Have You Thought about Your Mobile Learning Strategy? Considerations for Using Tablets for Learning

Topics: Learning Excellence, Organize, Technology & Infrastructure, Execute, Program Design & Delivery, Partnerships

Updated, Mon Aug 15.

A common question we hear from learning organizations is whether or not they should pursue the use of tablets in their mobile learning strategy. The amount of change in the tablet market has been a moving target, making plans and strategy difficult, to say the least. For those who need to gain understanding about tablets as a mobile learning strategy, there are certain things to consider before diving in. Below are some questions and answers that might help you make a decision regarding the use of tablets for learning.  

 What are the Benefits of Using Tablets for Learning?

The world of higher education is already finding that tablets are a high resolution way to engage students in a manner that cannot only connect them with relevant and timely information anytime, anywhere. In addition, learners have no need to carry materials or books, and it may completely change how education is structured in the future. It is possible that tablets might be the answer for some learning organizations as learning leaders can design and distribute entire curricula in an engaging, visually stimulating way via tablets that includes videos, content chunks, and links to information and experts to hundreds or thousands of people at a time all at a much lower cost than in-person learning. Finally, many learning leaders are finding that employees see the receipt of a tablet at work as a perk, which can improve loyalty.

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 Do You Have a Mobile Workforce?

If your workforce is geographically distributed, then it may make sense to pursue mobile learning. However, even a geographically dispersed workforce may not need mobile devices to learn if they have access to computers. If your workforce travels on the job or works on a plant floor where static computer access is a challenge, though, then it is possible that mobile learning might solve the challenge of access to on-demand learning.

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 Do You Have Leadership Support?

As is the case with any learning strategy, if you do not have leadership support, then the strategy probably won’t get too far. If support is needed for purchasing the tablets, you don’t have to go for a corporate-wide proposal initially. You might want to try to get approval to purchase one tablet, or even a few, so that the learning organization can experiment with them before putting together a proposal for a larger experiment with a role, function, department or location. If leadership support is needed to encourage company engagement with the new tools, then having some results from an experiment or two will help inform the potential benefits to the company, which may increase the likelihood of executive buy-in.

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 Which Tablets Should You Use?

In general, it would be better to think along the lines of being "device independent" rather than adopting a single brand for the your tablet strategy. IT departments have been addressing the bring-your-own-device to work model in the past year as a way of managing costs and addressing productivity needs. At CorpU, we have observed that learning organizations have taken a few rounds of pilots to test out different devices and the right balance between smartphones and tablets (as the screen sizes and capabilities make designing difficult).

 A note about operating systems (OSs): Some corporate IT departments have set clear restrictions and policies based on how much control over data and remote access (for remote device wipe) is possible in order to make sure that they can be in compliance with regulations concerning data controls. Many of these policies tend to favor Blackberry's OS and Windows OS (due to the ease of use for managing remote data or company sensitive data), though in the last few months our research at CorpU has uncovered a fast adjustment to integrate Apple's iOS into the mix (in order to support iPhones and iPads). Some companies with resources with sufficient development capabilities have brought Android devices into the mix as well. What makes the issue of operating systems even more perplexing is that there are a few projects underway that are looking to override the default operating system of the device and use a web browser with access to the address book and other forms of stored data. For instance, Google's Chromium project is an open-source effort to extend the Chrome browser, Mozilla's Boot2Gecko project and the Webian Shell project are three open-source efforts looking to make the choice of operating system to be a secondary consideration (and secondary only because some OSs are better at managing power consumption and thus lasting longer between charges).

If your company currently requires using a specific operating system for the company computer system, we recommend paying attention to market share size, and operating systems of the computer suppliers you utilize. For instance, some industry analysts have noted that HP TouchPad has slashed prices drastically within weeks of releasing and that Research in Motion (makers of Blackberry) have significant market challenges ahead of them. It is well worth knowing where they are going with regard to tablets — specifically, what mobile operating system they do or will support so you can make the right decisions regarding tablet purchases. The table below identifies the major tablets in the consumer market, price points, and features.

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Device Type Price, USD$ OS Support Display (inches) Display (cm) Hard Disk Size (GB) Screen Resolution CPU Type CPU Speed (GHz) Est. Battery Life (hrs) Weight (lbs) Weight (kg)
Acer Iconia Tab A500 445.54 Android 3.0 10.1 25.65 16 1280 x 800 nVidia Tegra 1.00 7 1.60 0.73
Apple iPad 2 549.00 iOS 4 9.7 24.64 16 - 64 1024 x 768 Apple A5 1.00 10 1.33 0.60
Apple iPad 439.00 iOS 9.7 24.64 16 - 64 1024 x 768 Apple A4 1.00 9.5 1.50 0.68
Archos 101 Internet Tablet 290.15 Android 10.1 25.65 8 - 16 1024 x 600 ARM Cortex A8 1.00 7 1.06 0.48
Archos 9 PC tablet 340.00 Windows 7 Start 8.9 22.61 60 1024 x 600 Intel ATOM Z515 1.20 5 1.80 0.80
Asus Eee Pad Transformer 398.00 Android 3.0 10.1 25.65 16 - 32 1280 x 800 nVidia Tegra 2 1.00 9.5 1.50 0.68
Asus Eee Slate EP121 1129.49 Windows 7 Home 12.0 30.48 32 - 64 1280 x 800 Intel Core i5 1.33 5 2.53 1.16
Barnes&Noble Nook Color 249.00 Android 2.2 7.0 17.78 8 1024 x 600 ARM 0.8 8 0.99 0.45
BlackBerry PlayBook 460.60 BlackBerry OS 7.0 17.78 16 - 64 1024 x 600 ARM Cortex A9 1.00 7 0.90 0.40
Coby Kyros 162.44 Android 2.2 7.0 17.78 4 - 32 800 x 480 Samsung S5PV210 1.00 0 0.87 0.39
Dell Streak 7 299.00 Android 2 7.0 17.78 16 - 32 800 x 480 nVidia Tegra T20 1.00 4 1.00 0.45
Fujitsu Lifebook T730 1199.00 Windows 7 Pro 12.1 30.73 160 1280 x 800 Intel Core i3-370M 2.40 0 3.90 1.80
Fujitsu LifeBook TH700 999.00 Windows 7 12.1 30.73 320 1280 x 800 Intel Core i3-350M 2.26 0 4.20 1.90
Fujitsu Stylistic Q550 729.00 Windows 7 Pro 10.1 25.65 30 - 62 1280 x 800 Intel Atom Z670 1.50 8 1.70 0.77
HP Slate 500 761.98 Windows 7 Pro 8.9 22.61 64 1024 x 600 Intel Atom Z540 1.86 5 1.50 0.68
HP TouchPad 398.00 HP webOS 9.7 24.64 16 - 32 1024 x 768 Qualcomm Snapdragon 1.20 8.5 1.60 0.73
Lenovo Ideapad K1 499.00 Android 3.1 10.1 25.65 16 - 64 1280 x 800 nVidia Tegra 2 1.00 8 1.65 0.75
Motorola XOOM 799.99 Android 3.0 10.1 25.65 32 1280 x 800 nVidia Tegra Dual 1.00 8 1.60 0.73
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 499.99 Android 3.1 10.1 25.65 16 - 32 1280 x 800 nVidia Tegra 2 1.00 10 1.26 0.57
Toshiba Thrive 399.99 Android 3.1 10.1 25.65 8 - 32 1280 x 800 nVidia Tegra 250 1.0 7 1.70 0.77
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 435.00 Android 7.0 17.78 16 - 32 1024 x 600 PowerVR SGX540 1.00 6 0.80 0.38

 What Direction Should We Go — Apps or Web?

There are two paths you can take regarding content design for tablets. One is to write device-specific apps that employees can access and use. Many companies have chosen that direction, but there are an overwhelming number of rules around building them and thousands of variables you cannot control. The other path is to develop mobile-friendly, device-independent web solutions that can work in multiple operating systems, are not proprietary, and can be stored and delivered behind a firewall. As you might guess, we support the second approach, encouraging HTML5 to be combined with a JavaScript library like jQuery. When designing mobile device-friendly websites, one needs to build into the project plan additional time investment up front (due to more planning time), but it is generally time well spent. If interactivity is needed now, the web app is the way to go. CorpU strongly encourages, however, that device-specific solutions are kept to the most critical and time-sensitive projects, because the mobile web experience is likely to be far more effective as an investment over the next few years.

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 A note about Adobe's Flash: Not all devices support Flash files (specifically Apple iPad and iPad2), and HTML5 at present cannot be considered a full substitute since it does not support the types of interactivity that learning developers like to use in e-learning authoring products like Articulate and Captivate, for instance. (For more on HTML5 and Flash, please refer to this CorpU research brief on HTML5.).

Because interactivity in quizzes, assessments, and learning experience in general is an important consideration, some organizations have been struggling over this mobile-enabled website vs device-specific app decision, but the good news is that there are some decent tools available now, and there are additional projects in the offing claim to make the mobile web experience consistent (including a new release from Adobe). The major tools (Captivate and Articulate) do not have a strong solution in place for HTML5 output (Articulate has delayed its release). Those that are doing a reasonable job with HTML5 output include:

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 What Should You Consider Regarding Using Videos on a Tablet?

The use of videos via tablet has the potential to be extremely useful for learning organizations. One manufacturing company has experimented with video sharing as an efficient way for process leaders to solve problems across state lines. They have already used laptops and Bloomfire to videotape live on the line to demonstrate solutions to other plants in order to help solve significant problems in real time, but it is challenging to carry around laptops out to the line. They see tablets as a way to address this problem. That said, if you decide to incorporate either distributed videos or video sharing via tablets, they should be able to scale and run on multiple devices. You can't control for every variable yet, but think about finding software that senses what device the learner is using and sends the appropriate version of the video clip to the device. Learning organizations can build their own video server, but there are more efficient third-party services that will host videos in a secure cloud.

For more on partners to consider with respect to video, please view this CorpU brief.

For a quick overview on mobile devices and the challenges they will present to learning leaders, please refer to this CorpU Research article.

For a quick overview on the business case for sharing videos, please refer to this CorpU Research article.

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This article supports the CorpU 12 Dimensions of Learning Excellence - Organize (Technology & Infrastructure) and Execute (Partnerships and Program Design & Delivery).

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