Real mobile learning programmes (those that are not part of some doomed research project) are rare, but this series of projects from Major Roy Evans of the British Army, shows what can be done with a modest budget and some imagination. His pedagogic approach is simple, ‘Tech less but give access to training, resources and learning in a format they will use and digest willingly.’
iPODS and language learning
He’s used iPODs for language learning in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Young soldiers used to get cards with lists of words and their phonetic spelling, along with a suitable graphic. Roy simply took this material, put the cards on the iPOD screen and supplemented them with audio. This created huge demand from soldiers in the field and he began to get requests for full phrases and more relevant content. Neither did he have to bother with funding the iPODs, as this is the most popular sales item in the NAAFI. A simple idea and one that may actually save lives on both sides of the conflict. Cultural awareness and language skills have become essential in these warzones.
Nintendo DS and numeracy
His second project used the Nintendo DS for basic numeracy. Many young soldiers have very low levels of numeracy and this holds them back in training, especially at Level 3. It’s a costly deficit. Roy worked with my old company Epic to produce Army branded training, using relevant examples (counting jerry cans/ammunition etc). Brain Training was the inspiration for this but he redesigned the content for his army audience. This is important. Roy understands the importance of ‘context’ in learning. By targeting his content through branding and relevant examples and graphics he increases motivation, understanding and retention. There’s an on-screen coach, in uniform, planty of military graphics
What I like about Roy is his simple pragmatism. If he has a problem in the field, he picks the appropriate mobile device and designs simple programmes that can be quickly downloaded across the military network. He’s had 4126 downloads in Iraq and 3543 in Afghanistan. Security is not a problem as you can classify the device or, in the case of the Nintendo, the small cartridge containing the content. It’s horses for courses when it comes to devices.
He’s also hot on sensible evaluation, with good focus groups, user and SME involvement in design, control groups and so on. This is what marks people like Roy Evans and Derek Robertson out from most of the people in m-learning.