Are Apps the Future of Mobile Learning?
As a developer, you constantly look for the “next big thing”. Most of us will probably admit that there can be more than one of those “big things”. Nevertheless, it’s tempting to look for one technology and try to become good at it so you keep your skill set up to date with the latest technologies. As I continually survey the mobile technology landscape, I try to predict what learning will look like in 1, 2 or 5 years. In a much more casual way, I also try to observe how people use their mobile devices and what applications they have on those devices.
We know that casual games are a huge hit and some of them are considered learning titles. There are also several mobile learning apps that are specifically designed for learning, i.e. language learning, brain training, etc. However, my focus as a developer working for a corporation is enterprise learning and I wonder if apps will be big in the corporate learning space. Here are some statistics to consider when it comes to mobile learning and apps. The statistics come from Ambient Insight’s US Market for Mobile Learning Products and Services 2008-2013 (Executive Summary)
- “As of October 2008, there were over 1600 Mobile Learning applications in the [Apple App] store”
- “In just one week after the launch of their Android Market store, there were 24 Mobile Learning applications in stock”, reference to Google’s recently opened Android Market Store
- “According to mobile content retailer, Handango, Mobile Learning content now accounts for 18% of all their retail sales”
And as a personal observation, I can’t help but notice how hooked my roommates are on their iPod Touch apps. Part of the success of the iPod touch/iPhone is in the amazing number and variety of apps offered and easily downloadable from the Apple App Store. And, the following companies have an app store or will have one very soon: Microsoft (Windows Mobile), RIM (Blackberry), Nokia and Sony-Ericsson(Symbian), Google (Android), Adobe (Flash Lite, AIR, Flex, etc.).
I can definitely see why an app store is popular with the companies named above. When companies open an app store, they provide a place for vendors to sell their apps to mobile users… much like any other store. When someone buys and downloads an app, both the developer and the app store owner make money. But in corporate learning, we don’t sell our content and in many cases the content is not optional. While app stores rely on individuals motivated by entertainment or a self-interest in learning, organizational learning is often based around compliance, performance support, productivity and professional development to name a few. Much organizational learning is unique in what it teaches. We spend a lot of our time creating content for very small, targeted populations of learners in comparison to the general population who download apps from app stores. I don’t think we will abandon our current model in favor of app stores, but I see a role for app stores in our future.
Currently, most organizations teach a set of topics specific to learners using their own internal developers or contractors to meet their truly specific organizational learning needs. But a lot of organizations are now relying on other educational institutions for generic content, especially for professional development. For example, many organizations contract with Harvard Business Publishing for their Harvard Manage Mentor modules, which teach a variety of management skills. In the future, educational and training institutions like Harvard Business Publishing may create their own app stores for mobile learning. And some larger organizations may create their own app stores for their specialized corporate learning as well. This task is made more complicated because of the variety of mobile devices that learners within organizations may have, whereas manufacturers like Apple can target only the devices they create.
My hope is for organizations to see mobile devices as a vessel to reach their learners and therefore standardize those devices like they do with corporate computers. If the devices are standardized, organizations can create their own app stores and leverage the app stores of the manufacturers they choose to go with. You could have an entire Windows Mobile, Blackberry or iPhone workforce, which would make it much easier to develop high end mobile learning apps and you’d be able to download cool apps from the manufactuer’s app store and perhaps the Harvard Business Publishing app store. OR, knowing that mobile workforces would bring more customers to the table, manufacturers could offer partnerships with organizations, allowing them to upload any of their own specific learning titles into a subset of the manufacturers app store… think along the lines of iTunes University.
Or, we could just continue to use the web only as our main delivery tool. My prediction is that there will be room for both the web and apps. In the mean time, I think I’m going to learn a little about Google’s Android development environment, I think it’s the closest to my current skill set.