Several friends have teased me about my various tweets regarding the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, saying that I've sounded as if I were still working at Adobe. Ironically, it's only been since leaving Adobe that I can again focus on all of the technologies that are most likely to determine where learning - and elearning- are headed. One of those areas happens to be mobility: ubiquitous mobility, the mobile web, and mobile learning. So I have been watching the news about Adobe and so many other contributors to the mobile industry with much interest.
I have been following developments in mobility since right around 1992. General Magic's personal intelligent communicator operating system had just been released, while Apple Computer had just introduced the Newton. Anne Derryberry's team at Informania, Inc. demonstrated the potential for personal hand-held communications devices for learning and performance support at an ISPI conference that spring. It was the first time I had considered the possibly of situating learning at the point of need, moving from the desktop to devices that we would be able to carry around with us wherever we went.
Shortly thereafter, my interest in mobility waned for a variety of technical issues (e.g. the handwriting recognition on the Newton was a bit primitive, the power of the devices were limited, transmission networks were still being built). Apple got cranky with General Magic, things got tied up in lawsuits. PICs became PDAs, mobile phones started to work better. But then the Internet got really interesting. Technologies like Flash and Dreamweaver started showing people the possibilities for creating rich engaging Web experiences on the Internet. Lots of excitement, lots of energy, lots of risk-taking.
After the dot.com bubble burst, all that innovation and excitement came to a grinding halt. Nobody was buying much of anything. Smart companies cut back on sales and marketing and started investing in whatever they thought their next big thing was going to be when the economy turned around. This was right around the time that Macromedia started the research and development to make Flash ubiquitous. Not just on computers but also on mobile phones, and game consoles and screens of all kinds.
So here it is, years later. Have the post-dot-com investment paid off? Last week seemed to be a big week for Adobe at GSMA. It was great to see all the announcements about the Open Screen Project, and the next version of Flash Lite, and the new partnerships with Palm and Nokia. Also great to know that there are 1 billion mobile devices that are Flash-enabled. Not so great to Apple and Adobe continue their stand-off, so no Flash on iPhones in the immediate future. But of course the iPhone has completely changed the debate - and that's a whole other blogpost...
But what was probably the most interesting of all for me was connecting the dots between some mobile learning ideas related to the diffusion of innovation, and my recent fascination with the Internet of Things. The illustration above comes from a report from the International Telecommunication Union entitled Ubiquitous Network Communities: Their Impact on the Telecommunications Industry, April 2005. It show how over time telecommunications power has continued to get smaller and cheaper. The illustration makes the point that over time the computing power of mainframes have passed on to PCs. We are well on the way to seeing mobile phones and smart phones become our uber-computing tools of choice. Can "Smart Things" really be that far behind?
What seems clear is that we are just now reaching a point where elearning and distance learning, - where PCs are used to connect student to learning - are now part of the core mission of our schools and colleges and universities. If you refer to the illustration - that means that we are just about 1/4 of the way up the "shrinking devices adoption curve". It is just now that after 5 years of active pursuit of a mobile learning agenda in the US that one can see signs of growth (although mobile learning today has as much to do with video, games and podcasts as it does with mobile telephony). Which means that if we wanted to put some numbers to that time dimension in the picture we may be looking at 6 years before the Internet of Things gets anywhere near mainstream adoption.
It does raise an interesting question - If we continue to have a hard time creating engaging computer based learning experiences after 15 years... and mobile learning is still an early adoption phenomenon after 7 years, what is it going to take to enable the adoption of smart networked objects? Beyond that, what will it take to preapre us for teaching and learning in a completely distributed, mobilized and networked environment??