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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Interview with Ann Boland, Hot Lava: Interview with E-Learning Innovators

Welcome to an interview with Ann Boland, owner of OHE Associates, a Hot Lava Partner, provider of mobile learning platforms. You may sign up on the site for a demo of Hot Lava delivered to your web-enabled mobile device (PDA, cell phone, iPhone, iTouch).

What is Hot Lava? What does it do? How does it work? Why do you believe in it?

Hot Lava is a mobile learning platform that enables authoring and delivery of content; tracking, and recording of activity and results.

You can’t just take eLearning content and port it to the web. It must be reauthored in XML for delivery over a WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) server. But authoring is not difficult – even I can do it, with no technical training or background. Hot Lava recently introduced a Content Converter that instantly converts standardized content, such as a PowerPoint presentation, into content that you can drag directly into the LMA (Learning Mobile Author) and publish.

The “magic” of Hot Lava is that you author once and can publish for use on 95% of the web-enabled cell phones in use world-wide. You are not limited to one type of phone. It works on Blackberrys, iPhones, Palm, and Windows Mobile device – any phone that is web-enabled.

Ann Boland, Hot Lava

A basic management principle is that people will do what you watch and measure. So mobile learning with no tracking is nice for edutainment value, but it’s not a real tool. Hot Lava’s MDTS tracks every page that is viewed, every test, poll or survey question that is asked. It calculates pass/fail based on the author’s perimeters. Data is stored on the MDTS and/or can be instantly uploaded to the client’s Learning Management System. The MDTS has a report generator and data can be downloaded into other programs, such as Excel for further manipulation.

Modules or courses are authored and published by the LMA. They are stored on the MDTS which resides on a WAP server. From there, users log on to take the module online, or they can download the module into their phone to take it offline and upload results at a later time. So you can use your cell phone to take a course while on the airplane, or at your child’s soccer practice.

I believe in Hot Lava because it works – instantly and in the palm of your hand. There’s nothing like the enthusiasm of prospects who see for the first time on their cell phone training and job aids that previously were available only on the PC. Now they can really be learning on the job – and when and where their schedules allow.

What is the philosophy of Hot Lava?

What do our customers need to make mobile learning work in their environment? I’ve yet to see a dealer or customer make a request for an addition to the system that was not done within a reasonable period of time and usually at no charge. Bob Sanregret, Founder and CEO, feels that the client knows what is best and so long as the request is within reason and advances the platform, it gets done. I’ve never worked with an organization that was so responsive to the customer.

What do you see as the future of mobile learning?

The real advances in mobile learning are being made outside the US. We’re chained to the PC and saddled with cell carriers that restrict capabilities of the phones and schools that view cell phones as the enemy.

In third world countries, the mobile phone is ubiquitous. The PC is not. Cell phones are less expensive, batteries last longer, and are multi-purpose. There is no stigma about cell phones in the schools because they are used as precious learning tools.

In Europe, Asia and the Middle East, cell phones are used for a multitude of learning and marketing projects. Carriers are much more attuned to business and educational applications rather than all the emphasis being put on entertainment.

So, the US has a ways to go. Organizations are now turning to mobile delivery of compliance training so they can reach employees 24/7. Marketing and sales companies are looking at mobile surveys to gather data at large sporting events such as auto racing.

Who will use mobile learning or training? Where will it be distributed? How will it be publicized?

Most mobile learning is happening in business and government where employees above a certain grade level are equipped with a business phone. Inroads are slowly being made in higher education. Hot Lava is ideally suited to the education environment because it works on most all web-enabled phones. Students and faculty do not need to standardize on one carrier and one phone. We have pilot going with Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey. They have 16,000 distance-learning students, most using eLearning. In early 2009, we will be testing delivery of parts of ten courses via mobile. They plan a broad rollout beginning July 2009. They are also testing with deployed military.

Where do you see mobile training 18 months from now?

Like the migration to eLearning, the migration to mLearning will be gradual. First, it’s not for everyone. Folks who work at a desk really don’t need it. But younger employees are more used to getting all their information from the hand held, so may want mobile even if they work at a desk.

Certainly for employees who work outside the office, mobile will be the main access to job aids and support and some parts of training. We’re also seeing strong interest in mobile as a data collection tool. So engineers working at customer sites can complete a survey from the home office team about a problem and the information goes immediately from the source to the research team for action. White boards work the same way in reverse. The home office team boards the problem and the solution and the captured contents are immediately sent via mobile to all engineers working in the field.

Where and how does mobile training provide value in a recession? How does it facilitate recovery?

For business, the value proposition is doing more with less. Less workers, who still must be trained. Give them access 24/7, in the palm of their hands. Push the training to the job, don’t take people off the job.

For schools, more students need to work while attending school. Put the course work, or part of the course work into their phones so they can work on the bus, on breaks. These are motivated learners, mostly adults with multiple responsibilities.

For training developers, build an additional revenue stream by offering mobile delivery in addition to classroom and eLearning. It may be the whole course, or it may be test prep or assignments.

This recession will end. They all do. In business, training is always hit hard by downturns – maybe less so since eLearning has cut down on the T&L expenses. The organizations that pull through will be those who devise ways to delivery effective training at lower cost. Mobile delivery is part of that.

Individuals who pull through will be those who also learn to do more with less. Increasingly, land lines are cancelled and smart phones are the replacement. With one payment a month, all communication and many education needs can be met anywhere/anytime. These folks will become more tech savvy and therefore more desirable employees.

Here's an extension of the previous question -- How can we use mobile training to rebuild our world?

Get middle and high school teachers to embrace web-enabled cell phones as an education tool and build mobile learning and collaboration INTO the middle and high school classrooms!

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