2 August 2012
The impact of ‘smart’ mobile technologies continues to grow throughout the international system. To illustrate the point, the ISN’s Christian Glahn assesses their particular impact on the teaching and training of IR professionals.
By Christian Glahn for the ISN
Mobile technologies have been key facilitators of political and economic change around the world. Technological innovations have impacted upon how people handle information and what they perceive as knowledge. Such advances have inevitably impacted upon the myriad activities of security and defense organizations. This in turn warrants a closer inspection of the influence that mobile technologies have on professional education and training activities in the spheres of defense, security and international relations (IR).
Every defense and security professional requires adequate training, development and evaluation to ensure that they are capable of fulfilling key tasks. Technology has made a valuable contribution to satisfying these demands for many years. Training simulators using virtual reality and computer-based training, for example, form part of the educational activities of these organizations. Yet, a host of external factors - such as overseas operations or civilian emergency planning – often mean that training and development requires more flexibility in terms of timing, accessibility and course structure. In professional contexts offering face-to-face instruction alone cannot satisfy such requirements. Instead, the technologies of the Worldwide Web provide flexible ways for distributing and monitoring learning opportunities that assure the timely and cost-effective diffusion of relevant organizational information and knowledge. International standards and specifications that are part of the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) assure the interoperability of training material across systems, infrastructures, and organizations. The related technologies are typically summarized under terms such as E-learning or "Advanced Distributed Learning" (ADL).
The use of technologies in education and training has changed learning towards self-paced processes that are flexible with regard to time and location. Today's e-learning practices have adopted the concepts and principles of open and distance learning (ODL). This approach helps to ensure that learning materials remain mostly unaltered for existing handbooks and handouts. Moreover, these concepts do not touch the underpinning model of a single controlled environment for instruction and assessment.
The Mobile Technology Revolution
The technological and educational underpinnings of e-learning practices are challenged by current developments in mobile computing. Handheld technologies such as smart phones, tablet computers, and networked Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) brought the Internet literally to the fingertips of the world. Today almost all mobile phone subscriptions include some type of mobile data plan that provides mobile access to the Internet. The ITU data indicates that for the majority of the Internet users access the Internet primarily through their mobiles. CISCO reports that almost 90% of the world’s mobile data traffic originates from basic handsets. In developed countries more than 50% of all active mobile subscriptions include broadband data plans (ITU, 2011), which correlates with the success of modern smart phones, such as the BlackBerry or the iPhone. CISCO expects that within less than 5 years 25% of the world’s mobile telecommunication participants will have multiple mobile devices for accessing broadband services on the Internet.
Figure 1: 2011 Mobile market penetration (%) of the G20 countries and Switzerland (Source ITU)
Indeed, subscriptions for mobile technology products in crisis zones in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa underline the global relevance of mobile ICT.
Figure 2: 2011 Mobile market penetration (%) of Afghanistan and Iraq and selected neighboring markets (Source GSMA)
More recently, mobile phones and connected Internet-services have also demonstrated how they can help shape social and political change. Not only does this technology support “flash mobs” or “Facebook parties”, it has also mobilized supporters of the “Occupy” movement and the Arab Spring. Accordingly, mobile technologies help facilitate the complex task of coordinating a large number of actors towards joint actions. This in turn reflects seven characteristics of mobile ICT that are changing how organizations of all shapes and sizes are perceive and manage information:
• Instantaneous access to information
• Integration of data sources
• Personal relevance
• Situational awareness
The abovementioned events are also the collaborative activities of peers that rely on the continuous availability of communication and information channels through which references to information can be immediately accessed. This enables movements to adapt their plans on the fly. Peer communication creates personal relevance and facilitates the contextualizing of abstract or incomplete information that comes through multiple information channels. Location and navigation services such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Google maps help actors to find the location of a venue easily and on time. Finally, mobile technology can superimpose situational awareness on others, e.g., through the camera and microphone that are built into almost every mobile phone today, or support the situational awareness of the owner by warning about road blocks or the presence of obstacles.
However, these characteristics are not only present in the action of political movements, but can be identified in almost every activity in which mobile ICT is used.
Challenges for Education and Training
Changes in the “social life of information” inevitably impact upon how information is created, perceived, managed, and shared. Indeed, the core principles of education and training are by no means immune to such changes. One of the most cited models for learning and instruction is Bloom's Taxonomy, which has three domains - cognitive, affective, and psycho-motoric. For each domain a hierarchy of processes and competences are defined that should guide the structure of successful education and training. While similar concepts were identified at the higher levels for these domains, the cognitive domain differs from the two other domains at the fundamental levels. While the latter emphasize the relevance of perception, identification, and selection, recalling facts (or knowledge) has been emphasized for the cognitive domain. This is relevant because most e-learning solutions were tailored towards supporting education and training within the cognitive domain.
The fundamental change for education and training that is triggered by the mobile-technology revolution lies in its key characteristics. While in the past “facts” were perceived as universal and stable, today’s “facts” depend on viewpoints and are subject to change. This change is partly implied by the continuous and instant availability of data and information from several sources. Obviously, this challenges educational and e-learning practice that relies on memorizing facts as an underpinning principle.
ICT ecologies and new types of software
Mobile devices are only the tip of the iceberg of the mobile-technology revolution. Current developments in ICT point towards networked device ecologies consisting of mobile and desktop computers, ambient information screens, embedded systems, sensor grids and -networks, and “smart” objects. These technologies already influenced the development of "future soldier" visions (e.g. by the US Army, or German Armed Forces). Today such concepts are no longer visionary and have been integrated into surveillance systems, traffic management, defense technologies, automotive solutions, and home entertainment. Yet, mobiles play an important role in this technological ensemble because they are personal connectors to different environments and contexts. This means that training and development is no longer restricted to desktop computers and may continue if learners switch devices or change location.
New types of software that utilize the functions of mobile devices for contextualization further challenge the e-learning model. Mobile augmented reality (AR) and location-based services are at the forefront of new developments. First applications of this software class in crisis management training suggest that these technologies can be used to advance psycho-motoric and affective skills and competences, which was previously considered unfeasible for E-learning.
Organizational demands and challenges
Despite the challenges posed by mobile technologies for education and training, the fundamental demands of large organizations for standardization, quality, verification, and flexibility of education and training remain constant. Additionally, interoperability of e-learning material and processes requires more attention because (a) of the greater variability of different technologies and (b) of the lifecycle of technology. The life cycle of ICT innovation requires that the material and solutions for education and training be deployed through similar technologies and distribution channels. This has been the prime driver behind SCORM. The second aspect of interoperability is rooted in the increasing variability of facilitating technologies. As these technologies create more novel ways of influencing learning processes as part of integrated ICT ecologies, organizations require the means for faster development and distribution of educational concepts and material that integrate different technologies and communication channels.
In addition to creating and distributing education and training programs through technologies, security and defense organizations also have to create structures that benefit from the characteristics of mobile ICT. These structures range from personal mobile devices, internal and external data services, to recognizing complex and unique learning trajectories that are embedded in professional practice. Concepts such as "bring your own device" (BYOD) indicate that such organizational structures do not necessarily involve large investments in infrastructures.
Current research and development
Current research and development focuses on shaping trajectories from conventional ADL and E-learning to the new demands of mobile learning. To date, these activities have considered the challenges (a) of using mobile technologies and services for extending existing approaches and infrastructures to training; (b) broadening existing ADL concepts into the new structures of technological ecologies for meeting organizational training goals; and (c) identifying new principles for educational designs that use mobile technologies in organizational training.
The first research strand primarily focuses on solutions for delivering contents and services to mobile devices. This is primarily within the scope of the SCORM specification however the principles of the existing framework limit the integration of novel mobile solutions. The objective of this research is to advance SCORM in order to integrate distribution channels that are created by mobile devices and the related services.
The second research strand addresses interoperability across different devices in order to facilitate learning by utilizing the characteristics of mobile information management. This research identifies educational approaches for broadening and intensifying existing ADL solutions by adding mobile learning features. The objective of this research is to provide solutions for more continuous learning and contextualized activation of prior knowledge through different distribution channels.
The third research strand addresses new models for technologically supported education and training that become feasible through the characteristics of mobile technologies. The related activities develop solutions for satisfying the demands for hi-quality standardized training and the assessment of the training outcomes through technologies beyond training facts. These activities include educational approaches that utilize mobile technologies for training affective and psycho-motoric skills and competences.
Looking to the future
Mobile technologies have become part of the practice of societies, communities and organizations around the world. In the past 5 years these technologies have disrupted the rules of how information is created, managed, and shared. The underpinning technologies are also present in many organizations that primarily focus upon IR, defense and security. Current research on educational technologies paves the ways for sustaining, expanding, and innovating organizational ADL through mobile technologies. However, integrating these technologies into professional education and training requires organizations to identify enabling organizational structures and strategies for facilitating this change.
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