Do you recognize these devices?
If you are a techie from the same or earlier generation as mine, you should be able to identify these. For years, I thought these were some video game devices that dad tried to hide from me for some reason. These are personal organizers from the 90s which served as electronic diaries for people to store and search their address database. An Organizer is considered the first ever Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) to be invented. These information managers led a complete generation through their daily data needs. The smartphones we use today are nothing but an evolution of these practical pocket computers, even though they do not use the term PDA anymore.
PDAs, mobile phones, and smartphones – They’re all the same
PDAs were the genesis of the renowned digital revolution. But very soon something else had replaced them. Companies such as Sharp produced many versions of PDAs taking their features to the next level. But soon, Nokia came up with a ground-breaking PDA with full mobile functionality, the 9000 Communicator. This device was initially called a PDA phone which was renamed the Smartphone as we call it now. Let’s not be surprised if in the near future this name changes once again to something like Internet Devices (IDs) as the last thing we do using them is making a call.
Before the mobile era, people had to rely of different devices for different purposes, such as a calculator for mathematical calculations, a computer to browse the Internet, a camera to click the pictures of their loved ones, and a torch light to help in the dark. But now, mobiles serve as a one device solution for all your needs. It can turn in to a professional digital camera, a calculator or even a torch light anytime you need.
Rise of mobile learning
Just like the mobile technology, education/training mechanisms have also changed with time. People moved from conventional classroom trainings to computer based trainings (CBT). This evolution of training didn’t happen overnight. A lot of research and effort was involved in bringing about this change. People hated computers when they initially replaced the files and papers in companies. There are many reasons for this, one of which was that people weren’t ready to learn something new after having completed several years in the industry. And see the situation now.
It is no exaggeration to say technology replaced the dog as man’s best friend, especially mobiles. As of 2014, 90% of American adults own a cell phone, and this number must have gone up to at least 92% by now (Source: Pewinternet.org). Looking at this inclination towards mobile technology, the trend to use mobiles for educational purposes has grown. You may call it mobile education or education on mobile. Quite convincing, isn’t it? I assume most of you are already familiar with what mobile learning is and what its advantages are. If not, please visit this link to gain some gyaan (knowledge in Indian terms) on m-learning.
PDAs and m-learning
Like we discussed in the beginning of the post, mobiles were invented to serve as Personal Digital Assistants. However, we experienced PDAs even before mobile technology came to rise.
Do you remember this guy?
That’s Clippy, the office assistant that came with Microsoft Office ’97. This guy replaced the then existing Help icon and took the user experience to another level. The personification of the Help icon made users use the Help icon more often. Let’s try to put this approach in an educational context. The strategy of using digital avatars or guides in e-learning has been in play for quite some time now. However, the perfect usage and purpose of these components has not been defined. I think it’ll be easier to define a purpose for these digital characters in an m-learning context. The reason for this is that mobile applications operate in a different way compared to a desktop based application. Here you can define the exact purpose and make 100% use of the digital assistants.
For example, imagine you developed an m-learning application. What would be the first thing you want the learner to learn from the application? It would be the navigational assistance for the app. So as soon as the app opens, a digital assistant can come up, welcoming the learner to the course/application. It can then guide the learner on how to navigate through the app using a simulation. That’s not all. The assistant can be present throughout the course as a Help icon. Whenever the learner has a trouble accessing any section of the course such as downloading the resources, answering the questions, he can reach out to the digital assistant for a quick help.
PDAs add gamification touch to m-learning
Gamification has been a growing trend in every industry including training. It might take some time for this trend to reach m-learning, as both the concepts have been brought into application in the recent times. Digital Assistants will help you achieve this feat. Most of the mobile games today employ characters/avatars that address the players. For example this little character on the right (Tiffi Toffee) from the most happening game Candy Crush Saga, takes the players through a journey of candy land where they try to solve the puzzles by matching candies of similar color. Using assistants in m-learning will provide similar experiences to learners who are already used to playing games (let’s not forget that the number of mobile gamers is increasing substantially every day).
Here are a few ideas to use digital assistants in m-learning without making them feel out of place.
- PDA from the context. Your PDA should match the context of the content you teach. For example, if you are developing an m-learning application to teach the sales folks in pharma, your PDA should be a senior sales rep or even a doctor who’s ready to help out these people.
- Share the content load with the PDA. Since you have already decided to use a PDA, instead of developing new content to be explained through the assistant, divide the existing content.
- Include multiple PDAs. People often tend to get bored if they get to see the same character again and again in a course, especially if it is a curriculum that you are teaching. It is recommended that you allow the learners pick their PDA from a set of possible 4-5 characters. This adds an element of personalization to learning, which is a great engagement tool.
- Make them speak. Adding an audio element to your PDA will make them even livelier. But remember, we are not trying to develop an Artificial Intelligence program or a digital answering machine such as IBM Watson here. Limit the audio of this little guy to a few standard sentences such as “How can I help you?”, “Here’s what you asked for”, and “I hope you’ve found what you’re looking for” in the context where he is used as a search assistant and “Well tried, but you need to do more”, “Excellent, I knew you would do it right” in places where he is used to conduct digital assessments.
That’s it for this post. Hope these ideas helped you identify an explored approach towards m-learning. What are your ideas to enhance learner engagement in m-learning? Do share your views and comments in the comments section below.