Thursday, October 24

Top mobile apps for presenting

We all know that mobile can be very effective in a classroom as a tool to "do stuff". Here is a fantastic round up of all the best apps, and websites that your students can use to record, show and tell what they have done.
Even if you think you know it all - I guarantee you'll get a few new ideas by the time you finish reading this infographic!

How are you planning on using this?
Thanks to Tony Vincent at learninginhand for the excellent round up!

Thursday, October 17

Youth, Work, Mobiles and Poverty: everything you need to know

Across the world, kids are our future. They are also unemployed, under-resourced, and working hard to put things rightmywd-report-document

If you are interested in youth workforce development, and the empowering opportunities of mobile, I'd encourage you to look at the brand new Mobiles for Youth Workforce Development (mYWD) Landscape Review. It's a meaty read, but contains an excellent summary of most of the current, significant initiatives in mobile development, targeting youth employment across the globe

To quote from their overview:

Youth make up 17 percent of the world’s population and 40 percent of the world’s unemployed, according to the International Labor Organization. A number of factors combine to make sustainable, decent employment an enormous challenge for youth the world over, including low levels of education and technical skills, slow job growth, lack of information about available jobs, and difficulties accessing financial capital to start small enterprises. Decent jobs are especially difficult to find for rural youth, girls and women, and youth with disabilities.

In addition to the growth in youth unemployment, access to and use of mobile technologies among youth worldwide is also expanding. This has created excitement about the potential of mobile devices to catalyze new approaches that address some of the constraints keeping youth from finding and sustaining decent livelihoods. Documentation and evidence of impact in the broad field of mobile technology and youth workforce development (mYWD) is lacking, however, meaning that it has been difficult to identify where mobile technology and youth workforce development initiatives overlap and where mobile may have the greatest added value.


After a year of hard work, we’ve launched the mEducation Alliance’sMobiles for Youth Workforce Development (mYWD) Landscape Review, an effort supported by The MasterCard Foundation and USAID. The review maps out who is doing what and where, and to the extent possible, discusses evidence of what is working. The body of the report answers questions such as:

  • What organizations and programs are using mobiles to help overcome the barriers to employment for youth?
  • What type of programming has been implemented and how?
  • Where do prime opportunities exist for integrating mobile devices into youth workforce development programs?
  • What are relevant considerations related to gender and disability in mYWD programming?
  • What factors facilitate or hinder mYWD in specific contexts?
  • Are there any research findings that show the impact of mobiles on youth workforce development?


If that isn't enough, there is a thorough annexe at the end, listing 80 initiatives and over 275 publicly available documents that have fed into this review

Well worth a read. You can get the review here:



Thursday, July 25

Wikipedia Zero launches in India!

Wikipedia Zero - an ambitious project aiming to bring free access to Wikipedia to all developing countries - has signed it's first deal in India.

Wikipedia zero

This is great news for the 60 million subscribers of Aircel (India's 7th largest network provider), who now get free access to all wikipedia information via the Wikipedia Zero. This is also great news for the developing world at large. The more popular demand for this, the more local operators will take heed, and offer this free data access to their subscribers.

This brings the number of people with free access to over half a billion! If you are in one of the following 17 countries (and using the right network), you won't need to pay any data rates to access all the knowledge in Wikipedia:

Uganda, Tunisia, Malaysia, Niger, Kenya, Montenegro, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, Russia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India

Wikipedia Zero works in the same way as Facebook Zero, offering a minimal (low data) version of their site to specific operators, and covering the data costs themselves. Users can browse on that specific URL, without paying any data charges.

Users can access Wikipedia at and - but if you are browsing from a different network, you won't get it free (in the case of "zero", you might not even see it!)

We haven't been able to test the difference is between the "m" and the "zero" sites, but believe that "zero" has no images at all, and is even faster, with a more minimalist design to perform better on low end devices and slow connections.

It is not really possible to estimate the impact of sharing free knowledge with hard to reach areas in the world without getting all misty eyed and coming up with bland generalisations, so I'd rather like to point you to one small story from a shanty town just outside Cape Town, South Afrtica:

The view outside Sinenjongo High School, Joe Slovo Park, Cape Town, South Africa-3438

Sinenjongo High School is made of old shipping containers, in a township of very poor dwellings, populated by people who really do not have very much going for them, apart from their own energy, and initiative

Staff and kids at the school heard about Wikipedia Zero - which is NOT currently available to them, and set up a petition to the local network providers to sign up.

This made the local press, which caught the eye of the South African wikipedia team, who passed on the message to their global team.

This in turn, helped generate huge online interest. See this fantastic blog post from from Victor Grigas, a wikipedian who was so inspired he made his first trip to Africa to meet the school

The story isn't over yet. South Africa doesn't have Wikipedia Zero. (nor do many other needy countries), but the more voices that are heard, the closer we will get to freedom of information, and rights to knowledge!


Spread the word

Friday, July 5

Core Apps for iPad Teachers

Are you a teacher, using iPads in the classroom? Which tools, or apps do you use?
Many conversations about mobile learning focus too much on the content itself. Starting from the distance learning / e-learning / content publishing end of the spectrum, and trying to find entire chunks of the curriculum that can be delivered via small screens.
To counteract that, have a look at this great summary of "Core Teacher Apps", put together by an Australian Primary School.
They are using iPads, but many of the listed apps are web based. Or are also available for Android. And in almost all cases, the apps themselves are secondary to the use cases implied.
I suggest you print this out, and use the list as a reminder:
  • new to m-learning? Look through these, and think what you might use them for in a classroom
  • an m-learning veteran? Look through this list to find some inspiration. Anything you haven't tried before? Why not?

Thursday, May 23

We're in need of a (mobile front end dev) hero!

Our team is growing again ..

I run Qualcomm's Mobile Learning Lab, split between Cambridge (UK) and San Diego (US)

We are recruiting - specifically, we are looking for someone who is king (or queen) of front end mobile development, with very strong JS, CSS, HTML skills, good design skills, and solid experience of working magic in webkit.

We specialise in adult / work based mobile learning, and build in just about any technology we can to showcase the best possible uses of mobile and emerging technologies as tools to empower, improve, and enhance learning.

We work to support Qualcomm's own staff (all 26,000 of them).
We work with our vendors to mobilise their products
We build tools and content that we publicise, to raise awareness
We work with amazing people from across the industry
We mix technologies. go fast. break things. fix them. learn and improve.

If you are interested in joining us, get in touch via the official job page:

More on our team: possibly-coolest-dev-job-in-m-learning

(No more agencies, please)

Friday, April 26

Top trends in Learning Technologies: a bluffer's guide

Do you know your MOOCs from your OERs?
Are you BYOD while flipping the classroom?
Have a look at our quick guide to the top trends in Learning Technology. What they are. What they mean. And how to see through the hype enough to be able to talk confidently about them!

OER - Open Educational Resources:
OER Image
Historically, there has been an uncomfortable relationship between publishers, and educators. Who owns the rights to the content used during teaching? How much gets paid for the books and resources? Is that profit going to improved content, or happy shareholders.
Enter the OER movement. Open educational resources that an be used, modified and shared, for free. Momentum seems to be moving faster in some countries than others, but many heavyweight backers, funders and institutions are starting to put their money, and weight behind the idea that educational resources should be made available, for free.
It is still a fairly disconnected movement, with many different stakeholders, and many different definitions of "free" and "open". But a huge range of very good resources, and publications have already been freed up, and in some admirable cases teams of educators are working together to write their own, collaborative text books as open alternatives to commercial ones.
Special mention here should go to Creative Commons, who offer a very simple licensing model, to help users understand exactly how free, or open some reused content is.
Verdict: OER is very significant. If you are using government funding to generate new resources, think seriously about making them available to all.

Mobile Learning:
vuforiaMuch hyped, only moderately understood. Mobile learning is a term used when mobile devices are woven into a learning, or training scenario. Often, but not always where the learner themselves is mobile. It has found some significant success in areas where traditional training, or learning are not working that well (hard to reach learners, travelling employees) as well as triggering a rethink about traditional e-learning modules - since mobile is great for instantaneous lookup, and small snack-based learning, but a poor tool for a drawn out e-learning course.
The most important thing to bear in mind is that it isn't one things. It is a toolbox of approaches that you pick from as needed. So conversations about mobile learning "at school", are likely to be massively different from "at university", and different again from "at work".
My team have been dedicated to this niche for quite a few years - if you want to dig deeper, look around the site!
Verdict: m-learning is already making huge impact in niche areas. and will continue to do so - but don't assume it replaces face-to-face experience. Think of it more as an enricher / enhancer, and be suspicious of vendors promoting shiny equipment, or mega complex systems. Make sure they are supporting real learning.

Game based learning:
This has been described as the "next big thing" for at least the past 10 years. Two disastrous models, often repeated are:
  1. interesting game, often of first-person adventurer / puzzle solving variety, with really naff 2-d content quizzes scattered through it. A fun game ruined by lame learning.
  2. linear e-learning style content course, with series of quizzes and knowledge tests that have been built up into a contest / competition format. But the "game" is just proving your content knowledge
(I may be being a little cruel - since there are some examples of the latter working well, where drill and practise is useful. Like language learning. Or maths skills)
Two interesting, and more successful models are:
  1. playing a real game, designed for entertainment, but setting challenges within it that build on learning. (Tym Rylands has been doing this for years, with Myst)
  2. doing real, learning tasks. But using a badging system to show progress, and gains. (Mozilla's Open Badges framework offer goodtools for this)
Verdict: Mixing play with learning has always been effective, and will continue to be so. But rubbish-quality resources don't magically improve by adding a quiz at the end, a leader board, and some badges. Make sure the learning is right, before diving into a large, complex system

Learning Analytics:
This is Big Data for learning. Using data management tools to pull in multiple sources of information about your learners, and then using that to understand, in greater depth, what their needs are. Why just look at data from the LMS, when you can also find out about sickness records, library access, unpaid fines, club memberships and even what they eat at the canteen!
This can work. But you need seriously advanced data skills not to be misled, and robust data ethics in place not  abuse what you know.
Verdict: Very powerful possibilities. Both for supporting learners in new, and meaningful ways. And for abusing what you know about them. Resist the urge to exclude failing learners rather than investing in them. Definitely worth engaging with - but keep a firm grip on the ethics :-)

MOOC - the Massively Open Online Course:
MOOCs are learning websites - often free - designed to offer learning to many thousands of students at the same time. They have been around for quite a few years, but suddenly hit the big-time, thanks to recent backing from some big universities, and some high profile start-ups. But the hype is also slightly skewed to one specific genre of MOOC.
Why the hype: Several big universities have started offering free access to their course materials. This is extremely cool (since a poor student at an under-resourced school can now access the same content as a MIT graduate), but has caused all sorts of uncomfortable knock on effects. Can the poor student now get a degree from MIT? Is the distance experience of an equivalent quality to a residential student? Should they pay?
Unfortunately these debates have entirely skewed the public perceptions about MOOCs. They are NOT just a vehicle to distribute pre-recorded lectures. Many of the most inspired MOOCs are not modelled on a traditional lecture / classroom based experience at all, but rather built on learner centered, connectivist ideas, where the students work.
To try to distinguish between these, one of the founders of the MOOC movement has suggested renaming them xMOOC and cMOOC - with xMOOCs being the ones modelled on a traditional lecture based experience (handing over the knowledge) and cMOOCs being the collaborative ones, where learners work together to generate the knowledge.
High profile examples of xMOOCs include:
  • FutureLearn - launched by Open University in UK
  • Coursera – spun out of Stanford
  • edX – spun out of harvard & MIT
  • udacity – originated with a stanford Artificial Intelligence course.
Or examples that break away from formal university courses, but use a similar model:
  • Peer-to-Peer University (P2PU)
  • Udemy
cMOOCs would include:
  • MobiMOOC - annual event focussed on mobile learning
I suggest we add one more type: domainMOOCs. MOOCs designed for individual access to teach a specific subject. Or to make the content available for free, to be used in other platforms
  • CodeAcademy - building software programs. Dynamic marking and guidance
  • Khan Academy - custom paths through maths learning modules
  • Open Study
  • MIT OpenCourseware
  • Ted-ed – not quite the same, but TED's own open learning initiative
And if this all feels like too much - there are even sites trying to offer indexes to all of these courses:
Verdict: Are making an important impact on open, shared learning. But if you get cornered by a university lecturer with strong opinions about MOOCs destroying higher education, bear in mind that he may have his head stuck in one specific debate (xMOOC vs traditional university degree) and be missing the big picture. And the real gains!

Flipped Classrooms:
If so much information is available online, and quality time with your teacher is hard to find … why waste the time you DO have together by sitting quietly in your chair, and listening to a lecture. Far better, perhaps, to watch the lecture recorded before you come into class, and then spend the face-to-face time discussing it, asking questions, doing activities. This is the idea behind the flipped classroom, and it has some great success stories around it
verdict: Simple, yet effective reminder that face-to-face time is valuable, and ought to be used to help understanding, rather than just broadcast the facts

Bring Your Own Devices refers to initiatives to allow students / employees to use their own, personal devices at work, or at school, as an official part of their day. There are a wide range of views about this, though in most scenarios it is a useful and empowering approach. In schools, the main concerns are about classroom management, and fairness of access. In the workplace, concerns range from privacy of personal data, to security of corporate data.
verdict: BYOD is here to stay. Organisations need to adapt their policies to support them, and minimise the risks, rather than resisting the use of personal devices (which puts them into an arms-race to provide equivalent devices, and access themselves)

Coding for Kids:
coding for kids
For some reason that nobody in the tech world can fathom, very few kids today are really learning to become coders, or hackers. Rather their use of IT tends to focus on using pre-made software packages (powerpoint, office, etc). This despite the awesome work done by people like Seymour Papert over 30 years ago encouraging kids to build and create with computers, rather than just operate them. The past few years have seen a strong revival in this area, with multiple initiatives spraining up around the world encouraging kids to code.
Just google "coding for kids" for a fantastic selection of them
verdict: If we truly want our kids to be in control of technology (and not the other way around), support your local coding for kids initiative!
(Having said that, I still haven't managed to enlighten my teenage daughter. Maybe doing the same work as your dad will never be cool, whatever it is!)

I hope you enjoyed our round-up of the latest trends in learning technology, and found enough in there to help you bluff your way through a conversation about it.

Monday, March 18

The power and potential: a panel session discussing m-learning

There was a lot of buzz about mobile learning at this year's Mobile World Congress. More than at any previous event. Significants I was able to be at included:

1: GSMA Seminar on the future of mEducation:
A packed out event including sessions by Graham Brown-Martin (slides here); Our own Peggy Johnson, EVP at Qualcomm (slides here); George Held, VP at Etisalat (slides here) followed by a debate with Florence Gaudry-Perkins (Alcatel-Lucent), Vanessa Lucio (Telefonica Learning Services) and others

2: Launch of a report from the Broadband Commission on technology and education

3: Live panel discussion between Qualcomm, mEducation Alliance and Etisalat looking at the future of this (no longer emerging) idea of m-learning. Click below to see it:

(clicking will take you to their site:

Our conversation was streamed out, live, to all the huge screens around Barcelona, which was a bit surreal! The contributors are:
Kept in order by Mark Smith

I'm very pleased to see m-learning hitting the mainstream, despite the often muddled assumption that it is one single thing (rather than the diaspora of opportunities it really is!)

Monday, March 11

Mobile Economy 2013

I've just got my hands on the video used to open Mobile World Congress 2013

The first half is a full volume, fun romp through the massive growth of mobile over the past 20 years, and some predictions for the next 5. Well worth a watch. Some great stats in there for all watchers of mobile trends

The end bit focusses more on GSMA's role specifically, and what they do for operators. Which is maybe more niche.

Crank up the volume, turn off the lights, sit back and imagine yourself in a huge auditorium of high powered dudes in suits. You could almost be there, at MWC 2013 in person!

Monday, March 4

UNESCO Mobile Learning Week 2013 - free resources

The joy of momentum! UNESCO has come out firmly in favour of mobile learning, and published a series of very well researched guidelines on how to make use of it. See below to links to all the resources.


To quote them:

The Symposium allowed UNESCO to launch its most important mobile learning publication to date: The Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning. ... the Guidelines provide practical advice to policy makers seeking to transform increasingly ubiquitous and affordable mobile devices into tools for learning. Existing policies have very little to say when it comes to questions of whether and, more crucially, how to incorporate mobile technology into education. The flagship UNESCO publication … helps fill this void

It was a great honour to be one of the speakers at the symposium, a gathering together and sharing of experiences between many of the global leaders in mobile learning.

My session can be found here: 

I did a 3-way combined session with Lucy Haagen and Theo van Rensburg Lindzter, whose presentations are here:


For ALL the other presentations, and media from the event, see below:

So what did we think? Great opportunity to meet with fellow innovators from across the globe. The UNESCO guidelines are a valuable resource for all. But as champions for "out of school learning" we felt that there was a large, and gaping hole. What about "out of school / adult / working learners"? The focus was too much towards school age learners.

A lot of thought had gone into how to impact government policy, and improve access to IT in schools. But very little focus was put into those areas that fall outside the remit of school, yet are still very much within the remit of UNESCO. Encouraging new, and enlightened opportunities for adults, by increased access to learning and training at home, and at work. 

This was acknowledged in one of the closing sessions, when Fengchun Miao from UNESCO mentioned this omission. We look forward to supporting UNESCO in putting this right!

Thursday, February 21

Mobile Bus Stop Merriment!

Who says mobile can't be fun! Qualcomm's guerrilla merriment department do their magic on a local bus stop.

Of course, my own bus trips are never going to be quite the same any more . . .

(Qualcomm are my new employer - long may the silliness last!)

Thursday, January 31

Are the robots taking over? Augment your reality, don't lose it!

When is technology helping, and when does it hinder?
How can you ensure "enthusiasm for the new" doesn't blind you to what is good right now?

I'm not sure I have any perfect answers, but I spent a very interesting hour at the trendy studios at LondonReal being interviewed by Brian and Nic, who were not educators, but wanted to understand what we are up to, and exactly how far is too far to take technology

You can catch the (visual) podcast, below, or scan down the page for a few snippets

Here is a hastily transcribed synopsis, below, to help you navigate your way through:

[6-7 mins] What's mobile learning all about?

[7.30] Thinking about touch screens. Voice control. Google glass.
- what's augmented reality all about
- where's the meaning, and sense in that, and what could you do for learning ?

[10 mins] And how soon with augmented reality be real?

[14 mins] Nic the AR cynic - "is technology swamping our humanity"?
- tech is flooding us like a wave. our choice is how to deal with it
- your mission: how to use it for good!

[16 minutes] So what should we be doing differently at school to prepare for this?
- thinking about the skills you need for future life, rather than narrow focus on a few subjects

[18:30] If you have to measure schools, maybe you should be looking 10 years down the line. How many of their graduates end up doing awesome, new jobs that weren't even invented when they were at school! That's enlightened schooling

[21 mins] Singing the praises of the MAKR / maker movement. Especially some of the cool coding tools like Rasberry Pi and Arduino.

[24:30] Nic again - "Is technology making us more stupid then?"
- all about a trade-off. Using technology to help me, but not letting it remove my humanity
- we need to learn new social skills about living with always on technology. Should you answer your phone while talking to friends?
- introducing Phone Stack - the ultimate game for phone-addicted diners!

[29:30] Ubuntu. Introducing a cool philosophy that helps keep your place in live. Your success is connected to our success, my friend!
m-Ubuntu project: Several pieces on this blog, a talk I did on it at TEDxLondon, and further info here:

[34 mins] People need people. Adding a bit of "social" into a very dispersed virtual learning environment.
- technology can help fill the gaps

[36:30] Should we all be getting cybernetic implants?
- awesome medical applications
- same story as augmented reality. It can be used for awesome good, but it is up to you to maintain your humanity!!

[39 mins] So are machines taking over? Are we becoming one with the borg?
- humans have always used tools. Technology is no different.

[43:30] Your brain is very good at tricking you. Re-writing your own personal narrative
- technology can help you understand your own narrative a little better
- you can't trust your own recollection of past events!

[46 mins] Who are the technology companies to watch?
1) the big guys, like Google, Qualcomm, HP etc (who have the weight to explore the peripheries of the mainstream)
2) the visionaries. Like Mozilla, Wikipedia, GitHub (who have a bold mission they champion)

[50:30] Has apple peaked? Has blackberry died? Who is winning the mobile mega-race?
- my thoughts? People should stop over-agonising about who is top dog. In reality it is mostly irrelevant to our lives. And often very geographically skewed

[53 mins] What about MOOCs / iTunesU? Are these important? Are they game changers?
- Are they important? Absolutely
- Are they the future? Not as they are right now, though already they are doing some meaningfully open / egalitarian things.
- the next generation of them will move from "broadcast" mode to a more empowering educational model
- Another important angle is OER (open educational resources), as well as sites that help you practice, and build skills like

[57 mins] How did you end up with your job? Are startups a good place to start?
- You really need the underpinning technology skills, but after that, the real value is in all the other disciplines that get layered on top.
- Startups are great fun, but can be abusive for young techies. If you are joining one, make sure the startup REALLY gets technology, and lets you help shape it. And that you believe in the vision.

[101 mins] Find people who inspire you. Learn from the masters. Mine were all in the tradition of Adult Learning. Empowerment. Education to make a difference. People like Paolo Friere, Seymour Papert, Desmond Tutu as well as my personal mentors (that's you Dad, and Martin!)

Final word: Technology is GREAT for education. But use it as tools to do things, don't slip into the trap of letting it DO things for you.

If your educational technology starts feeling like a sausage machine, with pre-digested knowledge being shoved into you, you are doing it wrong. Turn and run away.

Tuesday, January 22

Building your own apps? Try these top tips!

Many thousands of people are developing apps. Many of those apps fail dismally to achieve what the original vision holders hoped for. How can you increase the odds that your app will be used by, and useful for many?

The answer: learn from the gurus. Listen to those who have done it many times before.

The nice thing about building educational apps is that the financial models for them are different to normal consumer apps. Success is judged by how useful they are, as opposed to the revenue generated by shifting millions of copies. This is shared with in-house enterprise apps, where quite often the employee gets them for free, allowing the developers to focus on making apps as useful as possible, rather than stressing about pay-per-download.

What's the connection with our top tips?

The connection is that Apple have recently released an excellent guide for in house app developers, listing top tips, and advice that - although aimed at iOS developers making in-house apps, are in fact useful to ALL app developers, across ALL platforms.

The guide is divided into the four key stages of app development:

Starting with Planning: make sure you, and your people know what you are building, and all sign up to it.

Then looking at Design: great tips to help you simplify, and prioritise features, as well as interviews from gurus in this area

Next the actual Development: All you need to know to get started. The specifics here are obviously pretty Apple / iOS centric, but the sections on Web Development, and Back Office Integration are great advice whatever your platform 

Finally, Deployment: This section is pretty much 100% Apple. Very helpful if you are new to iOS development, but only of of brief interest to other app developers. 

Learn from the masters. It is a great overview that we recommend to any aspiring app developers.

If you like to print stuff out, go for the PDF version, otherwise dive in and get exploring on the online accelerator site.

Do you have any other tip tips sites you'd care to share?

Thursday, January 17

Possibly the coolest dev job in m-learning?

I have recently joined Qualcomm to set up our Mobile Learning Lab - an awesome opportunity to help shape the future of mobile learning, together with the global reach to make a difference to many learners across the world.

Our Mobile Learning Lab will be in both Cambridge, UK, and San Diego, California. In Cambridge we share the site with members of Qualcomm's research and development team - experts in augmented reality, app development, user experience design and gesture recognition. In San Diego we work closely with the Learning Technology team.

Right now, we are recruiting. Specifically, we are looking for 4 mobile and web developers with a strong empathy for m-learning to be founder members of our team, and help us to use all of this awesome mobile technology for good.

  • We are inventing and building new m-learning solutions.
  • We are working with international partners to reach more diverse audiences.
  • We are sharing what we learn, to inspire and inform the industry.
  • We want to help shape the future, not just react to the here and now

If you have solid engineering skills, are enthusiastic about using them to make a difference in people's lives, have some robust mobile experience and are unafraid to tackle new and unknown technologies, we may have the perfect opportunity for you.

Interested? 3 of the roles are based in Cambridge, UK, and one is in San Diego, USA.

Join us!

To explore some of the technologies coming out of our labs, see

ps: If you don't know Qualcomm yet, we are big (about 24,000 staff), very techie (lots of hardware engineering) and very very into mobile. In fact, if you have a smartphone, we probably invented some of the bits inside it. Most likely something to do with the modem, but increasingly we are also making the processors too.

Oh - and did I mention that we just ranked number 11 in the top 100 companies to work for :-)

Thursday, January 10

AR in mobile learning

Are you using Augmented Reality in your mobile learning? Should you?

AR, or Augmented Reality has been high on the hype-charts for several years now, but seems to be on "slow burn" when it comes to m-learning. This post is a quick update on what's happening, where, and what it means for education.

If you are unsure what AR is, here is a great explanation from those nice folks at Common Craft

So pretty much anything that helps you connect the real world around you with the digital, or virtual one classifies as augmented reality. You don't even need to superimpose it on the camera view if you don't want to. Examples like QR-codes, or bar code scanning also connect the real to the virtual, without requiring the real-live-view.

But for now, lets stick with live-view AR. One of the classic (and often quoted) examples of AR in workplace learning is this project from BMW. It isn't really being used, though. It was a demo made over 5 years ago by their R&D people, but if you haven't seen it yet, it tells a great story

Clearly an idea with merit. But what's been happening in the past 5 years? A lot, as it turns out!

Several companies (including my own) have been investing heavily to push this sort of technology out of the labs, and into the mainstream. There seem to be 2 main approaches when it comes to apps:

1: Geographical information, downloadable as layers.

layar screen images from FastCommpany
The two main players here are Layar, and Wikitude.  Both offer a free app in the app stores, and allow you to download many different layers of information that will pop up as you move your camera around.

Bear in mind that this is GPS data, so you need to be outdoors, and positioning is not 100%. But, nonetheless, great fun to play with, and surprisingly easy to make your own layers. Fancy setting up a history trail around your town? You can upload all the data as a new layer, and share with any other app users!

2: Visual (and other) Triggers.

But what about augmenting non-geographic things? This is where "triggers" come in, and the advertising world gets even more excited.
Your phone recognises visual images, and triggers an augmented response. Apps like Blippar do this - you have probably seen their logo on film posters, magazines and product adverts. Once you have downloaded the Blippar app, you can scan any known products / posters / images to triggers some form of media to be superimposed over your camera view.

Here is a super-stylish example promoting the new Hobbit movie.

Clearly the result of some slick media work, but the great news is that this sort of magic is no longer in the realm of impossibly expensive. In fact, all the software required to make the AR, and image recognition work for this sort of thing is available for FREE.
That's right, free.

You still need a developer to build it into your app, and some media skills to create something worth showing, but the heavy technical lifting has already been done, and all of a sudden AR becomes a lot more affordable.

The question is no longer "is this possible", but rather "how could I use it for learning"

Blippar use the "one app for all our AR" idea, much like Wikitude and Layar. But increasingly you also find apps dedicated to one specific theme, embedding the same AR capability within them.

Here is a great example that has the added benefit of NOT being about product placement.
The Science Museum in London have an awesome AR trail. As you walk around the museum, you can scan different exhibits to have a real-life 3D version of James May popping up on your screen to talk to you about it. (the app itself isn't free, but you can get a good flavour of it in this video)

Think about this for learning. You don't need a talking person to pop up. You could as easily launch animated diagrams of machines, or straight video clips

The free developer kit I mentioned before is called Vuforia. It is the engine underpinning most of the AR you will see
in the mainstream media today. Right now the majority of the use cases still seem to be in the advertising space, but I'm looking forward to see more educators playing around with AR.

Have you tried AR yet for learning? What did you do?

UPDATE: A few days after this blog post, there was a public preview of Big Bird's Words, a new app for kids that uses some of the very latest Vuforia features to help (surprisingly young) kids find specific words in the world around them. This is even-smart AR, including live character recognition. Super cool!

Monday, January 7

CES - keynote preview, and my new job!

This is a big week for geeks. CES launches in a few hours, and will splurge forth a wave of exciting new technologies, as well as a wave of naff "same-olds". Those who can make it to Las Vegas to witness this consumer-tech-fest first hand will soon be suffering major information overload, while the rest of us watch all the live feeds and commentaries trying to sift out the significant trends from the hype!
The connection with my new job? I have moved closer to the source in my enthusiasm for using technology for good. Instead of waiting for CES to see what the big boys are working on, I am now working WITH the big boys, using these emerging technologies for meaningful education and empowerment!
I recently joined Qualcomm to found their new Mobile Learning Lab.
Qualcomm are BIG on mobile. So big in fact that the chances are something like 90% that your phone has a bit of their technology inside it already.
So big, that the opening keynote at CES 2013 is by our CEO, Paul Jacobs.
It only goes live later today (tomorrow morning for you Asians / Europeans), but here is a sneak preview:

I am part of Qualcomm's mission to put the mobile technology that you already have in your hand to even better use. We'll be setting up a Mobile Learning lab in Cambridge, UK, to work with the wide range of technologies already being invented across the business, and putting them to work for education and training.
Augmented reality? We've got that. Most of the top AR apps you have seen are built on our Vuforia platform. (See Vuforia, at for free dev tools)

Peer to peer? We help developers pass data between any phones or tablets, whether online or not
(See AllJoyn at for free dev tools)
Context awareness? Could your phone be more useful if it understood where you were, and what you were doing?
(See Gimbal at for free dev tools)
Super smart smartphones? Our Snapdragon chipset allows app developers to bundle some super cool tricks in their apps (gesture recognition. Eye tracking. Smile detection. . . )
If you are a mobile developer and fancy a dabble, find out how to get connected on QDevNet, the Qualcomm developer site:
QDevNEt Showcase

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