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An interview with Marcus Boyes

At Learning Technologies in 2011, there was much debate about whether or not mobile was the next big thing in the learning technologies sphere. Throughout the year, the debate continued, technology advanced and Epic launched gomo learning, the first learning authoring tool to deliver to multiple platforms that was developed specifically with mobile in mind.

For the 2012 exhibition, Epic’s Head of Mobile Marcus Boyes developed the official Learning Technologies event app using gomo learning. Delivered to BlackBerry, Android and Apple smartphones, the app has been a resounding success. With more and more organisations incorporating mobile into their L&D strategies, it’s clear that mobile is more than just another fad.

Read on to see what Marcus had to say about the challenges of building an event app, and where the future of mobile learning might take us.

So Marcus, you developed the official app for the 2012 Learning Technologies exhibition. Could you tell us what some of the key challenges were in developing it?

Producing the mobile apps for Learning Technologies presented a number of challenges. The first was that we had to produce four different versions of the app in a very short space of time – we designed and developed two versions for the iPhone (native and web), a native version for Android and a web version for BlackBerry.  Fortunately gomo designs once and delivers to multiple devices, so this wasn’t as difficult as it might have been.

A bigger challenge was that the apps used a number of pieces of technology that we hadn’t used before, such as the QR code reader for native apps. The screen types and functionality required for an event app are also quite different from gomo learning’s current standard screens. For instance, because we had a list of exhibitors and speakers, we had to create a list of search objects with search criteria to filter and order results when users searched for a specific entry. This was tricky to develop but it’s a powerful piece of functionality.

The functionality required to make the clickable event map (when you scroll round it, you can click on exhibitor stands to pull information from the different organisations) was also highly bespoke. It’s all just quite new and fresh functionality and we didn’t have long to develop it.  So it was hugely challenging but we’ve moved the tool forward massively as a result.

As far as the conference itself is concerned, was there anything at the event that particularly excited you about the future of learning technologies?

Yes, there are some great ideas out there at the moment, but a lot of it is just that – ideas. Many organisations call themselves pioneers, but a lot of people are still just talking about innovation and not really doing much about it. It’s refreshing to see that Epic is pushing forward and working with our clients to achieve exciting new things.

Epic is investing heavily in research and development. With that in mind, can you give us a glimpse of where gomo learning is heading?

The main challenge we’ve got is that any new functionality – such as the QR code reader – needs thorough testing across all platforms to ensure it’s consistent and fit for purpose. As a result, it takes a bit of time to go from the development stage to roll out across our standard gomo learning portal. However, the main things you’ll see coming through in the next few months are some new screen types, such as matching pairs and text build-up animation. We’re hoping to roll this out by the end of May.

Another key development is our translation module, which will allow us to produce multiple language versions of the same project. This module will fully or partially translate apps, meaning the user will be able to translate the whole thing and change imagery or just translate chosen sections. This gives our clients real flexibility.

Beyond that there are plenty of changes going on behind the scenes – we have a new pricing structure and in the not too distant future, a few other bits and pieces of new functionality will be coming through. It’s all hands on deck!

Finally, with native apps there is currently a cost associated with publishing. Is this something that might change with future developments?

Yes, definitely. At the moment, there are some real technical challenges with automated publishing for native apps (although we’ve cracked it for web apps). The main difficulty is that if you want to publish for an app store, you have to certify and package up the app and there’s currently a lot of manual work involved with that. Of course, we’re always on hand to support our end-users, but it’s recently become possible to automate publishing, and over the next few months we’re going to investigate this further. We hope to offer gomo learning customers automated publishing of native apps in the next seven to ten months, but it’s going to be a big job, so watch this space!

For more information on gomo, or to request a demo, email contactus@gomolearning.com or call one of our Solutions Consultants on +44(0)1283 728686.

This post first appeared on the Epic blog on 27th February 2012.