On Mobility

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I want to talk to you about mobile learning experiences, but I have to talk to you about this really cool game first. No, come back! It’ll only take a minute. Two minutes, tops.

Meet Ingress

If you know me, I’ve probably bored you to tears about how much I love Ingress. But if I haven’t bored you yet, how lucky for both of us!

Ingress is an Android device-based augmented reality massively multiplayer mobile game that is, essentially, a worldwide game of capture the flag. Players are aligned to one of two opposing factions who are seeking to control a mysterious force for the good of humanity—that good is interpreted differently by the opposing factions, naturally. Ingress is heavily location-dependent: players must use their Android devices in close physical proximity to “portals,” which are actual places such as landmarks, art installations, notable architecture, and so on,  in order to influence the game.

(Cnet and Wikipedia offer slightly longer explanations of Ingress, if you’re interested. Or, you can just hangout with me. I will talk your face off about the game lore alone, I assure you.)

While the game is addictive in ways that ever-present games can be (I’m talking about you, Koreen), Ingress adds a novel step by actually making players physically visit places to make things happen. When you play Ingress for more than a few days, you start to realize that everything about the game is geared to get you out of the house, into the streets, the forests, and local parks of your immediate area. People change their lunchtime and weekend routines in order to walk or drive several blocks (or miles) out of their way to interact with portals. Most importantly, they will often meet (in person!) people who they’d never have known and see things in their own town that they’d never have seen.

The head of Niantic Labs has stated that the goal of his startup is to “develop products that facilitate interaction with the real world, both today and when computers become so integrated with our lives that they fade into the background.” This is increasingly evident as Niantic continues to fine-tune gameplay aspects to encourage and reward real-world, real-time collaboration and strategy. You’ve got to cooperate to succeed.

Mobile or just pocketable?


This brings me to my original topic: mobile learning experiences. As our mobile evangelists have been saying for some time, mobile learning is not simply e-learning on a small screen. While I believe that in the last year or so many of us have started to really understand this idea, I think there’s still a tendency to think more in terms of things like responsive design than mobile affordances when talking mobile.

Are we trying to get current experiences to fit in our pockets, or are we trying to free ourselves to design something that meets our actual goals? I think that design of mobile learning experiences can in many cases take greater advantage of the ability of the learner to willfully change location (and context).

A simple example of this is the “situated documentary” game Dow Day.

Dow Day uses GPS to trigger experiences, including video, simulated conversations, superimposable images, and information, which augment reality in order to advance the learning activities. Items are collected along the way and can be used in game or traded with other players. Audio and video samples can be collected using the learner’s device microphone and camera. While it is possible to play aspects of the games using QR codes rather than GPS, the game is designed to get learners out into the real world environment where the events took place. (For a similar experience, see the NYC-based Jewish Time Jump, or somewhat less so in Albuquerque’s Mentira.)

Of course, it doesn’t have to stop with location. Chad Udell recently mentioned that the Samsung Galaxy S4 has a temperature-sensing element. Think of the additional context-based performance support interventions that could be created with the addition of this one ability. Now think of the next layer of support when data accumulated over a period of time is aggregated and reported. (This is where xAPI comes in.)

The main thing to remember is that the real innovation of mobile technology is not that we can transport our current performance support away from the desk, but that more of the world has fallen onto our palette. Let’s use it to create something meaningfully mobile.

About the Author

Craig Wiggins has been helping people create and manage learning experiences for the past 10 years. He is the community manager for the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiatives. Craig holds a BA in anthropology and an MEd in curriculum development, and spends a lot of time thinking about how to sneak usability, accessibility, and proper task analysis into the mix. In his natural habitat, he is usually storyboarding on wall-sized whiteboards or pontificating on Twitter or Google+.

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