We first discussed visual tags a couple of years ago as Web 2.0 technology initially emerged in mobile devices such as cell phones. Referring to two visual tagging techniques available at the time, we noted:
Shotcode and Semacode make mobile information seeking over the web work like scanning a bar code to determine the price of an item. They make offline media interactive. It is pure pull, unless you consider the offline advertising “pushy”. The metadata necessary for accessing relevant information is largely in the context, the embodied situation of the user.
Take a look at the following video for an overview of how visual tagging works, in this example it is for advertising services.
So, how does this relate to mobile learning, or m-Learning as the eLearning Guild refers to the practice? The eLearning Guild recently released its 2008 report on its m-Learning survey. The report notes that 8% of the 1,364 members completing the Mobile Learning survey indicated their organizations have implemented m-Learning. At the same time, 17.3% of the 2,635 eLearning Guild members who updated their training modality profiles over the past year noted use of m-Learning “sometimes or often” by their organizations. The eLearning Guild report accounts for the discrepancy as follows:
While 8% of members may have engaged in creating a formal m-Learning intervention, many more learners are in fact accessing learning and/or performance support content from a mobile device, even if the designer of that content did not have a mobile device in mind. That is, people explicitly created 8% of the m-Learning implementations, but people “organically” accessed 17.3% of them.
In other words, eLearning content is often available to learners independent of the intent of the original designers. Such dual use appears to relate to the increasing availability of cell phones that provide rather good web browsing capabilities, the iPhone serving as the exemplary device in this regard. Indeed, the eLearning Guild report advocates that “some Guild members need to get out of the trench of thinking ‘m-Training’ and think ‘m-Performance’.” In other words, and as we noted previously, in Web 2.0 learning modalities, don’t assume your LMS needs to track everything, or that you need to measure the learning outcomes to increase performance.
The point of discussing visual tags here is to note that a range of learning content provides useful performance support capability when people can access it as they need it on a mobile device, such as a cell phone with web browsing capability. The point increases in relevance as new devices come on the market with similar features to the iPhone.
In addition to its 2008 report, the eLearning Guild’s e-Magazine, Learning Solutions, published a paper by David Metcalf, Judy Brown, and David Rogers titled On-the-Spot Learning: Coming Soon to Your Location?. The article provides an overview of how recent developments in location awareness by mobile devices, GPS, bluetooth, etc., make location-based learning feasible. The authors note that several types of what they call 2D barcodes, referred to here as visual tags, are available for encoding data in two-dimensional arrays for cameras to read. They discuss QR (Quick Response)–an example QR tag pointing to the e-Learning Guild website is shown at the top of this post, Data Matrix, and EZcode. All of these visual tagging platforms involve the same basic functionality demonstrated in the visual tagging video above. Metcalf, Brown, and Rogers note that:
Any organization can set up a similar system, using URLs of pages on their own servers. The tags for such a private system could contain URLs, brief text (such as instructions), contact information, and so on. URLs could also open audio, still photo, or video files.
In other words, if your organization depends on staff moving around, e.g. sales professionals, field technicians, then visual tagging offers you handy shortcuts for delivering context sensitive performance support over the web that takes advantage of the increasingly standard features available in ordinary cell phones. For example, a sales person might access a catalog of presentations, each with its own visual tag, and reference it, or deliver it, at the site of need. A technician in the field might access a trouble-shooting job aid (whether a web page or video), or a reference manual, at the point of need. Can you think of any other potential uses combining the web browsing capability of cell phones with targeted links embedded in visual tags?
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