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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….

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Why Mobile, Gamification and Special Needs Are Made for Each Other

As the school year has started for some and will start during the following few weeks ahead, my thoughts start thinking about conventional learning and how educational technology has changed so rapidly, especially in the last few years.

Now, before I continue, I just want to preface this by saying that much of what I will be writing below isn’t based on any scientific study, but rather it’s based on my own experiences and knowledge.

I recently saw this article, and even retweeted it:

Autistic Student Feels Reinspired by Online Learning

I was so glad to see an article like this. We are constantly shown articles or videos about students who are much lower functioning than this kid, who are breaking through the communication wall through various apps on iPad. But I find that higher functioning autistic kids have a much harder time as the gap is much narrower, so it’s hard to define where the fine line between effective communication and ineffective communication is.  As a result, these kids fall through the cracks of the system. Seeing that the young man in this article found a solution through online studies is fantastic, and I can relate to it a lot.

I am sure that I’ve mentioned many times before that my son is autistic, but much like the young man in this article, he is very high functioning autistic. My son is so high functioning that the actual autism diagnosis eluded us until he was 9 years old, and that was after already going through several other diagnoses and still feeling that something wasn’t quite fitting right.  Through my son, while I have not gotten an official diagnosis, I’m pretty convinced that I am an Asperger’s Syndrome person myself; I have displayed so many of the same symptoms as my son, but I did not have the speech problems he had when he was younger (he’s fully language fluent now, due to early intervention and persistence). Even as a mother, I marvel at the various apps that are out there that could have helped my son when he was small, and I wish that we had access to it back when he was small.

My son is a smart boy. However, if something doesn’t interest him or doesn’t serve any meaningful purpose to him, then he’s unwilling to do the necessary schoolwork. As he’s gotten older, this has been problematic. He’s also a kid, and when it comes to mathematics, he doesn’t get the rote information down right away (like understanding his multiplication tables). But, show him how to do a mathematical function, and he can pick it up fairly quickly. He’s not always interested in reading, but he was reading when he was about 3, and when he reads something that interests him, he practically has the resource information memorized. He takes in videos like nobody’s business. Ask him anything about Super Sentai (the original Japanese Power Rangers), Kamen Rider, Power Rangers, Beyblades, Bakugan or Pokemon, and he can tell you everything about them.  He also has a fascination with the sciences, especially physics, so when the Higgs Boson was recently proven, I asked him if he had heard about it, and he said, “Yeah, what about it?” and he explained what it was, and didn’t know that it had actually be proven.  Keep in mind, the kid is only 11.

Yet, he struggles with school. It’s hard for him to focus, and sometimes he’s still processing things in his head when he’s paying attention in class. He can’t take notes to save his life, but he can learn from them.  School is a difficult chore for him, and it takes some creativity to engage him to learn. He’s definitely capable of learning, but he can’t always learn by conventional means. He has a very difficult time with writing skills as well, which has been a struggle since he was small.

I can relate to my son on so many levels academically. I think this is why I end up being the one to do homework with him most of the time–I know how to “translate” things in a way that he can understand. I also had that same combination of hyper-focus on some topics, and total distraction on other topics, and had a hard time with school as well, even though I did well for the most part. If I had half the tools and support he has now when I was a kid, I would’ve been valedictorian of my class, I bet, but instead, I had to fight my way through much of school to get decent grades.

So, when I read the article above, I could relate to it so much because of my son, but also because of my own online experiences getting my Master’s degree from NJIT. My degree was 100% online, and despite what anyone would think, it was a very social event, yet I could pace myself the way I wanted (well, within reason–I still had deadlines for assignments and such).  I want to say that the success in earning my degree and getting a straight “A” average was due to hard work and the quality of the program–which it was, but it was more. It was the delivery system. I’m very convinced that if I had done this coursework solely in a classroom environment, while I might have done well, I don’t think I would have done THIS well.  Being able to set up my own schoolwork routine, read at my own pace, respond to forum threads and work on assignments at my own pace were a huge part of it. I’ve found for years that social media and just being connected to the Internet is not only addictive for me, but essential for me. It’s how I’m able to socialize more effectively and learn more effectively as well.  For all those naysayers that say there’s no such thing as “learning styles,” I say, “Poppycock!” I am a living example of someone who needs to be taught more on a visual level than an audiological level; I have sensory issues but am simultaneously a sensory learner.  My son is the same way.

So what does this have to do with mobile learning and gamification? EVERYTHING! There seem to be more and more studies that “typical” learners learn as much or more with mobile options and gamification methods. Imagine what it can do for special needs learning! My son is a big of a gamer, and I know at his age I love the earliest electronic and digital games myself.  Even now, I’d much rather play an online game to learn than read my dry textbook. The trick for high-functioning special needs people like my son and I is that we–as I mentioned before–fall between the cracks; we don’t need things dumbed down for us, but we do need a different method to get the same information into our skulls, and everything is either over simplified and babyish (like some of the math games that he can play to get those multiplication facts into his head), or there isn’t something that is sophisticated enough that can achieve the same thing.

I envy my son, because e-learning is SO much more than it was when I was growing up. Heck, just having Internet access and email and social media is much more than what I had  when I went to school. Getting my Master’s degree was the first time I could use such resources, and given the right tools as these digital ones, I could fly (metaphorically speaking). I want to see my son fly as well, as I know he’s capable of it. I try to find lots of physics game apps for him on my iPad, which he zooms through with ease. I need to find some age appropriate math apps, writing apps, and other apps that can help him learn without him realizing he’s learning, or at least make it more enjoyable. I want him to feel successful in whatever he ends up doing, and I want him to feel that learning is a lifelong endeavor, and that he is capable of finding the resources he needs to accomplish what he wants. We are still figuring this out, but like I said, the world is his oyster, and he needs to learn how to access it all, and I think he’s already on his way since he found the Super Sentai on his own (and yes, he watches these Japanese Power Rangers episodes on YouTube, in Japanese, sometimes subtitled, sometimes not, but he doesn’t care–he picks up what all of it’s about anyway).

Being that my son is a big gamer, he enjoys and adapts to games well.  He was fortunate, this summer, that his summer school math teacher picked up on the idea of gamification, as every day my son and the other kids in his class would play a card/board game that would teach math skills. He enjoyed it very much, and there was a social skills aspect to it as well, which helped. Granted, it was not a video game or digital online game, but the principle is still the same–it was a game, and he was learning the skills he needed to learn.  So many online games can teach without one realizing it, and making learning so much more accessible.  Even the popular Angry Birds game–one of my son’s favorites–is actually a fantastic game that teaches physics and problem solving skills. I don’t say no to him playing Angry Birds on my iPad or iPhone.  He’s learning, at least, and developing skills that may help in the future as some sort of engineer.  Even as an adult, I can say that I would enjoy something more interactive online than something static or something that’s essentially a page-turner.

This is where mobile comes in. We all know the benefits of m-learning functionality, such as providing just essential information, having web capabilities to interact not only with others, but use tools like social media and researching on the web, and sharing resources is a big deal. Even the nature of m-learning is beneficial, because good m-learning design breaks things up in to small pieces than if it was done as a regular desktop course or classroom lesson. With m-learning, a child can record the class while attempting to take notes, and listen to it later while doing homework, rewinding parts of the lecture while rewriting or filling in missing information in notes.

I know for me, it was a big deal to be able to manipulate my studies to make them mobile. I would use the Microsoft OneNote app on my iPad to do initial drafts of homework assignments during my lunch hour, and then sync up my notes so that I could pull them onto my laptop later to clean them up more on my laptop at home. I could watch video or listen to a podcast on my iPad or iPhone, stop it and restart a section if I didn’t quite catch it–or even just stop so I could catch up writing notes first, then continue. You can’t do that so easily in a classroom. I could pace myself much better, and as a result, my retention was better because I could review details as needed.

This is really important for Aspies as they want to take in everything, and very often it hard to keep up because we are still deciphering and translating information given in our heads while the information keeps feeding. Sometimes our brains can’t process quite as quickly, so by the time we have a piece of information processed and we are ready for the next bit, instead of one new piece of information, then next five have happened. Keeping up and forcing oneself to keep up with the pace can be mentally grueling and exhausting. It’s not that we don’t have the mental capacity to understand the information, but rather that our internal processors are different. It’s like having last year’s processing chip in your computer instead of the latest and greatest. It’s not that the chip can’t handle it at all, but rather at a different pace. If you can gamify the information, then the information is learned on a subconscious level, and just like any video game, new skills are attained little by little as you proceed higher and higher in a game. It’s really THAT simple.

So, for you instructional designers, educational technologists and technical communicators that don’t think that gamification or m-learning makes that much of a difference–IT DOES. Believe me! Keep m-learning and gamification in mind. It not only lends itself well to typical learners, but can go miles farther for those with special needs.

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Hurrah! The ID/TC Education Resources Page has been updated on!

Hello everyone!

It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve posted here, but it’s only been a week. I do try to post something original here at least once a week as best as I can.

But right now, I’m mentally wiped out, so it occurred to me that now is a great time to update some of the pages here as best as I can.

So, for easier reading, I’ve updated the Instructional Design/Technical Communications Education Resources Page (otherwise known as the ID/TC Education Resources Page). If you click the link above in the navigation, that will take you directly to that page.

Now, upon first inspection, it will look pretty much the same, with the same links to helpful articles.

But now after a few additions and some reorganization, all 158 credentials are listed and organized by credential. Specifically, they are split up between Bachelor’s degrees, Certificates, Specialist degrees, Master’s degrees, and finally Doctorates.  I’m hoping that this reorganization will help anyone who is looking for that next avenue themselves. Many of these programs are online too, so be sure to check them out. Even my own alma mater, NJIT, is listed in the Master’s programs. 😉

As always, if you have a suggestion for a higher ed program related to technical communications, e-learning or m-learning, please let me know so I can add it to the list!

Enjoy, and thanks for continuing to support!

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Whitepaper: The Future of Mobile Learning: Empowering Human Memory and Literacy

Yes, it’s official. I’ve written a whitepaper.

Actually, I wrote it a while ago, but just haven’t gotten around to reformatting it. This is actually a paper that I wrote for one of my classes recently just before I graduated, and it was edited by Mayra Aixa Villar. When editing the paper at the time, it was she who suggested that I either present this somewhere, or post it as a whitepaper here on my blog. Since I’m not able to get to any professional meeting anytime soon, I’m taking the latter suggestion, and posting it here. So, before anything else, many thanks to my friend Mayra for not only editing and providing criticism on this paper, but for helping me feel confident to put my work out there. (Muchas gracias, mi amiga querida!)

That being said, this whitepaper is entitled, “The Future of Mobile Learning: Empowering Human Memory and Literacy.” The basic concept behind this is that many of the basic elements that humankind formulated to enable memorization and literacy throughout history are basic elements that are used and needed in formulating the foundations of creating effective m-learning.

I hope my readers like the paper and find it helpful. Please download, pass around, and/or refer to this page! (Oh, and if you’d like me to present this somewhere, let me know! ;-))

Whitepaper: The Future of Mobile Learning: Empowering Human Memory and Literacy

Edited to add July 2015: This paper has now been presented three times as of July 2015, at the 2014 e-learning 3.0 Conference at Drexel University, at the 2015 STC-PMC Conduit/Mid-Atlantic Technical Conference, and as a presentation/workshop at the 2015 IEEE ProComm.

Posted in mobile, singular experience, Uncategorized

Project Tin Can: Good Communication or just a Tin Can Alley?

Something I’ve been hearing about lately is something called, “Project Tin Can,” and it’s been a topic that seems to come back again and again in reference to m-learning. “Oh, I think great strides are being made with ‘Tin Can’,” or “I think ‘Tin Can’ might help to solve that problem in how it relates to m-learning,” I’d hear. I knew it has to do with how scoring and assessments are done, but what is it beyond that? Why should I even begin to pay attention to this?

Of course, I had to start doing some research, because if this is a hot topic that affects m-learning, I need to be on top of it, right?

First, if one doesn’t have an understanding of SCORM, one has to understand that first.  SCORM, for all you technical communicators that don’t know, is best explained by Rustici Software, which works very closely with the ADL who set these standards:

SCORM is a set of technical standards for e-learning software products. SCORM tells programmers how to write their code so that it can “play well” with other e-learning software. It is the de facto industry standard for e-learning interoperability. Specifically, SCORM governs how online learning content and Learning Management Systems (LMSs) communicate with each other. SCORM does not speak to instructional design or any other pedagogical concern, it is purely a technical standard…. The SCORM standard makes sure that all e-learning content and LMSs can work with each other, just like the DVD standard makes sure that all DVDs will play in all DVD players. If an LMS is SCORM conformant, it can play any content that is SCORM conformant, and any SCORM conformant content can play in any SCORM conformant LMS.  (See for more details)

Okay, so we have a set of standard for e-learning so that all content can work together congruently.

Great! So, why mess with what works?

Well, SCORM was developed about a decade or so ago, and while it’s worked great, a lot has changed in how educational content is delivered. A decade ago, we didn’t have smartphones in the same way that we do now, and tablets were still thought of as either pads of paper or slabs of slate that you wrote on with chalk. Mobile devices took off in the last few years much faster than anyone anticipated.  Obviously, if there are new means of technology, there are also new means of learning and delivering learning content to learners.  ADL, the SCORM proctors, realized that they need to stay ahead of the curve and start looking new solutions as mobile technology started to integrate into daily life.

While I had heard of Tin Can, it most recently was brought to my attention by Chad Udell of Float Learning. Float Learning is hot on the trail of TinCan, as evidenced by their May 2012 newsletter. Chad posted this link on Twitter to the following article by Reuben Tozman of the edCetra Training Blog: Instructional Design Tips for Tin Can, which talks about how Reuben and his company started to use Tin Can to start using methods that had their foundations in SCORM for a project, but ultimately needed the flexibility of Tin Can to evolve and progress with the project. I also looked at this article by Ben Clark of Rustici Software, as posted by Aaron Silvers of ADL on “What is Project Tin Can?“, which basically outlined what Tin Can was in broad terms, but it wasn’t completely clear to the “lay person” like me.

The most helpful thing in helping me understand what Tin Can is was to listen to episode #7 of “This Week in M-Learning” with RJ Jacquez and Rob Gadd, which can be found either on this website or on iTunes. They had Aaron Silvers and Jason Haag of ADL as guests on the show, and being that both Aaron and Jason are very much part of and deeply into the Tin Can project, they were excellent sources to consult.

The following are the notes that I took from the conversation (and hopefully I’m summarizing and paraphrasing most of the conversation correctly–let me know if I have any inaccuracies):

First and foremost, both SCORM and TinCan API (as it’s now known) are not standards, but rather they are specifications. SCORM is a widely adopted and used specification, but it’s still just a specification, not a standard. That’s an important distinction to make up front.

From there, it was explained in the podcast that Project Tin Can started around 2008, when ADL started looking at whitepapers and various resources to determine how they were going to develop new standards within SCORM to develop a platform that could move forward rather than a specification. With social media starting to have a stronger presence in the world, especially on mobile, something was needed that wasn’t being pre-defined or pre-described yet was something that SCORM tried to addressed. For example, how could people have ubiquitous access to online data? How could a self-sustaining, open source system be created in the process to build this new specification/platform/standard using as many ideas as possible to push the evolution of the system continually into the future?

Tin Can API–the end result thusfar of that research–is a major component of tracking of learning activity in next generation of SCORM.

RJ asked a major question in the podcast, which was, “What is the big deal of Tin Can?” It’s a valid question, after all. Aaron, Jason, and Rob (who is using Tin Can at his mobile technology firm) explained that Tin Can allows for mobile SCORM tracking to work optimally, both offline as well as online. The spec is meant to help level the playing field so that the content can plug into new platforms without losing content in transfer, giving it far more flexibility and ease to help mobile technology use SCORM specs.

It was noted that the need to be simpler was key for implementation; it needed to be more flexible than SCORM, so the concept behind Tin Can is not only to use it for e-learning and m-learning, but to provide deliverables of different code libraries that go beyond online learning. It was noted that Articulate Storyline is using a simpler version of Tin Can rather than SCORM, but it’s more capable in its deliverable, and Blackboard is using a form of it as well.

Another big point was that Tin Can API can be initiated with informal training and not start with an LMS (Learning Management System). The idea is that learning not initiated with an LMS would take credentials from social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, or Google (I believe Pinterest and Klout have these kinds of sign-ins). The idea is that by obtaining credentials from such sources, the content from a Tin Can-compliant app would already knows who you are. In other words, if you are already authenticated through a single sign-in ID, the app will be able to collect activity and log it. It was noted that not a lot of overhead to search for content, and Tin Can would allows smaller companies to do it for their projects.

So, the burden is lighter than SCORM. An LMS isn’t needed but it can integrate with an LMS; it is not specified to be a stand-alone but rather could expand the capability of any enterprise system by taking data about what you are doing in one place and allow other systems can see how you are performing, making it interoperatable and ubiquitous. Tin Can is meant to find a common ground to help look at data in context, helping disparate systems talk to each other.

As Tin Can API is a spec in early stages, it’s evolving very quickly thanks to
the project being highly community-based, in which things change quickly in weeks and months instead of over years like SCORM. Between the huge community support–slightly like crowdsourcing through specific online social media and other outlets– and getting some smaller m-learning “boutique” firms jumping in now, Tin Can is gaining great momentum. Rustici Software has been doing the research for ADL; ADL proposed what they wanted from their requirements, and Rustici were fortunate to get the job of bringing it to fruition. Aaron and Jason explained that Rustici released workable prototype that was incomplete–but workable–implementing the concept of using an activity stream in the Tin Can spec. (An example of an activity stream that they gave was Facebook’s layout.) Even after the initial project was completed, Rustici continued to build it out and offered what they did as open source, and their continued work was adopted readily by the Tin Can community.

So–the podcast was pretty informative and yield some of the best information to understand.

It seems to me that Tin Can API is still something to continue to watch, whether one is an m-learning developer, or even as an instructional designer or m-learning specialist. My impression was that Tin Can is meant to eventually go beyond m-learning and e-learning, and extend into other mobile applications as mobile technology specifications and standards evolve. Single-sourcing is a huge issue in mobile technology, and it seems to be that this is a project that is very much centered on making that happen.

For more information on Tin Can API, I recommend visiting the links above, and give a visit to