Comparing iOS and Android (again)

iPhone 4 and Nexus S

I’ve had an iPhone since they were launched in the UK, but earlier this year I decided to give Android a try. This wasn’t due to any dissatisfaction with iOS. It’s because mobile devices are becoming more important to my work, both in general web projects and even more so in their use for learning. The plan was to use it full time for four weeks, to help me understand the way it worked. I don’t believe that you can design for a platform based on theoretical knowledge; you have to use it.

Unfortunately the experiment only lasted a few days because the handset I bought was too small, slow and underpowered to be useful. It left me with the impression that Android was difficult to use, poorly designed and generally ugly. Last week I decided that it was time to take another look, and so I ordered a Google/Samsung Nexus S.

So far I’ve set the Nexus up with a few apps, and it’s just been used around the house on WiFi. This week I’m going to pop in my sim card and it will be my only phone until at least the end of the month. Each week I’ll post my thoughts here.

Although the intention is largely to gain more experience of Android, I’m sure that on the way I’ll be making comparisons between it and iOS. In doing so, I’m trying to be wary of two things; I know how to do things on the iPhone, so at times Android is bound to be harder to use simply though my lack of experience, and on the flip side, Android is new to me and the novelty may make using it seem more enjoyable than it actually is.

For me the timing is particularly interesting with an Apple iOS event scheduled for tomorrow (where the iPhone 4S and/or iPhone 5 is expected to be announced, along with the release date for iOS5) and a week later on 11th October, Google is holding an Android event (and it in turn is expected to announce the Nexus Prime and the release of the latest version of Android – ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’).

Add to that the deeper integration between mobile devices and social networks, and this is a really interesting time to be exploring the mobile landscape.

Are Mobile Devices Distracting?

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Craig Taylor has written an interesting post about his experiences at a recent eLN event. It seems that many attendees agreed with the suggestion that “people can’t possibly be learning effectively if they are tapping away on mobile devices”. I thought it merited a longer response than Craig’s chosen comment system would allow, so here are my thoughts;

First of all, I think that the “tapping away on mobile devices” part is irrelevant. There are plenty of times where I’ve very effectively failed to learn anything at all, without the assistance of any technology!

In answer to Craig’s questions:

Is it reasonable to expect us and our learners to use technology to aid our/their productivity in areas and in situations that have traditionally used pen and paper? – That depends on what you mean by ‘expect’. We certainly shouldn’t be *surprised* that people are using tablets and smartphones for things such as note taking. On the other hand I wouldn’t want to impose those tools on people if they don’t want to use them. I’m usually well ahead of the curve in my personal adoption of technology, but there are still things that I choose to do on paper; and let’s not forget, pen and paper is technology, it’s just more established than some of the alternatives.

Should we maintain traditional practices for meetings but attempt to push forward with new practices when the output has an overt ‘learning’ tag attached to it? – No. Learning is most effective when it builds on what people already do elsewhere, so trying to introduce new practices at the same time as something that is ‘overt learning’ (or training, as it should be called) just makes both activities more difficult. If you want to introduce new practices (e.g. making notes on a tablet) then introduce that as something that people perceive as being part of, not separate to, their work.

Of course, the act of note taking on a tablet has little or no value in itself; what people need to understand first is the benefit they get from doing this (easy to store, search, reference, find and reuse those notes) and then the benefits to others (ability to share, collaborate) and finally the benefits to the organisation (knowledge management, dissemination of information).

Do you use technology to aid your personal productivity or not? – I use technology for pretty much everything, but at the same time I’m not naive enough to think that technology = productivity. For example; when I first started using Twitter I attempted to ‘live tweet’ every event I attended, but quickly found that I was getting a worse experience because I couldn’t focus on the event and the tweeting.

Are you encouraging/discouraging of others to do so? – I’m keen to share the opportunities that technology can bring, in all areas, including productivity. However, on a personal level I’m not an evangelist. Just because something works for me, or someone I know, doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. It won’t be a surprise that I do encourage people to adopt technology at an organisational level – e.g. virtual meetings instead of face to face.

Whether face to face or online, I think the type of event makes a difference to the expected behaviour.

For example, when I’ve presented at eLN events I’ve been happy if two thirds of the people are paying attention and the remaining third aren’t distracting them. After all, there are a number of speakers at each event and it’s unlikely that every attendee will be interested in every speaker? I feel the same way about webinars (by which I mean ‘presentation style’ online events); the barriers to attendance are so low that some of the attendees are bound to only have a passing interest. As a presenter I should be focussing on those people who do want to take part.

If I was facilitating a workshop, presumably for a much smaller group of people, then I might expect different behaviour. If we assume that I’m doing my bit by running a good session, then it’s reasonable to expect the participants to do their bit by taking part. Most importantly, I would expect their focus to be on working with the others in the room (physical or virtual), and whether or not they use technology to do that is irrelevant. In this situation I would direct people to avoid distracting activities, whether that’s switching their phone to silent or closing email (which is not the same as saying – switch off the technology).

The Threat of New Technology

I’m taking the liberty of reposting Norman Lamont’s superb slideshare presentation on the use of new technology in the workplace.

I do so a) because it’s probably the one piece of content I’ve recommended to more people than any other, b) because it gets the message across more powerfully than any academic treatise on the subject and c) because it should be required reading for anyone responsible for learning and communication in the workplace.

The Advance of Social Media


Back in the summer I wrote an article for Saffron Interactive titled ‘The Advance of Social Media’. Its key message is that social media is now a mainstream activity and that organisations that attempt to ignore it, do so at their own risk.

If you’d like to read the full article, it is available to download here in PDF format, along with a number of other great articles in Saffron’s Advance series.

Is Twitter Really Not Right For Business?

Earlier this week, The Times ran a story titled “Twitter may not be right for business“.

Despite the title, the article seems to be more about the shortcomings of companies, and why that makes them unsuitable as users of microblogging. To quote the article “Nevertheless, I think there are several fundamental reasons why companies are unsuited to microblogging,…”.

The article goes on to list 5 reasons why companies are not suitable;

  1. Companies are incapable of dealing with things in real time
  2. Companies are incapable of brevity
  3. Companies are not open
  4. Companies are neither altruistic or reciprocal
  5. Companies do not have distinct voices or personalities

I don’t think I’m alone in being relieved I don’t work in a company that behaves as described in the article. One which is probably not fit to deal with its customers, is certainly not fit to manage and develop its employees and is unlikely to have a very bright (or long) future.

The biggest problem with the article, is of course that all five of the statements are wrong. Many companies are very good at dealing with things in real time, and can be both brief and open. Altruism and reciprocity are not unknown qualities in the world of business. Virgin, Disney and Nike are just a few examples of companies with a distinct voice and personality.

If you actually read the story, you’ll find the tone is clearly tongue in cheek, but that won’t stop some people attempting to use this as evidence that Twitter has no place in business.

21st Century LMS

On the 25th September, the eLearning Network held its Next Generation Learning Management event at Holborn Bars in London.

As part of the event, Matt Brewer of Chubb Insurance and I ran a collaborative session to identify what eLN members wanted to see in an LMS that was fit for use in 21st Century organisations. I’m really pleased to say that we have taken the output of that session and produced a report that can be freely downloaded from the eLearning Network website.

Download: 21st Century LMS

It’s released under a Creative Commons licence, so please do share and remix it.

9 Free Tools That Help Mac Users Build Better E-Learning

Over on the Rapid E-Learning Blog, Tom Kuhlman has come up with a list of his 9 Free Tools That Help Me Build Better E-Learning. Bearing in mind that Articulate is a Windows based tool, it’s not surprising that the tool listed are for that platform. So here is my list of 9 equivalent tools for Mac users.

1. DigitalColor Meter

This hand little app is installed on all Macs, and can be found in the Utilities folder.

2. ColourLovers

As this is web based, it’s not strictly Mac only, but then Tom’s choices were web based too. I really like ColourLovers for its community contributed colour schemes. There’s a nice post here about using DigitalColor Meter together with ColourLovers.

3. Paintbrush

If you want a simple bitmap editor for the Mac, you need look no further than the open source Paintbrush.

4. Preview

One of the little known tricks in OSX is that you can use the built in Preview app for resizing individual images or batch resizing multiple images. Just head for the Tools/Adjust Size option.

5. Garageband

All new macs come with iLife installed, which include GarageBand, an incredibly easy to use audio editing app. Of course, you could go with Tom’s choice of Audacity, as that also runs on Macs.

6. iMovie

Another great tool in the iLife suite is iMovie, which gives you simple drag and drop movie making.

7. Prism

Prism is a commercial tool that offers a free version, which will convert between the most common file formats.

8 and 9. SWF and FLV Player

Another great free tool, as its name suggests you can use it with both SWF and FLV. Alternatively, for FLV support you can do a lot worse that VLC, which is a good general purpose replacement for QuickTime player and supports many video formats.

Open Source LMS – 10 Alternatives to Moodle

Since the economic downturn began I’ve noticed much more interest in open source Learning Management Systems (LMS), and it’s no surprise that when people ask what the options are, the answer is usually Moodle. Now, there’s nothing wrong with Moodle, but it certainly isn’t the only open source LMS out there.

Because there is no licensing cost involved with open source solutions, its easy for organisations to just jump in and set up the first solution that comes along. There is however a cost to installation and support, either financial or time related. Anyone setting up an LMS has a responsibility to research and choose the solution that is right for the learners and the organisation.

As a starting point here are 10 open source alternatives to Moodle. These are deliberately brief descriptions, and I would encourage you to visit these sites and explore each solution in some detail.

Docebo In use in corporate and higher education settings. Offers support for a number of different learning models and is compatible with SCORM 1.2 and 2004. It offers interfaces to external systems such as video conferencing and HR systems.

eFront The base install is quite minimalist, but this is easily extended with modules available from the site. Commercial versions with additional features are also available.

Dokeos A very well featured LMS that also offers content authoring and video conferencing tools. Supports converting Office documents into Learning Paths. Offers user synchronisation with HR management systems such as Oracle and SAP.

Claroline Aimed more at the educational than corporate arena, this system is based around specific pedagogical principles (as is Moodle). Supports SCORM content as well as a built in Wiki and other online content tools.

ATutor Actually an LCMS, ATutor also offers tools for the management of learning. The “A” stands for Accessible and it has excellent support for key accessibility standards as well as support for SCORM, IMS etc.

ILIAS Provides testing and assessment tools as well as collaboration tools such as chat and forums, and distribution technologies like RSS and podcasts.

OLAT A well featured system in its tenth year of development. Recently the winner of the “IMS Learning Impact ‘Leadership Award’ 2009 for best open source learning platform”.

Sakai Aimed at Universities, this project has a clear roadmap and has seem considerable development in the last few years. Backed by the Sakai Foundation which manages relationships with educational and commercial supporters.

.LRN Originally developed at MIT, .LRN claims to be the most widely adopted enterprise class open source LMS solution.

openelms Marketed specifically as a business solution, and claims a diverse customer base that ranges from Merrill Lynch to Queens Park Rangers football club.

Ganesha This LMS developed by Anema, has been around since 2001 and is in use in several large organisations. The site, and the LMS itself, are in French but it can be translated.

Facebook and democracy

It’s a sign of  how quickly things move in the field of social media, that I was half way though composing a post about content licensing and the recent furore over Facebook’s changes to their terms of service, when what should pop into my feed reader, but another bombshell from Mark Zuckerberg and co. Only this time, they seem to have got it right, or at least they intend to.

This post on the Facebook blog outlines what they intend to do. Essentially, they plan to take a more democratic approach, giving members the opportunity to comment and vote on changes to the way the site is managed. They’ve made a start by inviting comment and discussion on two documents that would become the foundation of the new way of working; the Facebook Principles and the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

Of course, only time will tell how well this new approach works, and that will depend both on Facebook’s commitment to these principles, and the user’s willingness to engage with them in this way.

You might be cynical and say, “hey, isn’t this just another big company screwing up and now desperately back pedaling?”, but for me, this is what web 2.0 is all about. Things change rapidly and as a result companies like Facebook sometimes get it wrong, but I can forgive them this as long as they keep listening, learning and changing. Better that than the over cautious, focus group obsessed approach of 20th century business.