Case Study: Combining Web and WAP to Deliver E-Learning
By Geoffrey Ring

Recently, INSEAD, NOKIA, and ICUS formed an Asia-Pacific consortium to pilot m-learning. The initial result of their endeavor was the development and deployment of an e-course delivered via WAP-enabled NOKIA phones. The course, eBusiness on the Move, was developed to make use of both WAP (wireless) and Web (wired) technologies, allowing participants to access content via phone and computer.

INSEAD provided the course content and ICUS applied online instructional design principles and pedagogy. NOKIA supplied technical WAP expertise and played an important role in marketing.

Tight integration of course content and dual access for 70 percent of the course let participants experience the same course by either access WAP or Web technology. Evaluations tracking learner progress revealed that WAP technology delivered an average level of coaching support and higher than average level of technical support.

The course

The goal of the pilot course was to successfully introduce mobile technology as a delivery method. Participants were mainly senior executives with at least three years work experience in an established position. In terms of technical skills, participants were expected to be competent Internet users.

Based on an INSEAD classroom course, eBusiness on the Move offered an introductory look at current and future use of the Internet in business, including

  • definitions and examples of e-business
  • frameworks and models for e-business
  • analysis of existing Web and WAP sites
  • speed and efficiency of new technology
  • customization and personalization
  • role of WAP in e-business.

Course objectives were to

  • describe key categories of corporate Websites
  • evaluate purpose and effectiveness of corporate Websites
  • analyze opportunities and threats resulting from implementation of e-business
  • describe various types of WAP services and their economic implications for business.

Learning activities comprised reading material, bulletin board discussions, multiple-choice quizzes, and writing assignments. Learners linked to video clips, PDF articles, and Websites. In addition, the course required two coaches to facilitate and track learner progress. For example, one coach provided feedback on an interactive bulletin board while the other coach used email to provide direct assistance to learners about course content and procedural matters. There was significant peer-to-peer and peer-to-coach interaction via bulletin boards, direct email, and voice applications.

The course was approximately 20 hours, and learners were expected to complete it over a period of four to five weeks. Participants received an INSEAD certificate upon successful course completion.

The WAP/ Web equation

This course used two delivery formats: Web and WAP. The WAP format requires short text, additional screens, and more titles than the Web version, resulting in a multilevel hierarchical menu system. An MS Word document that cross-referenced WAP chunks and Web topics was provided as a navigational aid.

Although 10 percent of the course was WAP-only accessible, 80 percent of the overall course was accessible via phone, including links to WAP sites, multiple-choice questionnaires, and quick reminders and alerts from the coaches. Likewise, approximately 20 percent of the course was Web-only, but nearly 90 percent of the overall course content was on the Web, including digital video clips, bulletin board discussions, email, and links to Websites. Obviously there was some redundancy, with 70 percent of the course accessible to learners via both delivery methods.

Most learners accessed about 40 percent to 50 percent of WAP-delivered material and 70 percent to 80 percent of Web-delivered material. Reasons for accessing the course via the Web rather than WAP included small screen size, slow connections, and limited graphics.

Prior to taking the course, most learners believed they would make little use of the phone. In fact, only five of the 14 participants said they expected to like using WAP-enabled phones for learning. Their opinion was based primarily on the notion that the phone's screen size was too small to be useful.

Following the course, participants reported that WAP-delivered content added value to the learning experience, saying that anywhere, any time access provided a high level of convenience. According to one learner, "The reminders from the coach were useful, especially for overdue assignments!" Another learner said, "The multiple-choice quizzes with immediate feedback were excellent."

Nearly all participants were pleased with the overall course quality and technical support. Learner feedback included, "It was reassuring to have direct access to coaches for content issues and the help desk for technical issues, " and "Apart from time constraints on the discussions, the course offered maximum flexibility."

All learners reported that the course was easy to navigate whether using a mobile phone or computer. Most learners found few problems when switching between the computer and phone due to the hard copy reference chart, which linked WAP chunks to their Web counterparts. Nevertheless, without the Web alternative as backup support, only half the learners said they would deem the WAP-enabled portions of the course satisfactory.

Most learners found the Web-delivered portions easy to set up and access. Although all learners found WAP-delivered content easy to access, two learners needed assistance to configure their phones. (Please note: Those learners were absent from the face-to-face kickoff event that covered tool configuration and setup.)

M-learning's potential

The only handheld computing devices available 30 years ago were programmable calculators, which bear little resemblance to the digital handheld devices that people now use for email, phone, and so forth. Today, wireless development focuses on integrating data and voice functionality in a single device. Whether a mobile phone with Internet access or a handheld data device with phone capability, the goal is for individuals to have wireless access to data applications. Handheld digital devices are becoming more common, and their quality and capability is increasing due to technological breakthroughs in miniaturization and advancements in wireless bandwidth and data networks.

 


NOKIA 6210 WAP Phone


Palm Pilot IIIc

 

However, m-learning has been slow to grow because most wireless devices have small screens, low resolution, slow processing, and limited storage capabilities. Likewise, difficulty connecting various types of devices to the same network is a real limitation. It seems likely that m-learning is better suited to such specific content areas as sales or language skills. Also, current WAP technology makes it best suited to particular aspects of e-learning courses, such as

  • quick reminders and alerts
  • communication with peers and managers
  • multiple-choice quizzes with immediate feedback
  • daily tips
  • glossary information
  • browsing e-learning course material
  • searching for specific information within a topic
  • links to WAP sites
  • course registration.

With the convergence of mobile computing and wireless technology, each device can extend beyond messaging and connect to the Web, providing individuals with alternative ways to access information. Rather than considering mobile access as a replacement for wired devices, companies should see it as an enhancement when planning their e-commerce and e-learning initiatives. So, as m-commerce will become a subset of e-commerce, m-learning will be a subset of e-learning.



WAP-related Items from Course Evaluation Data (n = 14)

(SD = Strongly Disagree, D = Disagree, A = Agree, SA = Strongly Agree)

#

Item

SD

D

A

SA

% of A/SA

Positive Comments

Negative Comments

3

Prior to taking this course, I expected to enjoy the experience of using the WAP mobile phone for learning.

2

7

4

1

36%

 

     

Because of the phone’s small screen size I expected to use the computer for almost everything

22

Having the WAP access added value to the learning experience.

 

8

6

100%

Impressed with WAP component; surprised how useful it was

Gained experience in a technology of the future

The MCQs with immediate feedback were excellent

     

23

Having the WAP access made taking the course more convenient.

 

1

8

5

93%

It was good to be able to access the course while traveling in a taxi or waiting for a bus

Yes, the phone was particularly useful early on to get an overall feel for the course content

Excellent. I could work from anywhere

Freedom

Not for me

24

Apart from the digital videos and the bulletin boards, the remainder of the course could have been delivered satisfactorily using WAP only.

2

4

7

1

57%

 

     

No, screen size was too small

Too much reading from a small screen

Less graphics and interactivity

25

The computer/Web technology used in this course worked well.

 

2

8

4

86%

The technology was OK

The server crashes were annoying

26

The phone/WAP technology used in this course worked well.

 

8

6

100%

WAP availability was 100 percent, and user-friendly too

The SMS reminders from the coach were useful, especially for overdue assignments

Voice communication with class members was a bonus

I wish the bulletin board had been on the phone

27

The technology in this course was easy to use.

 

1

7

6

93%

 

     

Once I got used to the login sequence it was very good

28

The technology in this course helped me to learn.

 

 

6

8

100%

Liked the fact that I could access material from home

Good interactivity: especially with peers on the bulletin board

     

 

39

I was able to navigate easily through the course using the computer/Web.

 

1

8

5

93%

I never had any problems getting to sections quickly

     

 

30

I was able to navigate easily through the course using the WAP phone.

 

1

7

6

93%

The multilevel menu system was easy to follow

I could move around the content quicker on the phone

     

31

I found it easy to access the course via the computer.

 

2

7

5

86%

The help desk was aways quick to solve any problems

Needs to be more compatible with old browsers

32

I found it easy to access the course via the phone.

1

6

7

93%

WAP was extremely easy and reliable

     

 


Published: June 2001

American Society for Training & Development (ASTD)

 



 

Geoffrey Ring is principal course designer and R&D manager for ICUs PTE LTD; Geoffrey@icus.net.