Since the advent of mobile computing, learners are able to access training and performance support materials virtually anywhere at any time. However, it typically remains the responsibility of learners to proactively search for learning and determine when they need it. Now, imagine a slightly different scenario where learning and performance support materials present themselves to the learner based upon the learner’s physical location. In that scenario, a learner might be about to use a piece of equipment and be reminded of annual safety training requirements, or a new employee might be in a building lobby, reporting for his or her first day at work and be given onboarding support materials. These types of mobile learning may already be available to your learners today, but the ability to notify them is typically limited to passive methods such as email. iBeacon technology represents an opportunity to alert your learners to available learning and reach them at the point of need.
During a recent webinar I explained this new technology and discussed why it represents an exciting new dimension in the learning spectrum. More specifically I provided easy-to-understand insights on:
- iBeacon technology and how it works
- How iBeacons are currently being used
- How iBeacons might fit into learning and why they may be important
If you missed the webinar, a recording is now available. But if you’re looking for the Reader’s Digest version, I wanted to offer a quick look at some of the key takeaways we offered:
Beacons represent a new dynamic in the mobile learning landscape and present us with unique opportunities to reach learners at the moment of performance need. As with any technology on the learning landscape, they should be considered one aspect, or delivery modality, in a larger training program or strategic roadmap. Also, because beacon development is fundamentally custom mobile app development, consideration needs to be given to the full mobile development lifecycle. This includes the same considerations for program integration, data integration, usability, and security that would be made for any mobile app development project.
During the session, a number of questions came up, and while we were able to address most of them, we weren’t able to get to all of them due to time. Below are those questions and my best answers. This is an ongoing conversation, and I encourage you to keep the questions coming in via the comments section at the bottom of this page.
Q: You were mentioning providing media-rich information through iBeacons. What are your thoughts on using iBeacons in collusion with augmented reality?
A: This is an exciting angle to beacon development and since our session together I’ve already seen an example of how beacons might figure into Augmented Reality (AR). If you get a chance, have a look at a new product called Pixie which is a proprietary, beacon-like product that uses the same communication protocol (Bluetooth Low Energy – BLE) and AR to show you where your lost objects are located. This example can be further extrapolated to the onboarding example that I discussed where your mobile device could be used to help visually guide you to the known location of a beacon, then AR keys could be used to offer context for sensitive data.
Q: What is the range of a beacon signal?
A: Ranges are going to depend on environmental conditions (objects in the way, walls, etc) but the advertised limits range from 50 meters to 300 meters. The beacon ranging registers on a mobile device as being within one of three thresholds:
- Immediate – Within centimeters
- Near – Within a few meters
- Far – Greater than 10 meters
Q: I’ve been following this topic for some time, however it appears that truly useful apps are lacking, especially for easy to set-up and use learning tools such as the museum and scavenger hunt examples.
A: It is true that there are relatively few examples in the wild, and even fewer examples related to learning. We see beacons as a promising new technology, but like many new technologies, commercial applications are driving a lot of the innovation and investment. Read our white paper on the topic for some examples that we’ve identified.
Q: I’ve heard that my smartphone can be used as a beacon, is that true?
A: It is true that your BLE-capable smartphone using iOS 7+ or Android 4.3+ can be set up as a beacon.
Q: Do iBeacons have any limitation on the number of devices to which it can interact with at the same time?
A: Beacons broadcast their signal continuously so they don’t have a limitation on the number of local devices that can detect them. You are only theoretically limited by the number of people and devices that can fit in a physical location.
Q: Do you have any examples of how iBeacons can be used in the manufacturing industry?
A: Unfortunately we don’t. At this point our investigations have been limited to pilot programs. However, one of the examples that we hypothesized during our discussion was the idea of using a beacon on an industrial device to provide real-time training and support. This seems like a very viable application.
Q: Are iBeacons expensive to implement?
A: The beacons themselves are relatively inexpensive. However, a couple of things to consider are:
- Cost to develop the mobile app
- Cost to maintain the beacons after deployment (they typically have a shelf life)
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