Providing Contextual Learning Through Apple’s iBeacon Technology

The number of iPhone users has been growing steadily. From 17.5 million users in 2010, the number has gone up to 63.2 million in the US alone, and this number is continuously rising. The total number of iPhones sold globally in 2013 is reported to be 150 million. Coupled with the BYOD policy that is a feature of most workplaces now, this presents another interesting opportunity to deliver context-based learning. iBeacon is an indoor proximity system designed by Apple Inc. for its devices that allows these devices to be accurately located inside spaces. Beacons are small, low-cost devices that work using the Bluetooth Low Energy technology. Practically, this means that any device which is compatible with iBeacon can transmit and receive data from other such devices located nearby.

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iBeacon makes it possible to deliver just-in-time learning based on the context and environment that its user is in. For example, imagine yourself in a museum of History. Suppose that the museum has Beacon transmitters. When you approach a particular historical artifact, a statue for example, the beacon sensor on your phone/tablet allows its exact location to be detected and sends the same to the museum’s devices, which can then “push” relevant historical information about the statue on the palm of your hand!

In the workplace, iBeacon presents exciting and innovative ways to deliver learning content. For example, a worker working in an assembly plant can get information such as the plant map and layout, names and specifications of the equipment and the names and contact details of the technical staff available in the vicinity (of course, this will have the names and details of those staff members who have Apple devices themselves). The iBeacon technology also allows users to create location specific calendar events. For example, an employee can ask to be reminded to meet the Plant Manager when he visits the Administrative office of the plant the following week.

The question you might ask is—what is the need for context-based learning when you already have a training program that covers everything you need? The answer to this lies in examining the effectiveness of those training programs. True, you do need a comprehensive learning strategy that has instructor-led courses as well as online training modules and even some form of mobile learning.But the fact is, more often than not, people tend to forget whatever they have learnt, unless that learning is supported and reinforced through other media. The Ebbinghaus Forgetting curve is proof of this. Mobile learning technologies such as iBeacon allows this to be done in simple and user-friendly ways. Rather than just adding another medium for learning because it sounds fancy, the focus should be on understanding the purpose and scope of mobile learning if you want truly want it to complement your training and development goals.

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