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Report: E-Readers, LMS Driving Growth in Higher Ed Mobile Learning

Although it's still a small segment of the overall ed tech market in the United States, mobile learning is growing in colleges and universities. According to new data released by market research firm Ambient Insight this week, that growth is projected to be in the double digits in terms of dollar expenditures through 2014, driven by e-readers and mobile versions of learning management systems.

Excluding traditional computers (laptops, netbooks), the market for mobile learning technologies in the United States was $632.2 in 2009 across all sectors. That gave the United States the lead in mobile educational technology adoption for the first time, surpassing Japan, South Korea, and the UK, according to the new report, "The US Market for Mobile Learning Products and Services: 2009-2014 Forecast and Analysis." And that figure will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.3 percent until it reaches $1.46 billion in 2014.

In overall mobile learning market size, academic institutions are lagging behind healthcare and behind private consumers, who are the most rapid adopters, particularly during economic downturns.

"The current US Mobile Learning market is being driven by consumers and healthcare buyers, who increased spending on mobile learning even at the height of the recession," the report indicated. "Consumers always gravitate to education and training during recessions. There is currently a boom in demand for secondary, career, and vocational education in the US. It is not surprising that a great deal of the Mobile Learning content across the app stores pertains to topics taught in secondary institutions."

Ambient Insight projected that the CAGR for mobile learning technologies in higher ed--again, discounting traditional computing devices like laptops and netbooks--would be 11.7 percent over five years, from a modest $96.87 million in 2009 to a still-modest $164.7 million in 2014, when it will represent about 11.2 percent of the overall domestic market. That's more than a three-and-a-half point a decline from its 2009 share of about 15.3 percent. The growth in higher ed is also slower than the predicted compound annual growth rate in K-12 of 15.1 percent through 2014, though the overall volume in higher ed is still higher. (K-12 spending on mobile learning technologies will increase from $70.9 million in 2009 to $143.3 million in 2014.)

Some of the inhibitors for the growth of commercial mobile learning technologies in higher ed, according to the report, include free content on iTunes U and the development of free, home-grown mobile learning platforms at both individual schools and large education networks, such as Abilene Christian University, Boston University School of Management, Bridgepoint Education, Career Education Corp., and Walden University (part of Laureate International Universities Network).

But what's driving the growth, according to the forecasters, are learning management systems and electronic readers.

"A major catalyst in this segment is the emergence of native platforms designed for the higher education market," the report said. "For example, the products from Inkling, Emantras, Irynsoft, Blackboard, Multiply IT, and StreaMe are being marketed heavily to the academic buyers, particularly the higher education buyers."

The report cited Blackboard's mobile learning platform, Mobile Learn, as "the most significant product, in terms of a market catalyst."

However, players in open source are also helping to drive growth, according to the forecast. "The integration of mobile technology into popular open source platforms is also acting as a catalyst in the higher education segment. In July 2010, Moodlerooms and DubMeNow announced a new platform called joule Mobile, 'an application that will extend the online classroom and deliver on-the-go access to joule, Moodlerooms’ enterprise learning management platform.' The platform is middleware supporting multiple mobile platforms, including Apple iPhone, RIM Blackberry, Android, Symbian, and Windows Mobile."

New tablet and e-reader device suppliers, including enTourage, Kno, and Mobifusion, are also driving growth, Ambient Insight said.

One other--and as yet somewhat unknown--factor that could cause some disruption is Apple's iPad, along with the rest of the company's iOS devices.

Sam S. Adkins, Ambient Insight's chief research officer, told us that while it's too soon to say what kind of impact the iPad will have, "We are tracking it closely and will be able to plot market trends in a few quarters. I will tell you that 'the game is afoot,' and there is a growing onslaught on the college book store cartel. If you look at products like Inkling, which are essentially app stores that aggregate major educational publisher content, then you can see the new 'experiment' in selling direct to students/teachers. Cengage and CourseSmart already do that."

He further explained: "As you know, CourseSmart is a joint venture among leading educational publishers including Pearson, Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill Education, Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group (Macmillan), and John Wiley & Sons. In the last year, they have completely overhauled their retail site as a Web store selling mobile learning directly to students. The iPhone/iPad viewer apps are free in the Apple App Store, but the fee-based mobile content is Web-based. They are bypassing the Apple App Store and the college book stores. ... [A]gain, it is too soon to tell, but this looks like an end run around the college bookstore ecosystem."

Ambient Insight's "The US Market for Mobile Learning Products and Services: 2009-2014 Forecast and Analysis" is available now. Further information, including an executive summary, can be found here.

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