on a mobile device:

  • Quick reference guides
  • Job aids
  • Quick overviews/introductions
  • Diagnostics (e.g. survey or questionnaire)
  • Short videos
  • Audio files
  • Short quizzes
  • Infographics

I am focussing on courseware/content here. Mobile devices are also very good at collaborative/communication based learning activities (see ‘It’s Not Learning on a Phone‘ by Connie Malamed ) but this is trickier to implement and involves the idea of a ‘cohort’ of learners to be successful. I’ll look at this in more details in a future post.

Developing Content for Mobile Devices

Producing the stuff on the list above should be relatively straightforward but there are surprisingly few tools that do the job. Conventional e-learning authoring tools are aimed squarely at the big screen and use technologies that don’t work well on mobile devices (e.g. Flash).

Existing tool vendors are rushing to fill the gap but in many cases the environment is so different that it’s a struggle to develop content for mobile devices that will also work on existing PCs. The idea of ‘single source’ publishing is a tough one to crack in view of the vast numbers of devices.

Introducing GoMo

The most successful approach so far is that taken by tools like GoMo which are designed specifically to develop content for mobile devices. GoMo is so far the ONLY authoring environment that really has been built from the ground-up to develop e-learning type content for mobile devices.

GoMo is designed to deliver content on both smartphones and tablets. It adopts a cleverly simple solution for dealing with the extra pixel real estate of a tablet compared to a smartphone – it uses the left hand side of the screen on a tablet to display the content menu (see illustration below).

GoMo-m-learning

Using a demo version of GoMo (thank you @craigtaylor74) I was able to build my first demo app in less than an hour. Of course like any e-learning development project all the real work is done in the storyboard – yes you do need to storyboard for m-learning.

The GoMo user interface is reasonably user friendly with ‘smartphone’ sized screens helping you to think about the layout challenges of a small screen device. You can create main menus, with sub-topics and you can also create simple topic branching.

GoMo’s most useful feature is its question and feedback capability. It includes either a ‘one answer is correct’ option or ‘many answers are correct’ and provides appropriate feedback depending upon whether the correct or incorrect answer is selected. You can also branch to topics based on the feedback so simple scenarios are possible. There is also an assessment mode enabling to you set a scored quiz and to capture the results via SCORM.

GoMo also supports video and audio enabling you to easily incorporate video and audio podcasts into your learning content.

GoMo can publish either as a native app or as a web app. If you publish to a native app then you will need to go through the publishing process to get your app onto an app store (Epic can do this for you at a charge of £595 per publish). In practice most e-learning users are likely to publish as a web app and provide access through an LMS. This option also provides SCORM tracking functionality.

GoMo comes with three standard ‘skins’ but you can develop your own or get Epic to craft one for you. The skin is important because it gives your content some personality. I can see most customers wanting their own ‘branded’ skin which would then be re-used across a range of m-learning courses.

I like GoMo. Hopefully other m-learning authoring tools will follow but for now GoMo does a good job of creating m-learning content.

Related Links

Learn more about GoMo

Tablet Wars

So we now have a ‘newish iPad’. But as I wrote in an earlier post Apple haven’t moved the tablet concept any further forward. The biggest improvement is the resolution of the display which now gives app developers considerably more pixels to play with. This potentially means more complex interfaces but we are limited on a touch device by the ‘resolution’ of a human finger. I have an iPad 1 so one of the things I am thinking about is how will the extra pixel real estate make a difference to my favourite apps and also to the web browsing experience. Will these extra pixels (four times as many in fact) make an appreciable difference?

Disappointingly there was no major upgrade to the user interface. This is an issue because the simple ‘pages of buttons’ interface is looking outdated and clumsy. The new Android tablets have recognised this and developed UIs that don’t treat every function in the same way and plonk a button in the midst of hundreds of other buttons. The Apple UI still works well on the small screen iPhone but on the larger (and now much higher resolution) iPad screen the rows of endless buttons is a real drag. Want to add a new app? Once installed it appears on the last page (I currently have 6 pages and I’m a light user). Need to make that app more prominent by putting it on your primary home page? You have to slowly coax it through 5 pages. The multitasking is also a real pain to use and switching between apps using four finger gestures is not the most intuitive UX. If you haven’t experienced this then try switching on ‘Multitasking Gestures’ in ‘Settings>General’.

Some comentators have suggested that Apple are less interested now in elegant interfaces and more in ensuring that the OS that runs their revenue generating apps stays simple and robust. I hope this isn’t the case.

Recently I saw a demo of the tablet version of Windows 8. It was impressive. Microsoft have re-engineered the touch interface. It’s more complex than Apples’ but for most savvy tech users it appears to add a lot of extra power and functionality.

Click on the above images to see in ‘gallery view’.

Apple are currently way ahead in the tablet wars. Even if their UI is a bit outdated they still have the most comprehensive app store by far. But things don’t stay still in tech for long and I can’t wait to have a play with Windows 8 on a tablet. The question is do I hold back on buying an iPad 3 in the meantime?

m-learning on the iPad 3

Drafted at: Costa Coffee, Farringdon

Last Thursday (7th March 2012) saw the launch of the eagerly awaited iPad 3. As usual with a new Apple device the blogosphere has been full of speculation about what new features will be included. Speculation it has to be because Apple’s approach to marketing is to build hype as a new product launch approaches. If you are interested there was an excellent article in the May 2012 edition of PC Pro comparing Apple’s and Microsoft’s vastly differing approaches regarding new product launches – and guess what? Microsoft comes out as the good guy – it shares a lot of stuff with its developer community prior to key launches.

So what does the iPad 3 bring to the tablet party? Well not that much surprisingly. The headline feature is the ‘invisible pixel’ Retina display – imagine 4 iPad 2 screens tiled together and you begin to get a feel for how sexy this is going to be (I haven’t actually seen an iPad3 at this point but I’m already salivating).

iPad Screen Resolutions

iPad Screen Resolutions Compared (same 9.7 inch screen diagonal)

Apart from the sexy display we get 4G network access (well we will when we get a 4G network in the UK), a faster chip and a better camera and video capability. The battery also has a higher capacity (70% higher) but this doesn’t deliver any extra usable life which remains around the 10 hour mark. Sadly all this loveliness has resulted in extra thickness and extra weight. Think something between an iPad 1 and iPad 2. This doesn’t bother me being an iPad 1 owner but all those celebs are going to whinge about the extra room it will take up in their Gucci handbags.

So what will this new form factor mean for m-learning and e-learning? Well as a learning designer I love the idea of the extra pixel real estate but in practice these pixels aren’t that usable. Why? Because the pixel density is so high – much of the benefit ends up simply in improving the interface resolution. In other words smoother fonts and more curvy buttons. Most conventional e-learning content is designed to display at 1024×768 max. Some content scales – Articulate can publish so that it scales but this degrades quality. Of course since the iPad 3 doesn’t support Flash this is a hypothetical issue anyway. The extra pixels will improve video and will also benefit LMS platforms which can make use of the extra screen real estate for their interfaces.

e-learning on the iPad 3

A 'standard' resolution e-learning module running on an iPad 3

The iPad 3 is available in the UK on March 16th. Anybody want to buy my old iPad 1? Or maybe I should wait for a sexy new Windows 8 tablet?

TED-Ed Launches

TED launched their new education orientated series of short films today. Called TED-Ed the formula appears to be:

  1. Identify a cool topic (e.g. How do Dolphins Communicate?)
  2. Find a brilliant teacher (e.g. Miss Hogarth from Anytown High)
  3. Put 1 and 2 together with some ‘pro-animators’ (volunteers wanted)
  4. Create a 10 min video and share with the world.

It’s a nice idea, and of course it will all be free to share but I can’t help thinking that we are in danger of turning learning into ‘videobites’.

Learning Technologies 2012 Show Review

Learning Technologies 2012

I’m always so late with my post event blogs, but then they say that you should always leave some distance between the experience and your reflection on it. This one is especially late because my website was hacked via some rogue WordPress plug-ins.

I have been attending the Learning Technologies Show (I’m not describing the conference here) almost since it started back in 1999. In the early days it was dominated by learning platforms and systems – primarily LMS’ but also KM and Talent Management systems. Since then it has re-balanced somewhat in favour of content, and these days even the technologies are so much more accessible (and affordable). In particular, the rise of DIY authoring tools and learner friendly LMS’ combined with the focus on learning content has resulted in an event that is as much about learning (or at least learning content) as it is about technology.

I spent two days at the show with a part of each day on the WillowDNA stand. I managed to see some of the free seminars on the floor of the show but didn’t get the chance to participate in the conference. Last year there was some criticism that the conference and the show were out of step but then this is a problem with all conference/show combinations. Emergent ideas don’t productise very well – there needs to be healthy signs of an emerging market before savvy entrepreneurs will risk their cash.

Here are some of my reflections of the show.

e-Learning Content

All the key bespoke content developers were there including Kineo, Epic, Brightwave, Line, Saffron and IMC. Sponge were also there with a refreshed stand and the same yummy sponge cakes. A new player on the content development front was Purple Media – the stand was modelled on the cabin of an airliner – it looked good but suffered a little from putting form before function (just like their painfully slow Flash driven website – which degrades ungracefully on an iPad). Information Transfer had the most elegant stand complete with tulips and a sort of fung-shui feel in the midst of the chaos going on all around.

Off the shelf vendors included SkillSoft and Jenison. SkillSoft were a little cagey on whether their massive back catalogue would work successfully on mobile devices but Jenison’s categorisation of their content into Shapers, Express, Pathways etc. was a useful attempt to direct buyers to content that would be appropriate for different learning contexts and form factors (see my recent article on m-learning).

LMS’ and Platforms

On the LMS front there was a return for the two old boys – Saba and SumTotal. Certpoint were there as were Upside, NetDimensions, Kallidus and Coloni. Most encouragingly there were a variety of flavours of Moodle on show from Kineo, Epic, Webanywhere, Aardpress and Traineasy. I have always liked Moodle for its trainer centric approach so it’s great to see it finally coming of age in the non-education sector. Willow’s Pathway product is actually a sort of ‘Moodle lite’ aimed at the non-education market. So far it’s been really popular with developers of continuous professional development programmes (CPD)

Authoring Tools

Don Freda demonstrates Articulate Storyline

Don Freda demonstrates Articulate Storyline

As far as tools go the usual favourites were there including Adobe, Lectora, Seminar, Zenler, Luminosity and this year Articulate had their own stand manned by Don Freda and Gabe Anderson. They were demonstrating Storyline which as expected was creating a real buzz. They were handing out a Storyline brochure which includes a URL to download a FREE 30 day trial but also when I tried it you only get to register your interest. I’m guessing that Storyline will be available very soon though. The update to Studio is also in the pipeline but I got the impression that we won’t see that until Q4 2012. Kaplan ran mini-classroom sessions taking people through STT Trainer and Content Point (Atlantic Link) but these didn’t seem particularly busy. I just sense that now Mike Alcock has left the business Atlantic Link is going nowhere quickly.

I did a quick demo of Zenler with Rakesh Vallil. Zenler is a really good alternative to Articulate if you have limited budgets. I’m going to evaluate the latest version soon and write an accompanying blog post.

Mobile Learning

Of course mobile learning was high on lots of people’s agendas with mobile authoring solutions from a wide range of vendors but the solution that most impressed me was Epic’s GoMo. This authoring tool takes a straightforward approach to authoring for mobile devices. Articulate’s Storyline is also going to be able to publish content to mobile devices but it will do so on the iOS platform via the special Articulate app. I am on the Storyline beta programme but we have yet to see the ‘publish to HTML5′ option in the beta release. It’s not clear yet whether all the functionality that is available via Flash (Articulate’s standard publishing format) will be available on iOS and whether if publishing for a Flash enabled tablet whether Flash will still be recommended over HTML5.

Video for Learning

The rise of video as a ‘learning channel’ was also apparent at Learning Technologies with the biggest splash made by Fusion with their impressive mini-theatre focussing on 70/20/10 and informal learning through the medium of video. Fusion is the brainchild of ex Fuel CEO Steve Dineen and their ‘informal learning’ platform offers a refreshing change to the standard SCORM centric LMS.

Live Online Learning

Redtray are a custom content developer but their stand this year was majoring on CloudRooms – their own virtual classroom product. Clearly Redtray are confident that 2012 is going to the year that live online learning takes off!

Social Learning

There was some talk of this new ‘paradigm’ in the show but little evidence that any vendor had really developed anything approaching a full social learning solution. I guess that the interpretation of social learning is still a little vague in many people’s eyes so it’s difficult to pin down what features a social learning platform might provide. At LT2012 Fusion were probably closest to the mark with their Fuse product and I’m keen to investigate this, and the whole concept of social learning, more closely in 2012.

Fusion Universal is the first company to design a performance and support solution that addresses the whole 100% of learning. Up until now, nearly all learning suppliers have focused on only one component of the 70/20/10 principle – usually the 10% formal course part. www.fusion-universal.com

Of course the proponents of social and informal learning approaches will hate the idea that the concept could be ‘productised’ along the lines of a traditional LMS or KM type system but there is definitely a gap for a ‘learning sharing’ platform that really combines the best of formal and informal learning approaches.

Follow-up articles planned:

Review of Epic’s GoMo m-learning authoring tool

Evaluation of Zenler authoring software

Social Learning Unconfused

Related:

Twitter stats for #LT12uk

Do you need m-learning or e-learning?

The term ‘mobile learning‘ or m-learning was coined a number of years ago to cover the use of mobile devices for learning. The term was introduced in the days before smartphones and for a while learning on a mobile was a dire experience – the combination of poor screen resolutions and poor connectivity made m-learning something to be avoided. But with the rise of the smartphone m-learning has finally come of age. The only problem is that the range of ‘mobile’ devices has become so enormous that it’s now quite hard to distinguish between a device that’s mobile and one that’s not.

Laptops and netbooks are essentially mobile devices but learning on these devices is still considered e-learning rather than m-learning. What about tablets? These are also ‘mobile’ devices but are they better for e-learning or m-learning? For me (and many others) the differentiation between m-learning and e-learning is essentially redundant – what matters is the form factor of the device and the context in which the device is used.

Form Factor

Form factor is a term that describes the physical attributes of a product. In the case of computing devices there are a number of key components that contribute to the device’s form factor:

  • The overall size – will it fit into a pocket, handbag or briefcase
  • The weight – is it light enough to carry anywhere or so heavy it needs wheels
  • The screen size and resolution
  • The keyboard size – together the screen and keyboard size determine the overall size of the device
  • The power supply – small or big battery.

Though portability is important, the most important factor relating to the suitability of a device to be used to access e-learning content is the screen resolution. Pixels count when it comes to consuming or interacting with online content – generally the more the merrier. If I have a 320 x 240 pixel Blackberry then the type of content I can access is going to be different to the content I can access with a 1280 x 800 pixel tablet.

Screen Resolutions

Click to Enlarge: Screen Resolutions (Source: Wikipedia)

Conventional e-learning ‘modules’ are designed for a specific pixel width and height – they are often targeted at resolutions around 800 x 600 (SVGA), so that they will work on relatively low resolution screens. In recent years though the XGA standard (1024 x 768) has become more prevalent and we are also seeing increasing use of wider aspect ratio screens – which are optimised for entertainment uses (widescreen video). The standard Articulate player has pixel dimensions of 980 x 640 so it requires an XGA display to appear at optimal size. The standard aspect ratio of SVGA and XGA is 4:3 but 3:2 is now becoming more prevalent. Most movies are now shot in 16:9. I definitely prefer a wider screen format for my e-learning courses but when working for clients we often have to design for the lowest common denominator.

So getting back to mobile devices – can we run a conventional e-learning module on a mobile device? Well if the resolution is high enough then theoretically yes but the problem is that the scaling makes the content pretty much unreadable. Although the latest smartphones have reasonable resolutions the pixel density makes things look quite small in practice.

Note – I’m ignoring the Flash on mobile devices issue in this post (another post covers that).

The iPhone has a screen which is 640 x 960 so it’s actually pretty close to the size needed to run the standard Articulate player (980 x 640) but since the screen is only 3.5 inches (diagonally) the content would be too small to read and navigate effectively. However the iPad with a resolution of 1024 x 768 (XGA) and a screen size of 9.7 inches is ideal for running conventional e-learning modules (at least those not built in Flash).

Pixel Density (Pixels-per-inch)

Taking a standard laptop screen of 14 inches and with a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels gives a pixel density of 91 pixel-per-inch. The iPad at 1024 x 768 with a display diagonal of 9.7 inches has a pixel density of 132 ppi. The iPhone 4 has a resolution of 640 x 960 pixels which when combined with its 3.5 inch display results in a massive pixel density of 326 ppi. That means that text, images and interface objects such as buttons are going to appear much smaller on an iPhone than on a conventional screen.

Pixel Densities

The same 100 x 100 pixel image on devices with pixel densities of 72, 144 and 240 pixels-per-inch. Source: MobiForge

In practice the limited resolutions and higher pixel densities of smartphones mean that m-learning content needs to be re-worked to be successful on the small screen. However, tablet devices are much closer in resolution and pixel density to conventional laptop and desktop screens so it’s much more likely that they can be used to access conventional e-learning content provided the player interface works satisfactorily on a touch screen (e.g. the buttons and menus are big enough to select with a finger) and of course that they support the publishing environment (e.g. Flash or HTML5).

Context

Closely allied to portability is the context or environment in which the device will be used. A smartphone is always on and available instantly wherever the user is located. It’s therefore ideal for just in time access to content but it also supports multimedia in a way that computers in the office might not – for example it’s acceptable to listen to a 10 minute podcast while travelling on the train but it may be inappropriate while you are sat at your desk in the office.

Horses for Courses

Ideally as a learning designer I would prefer a design once publish anywhere approach but because of the form factor and context in which various devices are used in practice I need to design my learning programme for a specific device, or where appropriate create a range of learning activities that can be accessed across different devices. I’ve started to refer to this as the ‘device mix’. There are countless nuances to the device mix and we all face decisions each day whether to use one device or another. For example – if I’m at home and want to find out what the weather forecast is I have four options:

  • Fire up my desktop
  • Fire up my laptop
  • Use my iPad
  • Use my iPhone

For this quick task the hassle of starting-up either my desktop or laptop is a no-no; so for me the iPad on WiFi is the best option. It’s always on and has a screen resolution that will allow me to see a decent weather map.

If I’m shopping and need to find the nearest Waterstones then the iPhone is going to be my only real option. If I need to work on my presentation for Monday then the desktop will provide the most power and screen real estate to get the job done. Every day many of us deal with this device mix.

Screens, Resolutions and Pixel Densities

My current computing and e-learning devices.

When we design e-learning/m-learning we need to take these device choices into consideration. Does the material need to be provided across a range of devices or is a single device option (such a native app) the best option? Is the material for use on the go and likely to be required at the point of need, sometimes referred to as just-in-time learning (JIT) or performance support, or is it something that can be consumed more slowly and when you are in a more reflective mode (most conventional learning is definitely not JIT).

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