KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 9 — Little did he know it then, but an article Wemel Cumavoo read in 2002 predicting that there would eventually be more mobile phones than personal computers would lead him and his wife Rani Wemel on a journey that has made them one of the pioneers in mobile learning, globally.
They are presently consulting an Indonesian entrepreneur keen to roll out their product called Dunia English (World of English) in that country.
Wemel and Rani launched LTT Global Communications Sdn Bhd in 2004 with the vision of making learning fun, accessible and affordable for all. It has been a rocky journey, but they believe they are finally making some exciting progress.
Starting with what mobile phones did best back in those pre-smartphone days – delivering lessons via SMS (short messaging service) – validation of the effectiveness of the platform came from a most unlikely source.
“Our Indonesian maid learnt to speak English through lessons delivered via SMS,” recalls Rani, speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) in Kuala Lumpur recently. In the early years, the focus was on teaching English with a product called Mobile English.
In 2005, LTT Global expanded the mobile learning service to include PC-based web support. But it was still a tough sell for them to convince the market of the effectiveness of mobile-based learning.
They finally scored a breakthrough in 2007 when Open University Malaysia (OUM) agreed to a pilot with 60 students from China.
“They had a big problem because the students just could not follow the lessons which were taught in English,” recalls Wemel.
LTT’s mobile platform acted as support for the existing English lessons offered by OUM. It worked, claims Wemel. “After six months, the Chinese students could understand English, speak and do their homework.”
OUM then offered a one-year programme on LTT Global’s platform that culminated in students receiving a certificate in English proficiency. Wemel describes this as a “very important” development as the company could now go to corporations to market this certificate.
Commenting on the programme, Repin Ibrahim, vice-president of business development at OUM, says that, understandably, there is still apprehension by employers as they are used to staff training in a physical setting.
“However, those who have tried it felt it did help their employees in the command of the language. The biggest benefit is that students learn at their own time and pace,” Repin says via email.
Employers are also appreciating the fact that this method reduces staff downtime compared with training in a physical setting.
Still receptiveness to mobile learning was slow to catch on. As a result, it has been an extremely tough journey for LTT Global, with the duo believing that the mobile earning solution they were pushing to the market was ahead of its time.
Wemel recalls the time a telecommunications company asked to see any independent validation of LTT Global being mobile learning experts.
But those early days of market scepticism have been replaced with an awareness that mobile-based learning does have a complementary role to play in continuing education today.
“Now we are asked ‘What can I learn,’ rather than ‘Can I really learn anything?’” says Wemel.
In growing LTT Global, he and his wife have tied up with numerous organisations, including Mobile Monday, the community of mobile industry developers and influencers that fosters brand-neutral cooperation. Mobile Monday has taken MyMobileUni as its ‘official mobile university.’
The web-based platform started out in May 2013 as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative to offer free education to all, but in April, LTT Global pivoted MyMobileUni to a for-profit social enterprise.
Partnering with various education providers from around the world, MyMobileUni offers courses beyond just English.
“We did the pivot because we needed the product to be sustainable and because we were caught by surprise by the interest from NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and the private sector,” says Rani, who attributes this response to the increasing importance placed on lifelong learning in the workforce.
“With our 24/7 (24 hours a day, seven days a week) platform – which really complements what their staff are already learning – companies and governments have realised that it is also a very cost-effective solution,” she claims.
In that sense the development of MyMobileUni dovetails with the Digital Malaysia programme, which aims to transform the nation into a digital economy by 2020. The Malaysian Government officially kicked off the programme in July 2012, naming national ICT custodian Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) as the lead agency.
MyMobileUni addresses the Digital Malaysia thrust to evolve from low knowledge-add to high knowledge-add, or aspiring to increase the development of local talent in key industries to become innovators and knowledge workers.
On the CSR and NGO front, the learning platform also complements efforts to empower and enable under-developed communities in Malaysia. In July 2013, MDeC announced a Digital Malaysia initiative to harness and coordinate greater private sector contribution in community and social development targeted at the B40 group, the lowest 40% of the Malaysian population in terms of household income.
Jari Tammisto, president of Mobile Monday, even goes so far as to loosely compare the potential impact of mobile learning with that of radio.
“Mobile learning not only provides an opportunity to learn, but can use new technology and methodology to enable learning to be far more effective as well,” he tells DNA via email.
Effective though it may be, armed with the new business model and pricing plan, Wemel and Rani will settle for a few more corporate customers. “We can customise the content to what HR (human resources) needs, and we are charging a nominal US$5 a day, per company,” says Rani.
Customers have two options. LTT Global will curate content for them on MyMobile University or it will bundle an authoring tool and Learning Management System which enables clients to add their own content to the platform.
Besides looking for customers, LTT Global is also on the lookout to partner companies that have CSR activities focused around education. Rani sees this as complementary to their vision of making education accessible and affordable.
Indeed the flexibility of mobile learning has led Mobile Monday’s Tammisto to declare “Mobile is the privilege of our generation.” He also believes that mobile learning is still at the disruptive stage as it attempts to bring education to all.
Meanwhile, LTT Global and its husband-and-wife team are determined that they be one of the global leaders delivering mobile learning, especially when rapid adoption occurs. To that end, they recently launched their Android app, with an iOS version expected to be ready by the end of September. — Digital News Asia
The article was first published here.