Thursday, March 23, 2006

UMPCs and their contribution to mLearning

I followed with interest the hype around the launch of Origami on various websites & blogs including Endgadget & Palmaddict.

Two weeks ago, pictures of the actual Ultra mobile personal computers (UMPCs) became available along with more details about their capabilities. A good article on the models available can be found at I4U news
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I have mixed thoughts about how useful UMPCs will be for mobile learning in my context. For business professionals, I think that UMPCs will open up a whole new area for exploring professional development using UMPCs. This is especially the case for business people who are on the go as part of their work and who tend not to be office based. The bigger screen size and multi-media playback capabilities supported by access to the web increases the content dissemination aspect of mLearning. However, there is more to mLearning than just access to content.
In my context, I think that the following will be the barriers to adoption of UMPCs for mLearning.

  • Cost of the device will be prohibitive to the average apprentice. Unless I can find a generous hardware distributor who is willing to part with a class set of UMPCs (around 20 will be a good number). Asus, Founders and Samsung, I hope you are reading this blog!
  • The UMPC will have to be especially robust to stand up to the conditions the average apprentice will put on the machine. A mobile phone would live in the user’s pocket, but the UMPC is too large to fit into a pocket & will have to lie on a flat surface somewhere while the apprentice is working. Opportunities for covering the device with flour or for liquids to be spilt on to it will be high. Dropping the devise on to a hard concrete floor will not do it any good either.
  • It will mean learning how to use a new device. I have always been taken by Helen Barrett’s catch phase of using familiar tools to learn unfamiliar tasks and using familiar task to learn how to use unfamiliar tools.

I can see the advantages that moving on to a UMPC would bring:-

  • Larger screen size than on post PDAs & mobile phones
  • A Windows based operating system
  • Mobility but need to check on the battery power
  • Multimedia content
  • Has WiFi & Bluetooth
  • PDA, digital still / video camera, iPod rolled into one machine

Current elearning packages will run & we can develop more interactive learning packages to run on UMPCs which are either web accessed or on CD ROMs or on memory cards. In the next few years, UMPCs will become more mainstream and they will provide a good platform for a whole host of mLearning applications. For the moment, they offer us a glimpse into the future when ubiquitous, converged devices will become the norm for the mass market.