E-learning and mobile platforms

There has always been a training gap between in-house and remote employees. Anyone who has ever tried to roll out training to a largely mobile sales staff will understand the nature of this gap. Trying to round up sales personnel in the same room is something like trying to herd cats, but fortunately, you don’t have to try. Mobile technology lets participants take part in training courses from any location from any standard web browser.

The industry may be seeing some new changes coming down the road. Smartphones have been used for just about everything. Ever since Apple released its iPhone SDK, thousands of people have decided to become developers—and today there are huge numbers of small, mom-and-pop iPhone app development companies. So what’s next? It won’t be long before we start seeing training courses on the smartphone.

At last week’s Consumer Electronics Show, we saw a couple of interesting developments that portend great changes in this industry. First, Skype announced that it is acquiring Qik, a mobile video software company, for something along the lines of $100 million. This is a lot of money even for deep-pocketed Skype (which is getting ready for an IPO), and there’s tremendous potential there. The Qik platform creates an environment where users can enjoy real-time video across multiple mobile platforms. The deal doesn’t have anything immediately to do with e-learning, but the potential is there. Successful e-learning rests on the ability to provide a dynamic, multimedia presentation, and companies like Qik are bringing that capability to the smartphone.

Another cool iPhone tool is the Vaestro Voice Blogosphere, which is a type of audio blog network that lets you record blogs, as well as comments, as voice files instead of text. It’s an iPhone app available for $2.99, and is just one more tool with potential to be used in the e-learning space.

This of course, brings up the question: Do we really want to put e-learning modules on smartphones? To answer that question, we have to determine whether it would add value to the e-learning environment. And to do that, we have to consider how ubiquitous the smartphone has become, and how mobile our staff has become at the same time. Certainly, a bigger screen is more desirable for most e-learning programs , but there are two goals to any good e-learning program: To provide educational material and facilitate an educated workforce, and to disseminate that material to as many people as possible. In accomplishing that second goal, it is important to allow access through as many avenues as possible. Because almost every professional has a smartphone in his or her possession at all times, it makes sense to include that platform in the e-learning environment. While longer sessions may be better left to a full-size screen, shorter on-demand sessions are well-suited to a mobile platform. Having an ad hoc client meeting is an excellent example—a casual client conversation may lead to a “how can I do this” question, and if the full-size laptop isn’t available, the salesperson can always whip out the iPhone for a quick demo. To date, e-learning has focused on other platforms, but it’s inevitable that some e-learning applications will move to the smartphone, at least as a supplementary method of educational training.

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