Remote and Mobile are not the same thing…but could or should be.

TechCommGeekMom is back! I’m sure you didn’t notice that much, but I was away for a week at the beach (or as we Jersey gals say, at the shore) in South Carolina, and while I wasn’t totally away from technology the whole week, I didn’t stay in touch with it as much as I usually do either. Hopefully, I can make up for some of that this week!

Just because I was away, it didn’t mean that I wasn’t thinking about tech comm, e-learning or m-learning while sitting on the beach. Quite the contrary. I had things going on related to all those topics that I still needed to keep up. And sitting by the ocean, listening to the waves, as well as traveling in lots of places far from home and working somewhat remotely got me thinking about the topic of working remotely and mobility, or rather mobile working.

I was actually put to the test in some respects during the trip. There was some important business correspondence that was going on during the week, and I had only my iPhone and trusty iPad, and spotty wifi to enable me to communicate with the “outside” world. I didn’t have the comforts of working from home with my laptop and reliable wifi connectivity that I have at home. (I do live in “Einstein Alley”, after all, so reliable wifi is almost a requirement where I live!) If I went to one of the Starbucks near where I was staying, then there was good wifi, and I could catch up with some of that correspondence. But if I was in my hotel room, it depended on the time of day and which room I was in, which was not exactly convenient.

As we travelled down some country roads before hitting the main highways on our way home, I started to think about mobile learning in these areas. How, in many respects, is this area that I was traveling through any different from any other remote area of the world, where education isn’t always cutting edge, and computers are difficult to access? The mom in me thought deeply about the educational part of this. If I lived in an area that was distant from a lot of technological access, but wanted the best education possible for my child, how would that be achieved?

My imagination first made me think about remote education. What is that? It could be online learning, or even just something static, like the equivalent of a correspondence course. How would that work in a classroom or standard educational system that is not near any major towns? Connectivity is the key for that. Having that connectivity would be greatly needed for the students to learn. Learning about what is happening in the “outside world” will open the minds of students not only to new ideas, but also how to bring those new ideas to their community. For example, would learning a new technology help with growing crops or improving productivity in some sort of service or manufacturing process prevalent in that community? I’m sure it would.

In my opinion, the Internet has always been an educational wonderland, much like how television and radio opened up possibilities and expanded our knowledge of the world. To deny that to the students of today would be a disservice, especially since so much more information is available through the Internet than radio or television alone. How does something work? A student can watch a YouTube video about it.  Who was Salvador Dali? A student can find Wikipedia and other sites that talk about the artist and see photos or video of his works.  Confusion about how to do algebra? Students can watch a video on Khan Academy. Newspapers from all over the world are online, and students can learn difference perspectives on world events as a result. There are so many possibilities!

But is mobile the solution to having a remote education? Yes and no. I think with the examples I showed above, a standard desktop or laptop can help achieve those activities quite easily. In many remote districts, I imagine that there isn’t the money in the school budget to provide that many desktops or laptops, but gaining that exposure would be worth the expense if it could be done.

To add mobile functionality to the mix would definitely enhance this process. Having a tablet computer such as an iPad or Kindle, or even using a smartphone would increase the learning capabilities. It would allow for more interactive learning. It would allow students to take their own video and photos to share with others. Learning could be done in the classroom, or even on a field trip or outside the confines of a classroom–including at home. All the benefits of mobile versus desktop would come to the forefront of reasons to use mobile for learning. Additionally, as smartphones are often more readily available and purchased, even in remote areas, mobile is possible and accessible in those hard-to-reach locales.

So, one has to understand that remote learning is not the same as mobile learning. Simply because one is out of reach from centers of society doesn’t mean that education about the outside world can’t be accessed, but with Internet connectivity, that experience is enhanced greatly. Correspondence courses of yesteryear (and modern day as well) show that you can be away from a learning source, and still gain knowledge needed. Online courses have been proving that in the last two or three decades as well. However, mobile enhances the e-learning experience greatly, providing greater flexibility for how a student can learn and when he or she can access information to learn. With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets exponentially growing every year, even in remote areas, mobile will enhance and promote changes in that the remote learning process, and in turn, the m-learning industry will change and grow.

So, my question to you, dear reader, as a tech comm or e-learning/m-learning professional, how are YOU going to help those learners who are far away from conventional resources? It’s something to think about when writing or creating courses or documentation that will help the end-user.  Mobile documentation is different because it can reach even more remote areas than ever before, but how it’s created and used is key in how successful it can be in helping those end-users, whether they be students or various professionals. Look at the photo that is at the top of this blog posting. How will you provide information to the inhabitants of that small island? Think about it….

About TechCommGeekMom

Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who has recently started her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, and BASF North America, with a background in content strategy, web content management, social media, project management, e-learning, and client services. Danielle is best known in the technical communications world for her blog, TechCommGeekMom.com, which has continued to flourish since it was launched during her graduate studies at NJIT in 2012. She has presented webinars and seminars for Adobe, the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the IEEE ProComm, TCUK (ISTC) and at Drexel University’s eLearning Conference. She has written articles for the STC Intercom, STC Notebook, the Content Rules blog, and The Content Wrangler as well. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/daniellemvillegas, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog.
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