Beacons are tiny battery-powered device transmitters that emit a Bluetooth signal to let devices know their proximity to them. The signal triggers an application on a device to perform actions depending on the location and context.
Beacons have been in retail use for several years now, with mixed results. Early deployments lacked security, and some users had their signals hijacked by competitors. Some retailers were a bit too enthusiastic in pushing out notifications and offers to customers. They annoyed customers so much they turned off or deleted their apps. Other deployments were victims of poor planning.
Recent innovations like Google’s open-source Eddystone and improvements in Apple’s iBeacon technology made beacons both more secure and easier to manage. Google’s solution is embedded in Google Chrome. Apple’s is native in IOS but requires an app to run on Android devices.
Beacons in Learning
The technology and methodology have matured enough for us to develop ways beacons can integrate with learning management systems. We can deliver secure context-sensitive content to people on the job, including location-specific mobile learning, job aids, and help resources. We can also use beacons for administrative purposes, such as attendance and course completion.
Here are a few instances where beacons can be useful in a learning environment:
- Record when people arrive to a classroom and when they leave, then record completion in the learning record.
- Connect to materials from previous sessions in a series.
- Deliver graphics and diagrams related to the course.
- Deliver micro-learning and spaced repetition, depending on a user’s location.
- Make people aware an expert is available for mentoring.
- Alert responders of the location of an emergency on a shop floor or remote location.
- Deliver repair guides to technicians at a remote site.
With their low cost, beacons can be a welcome addition to your learning environment, but, as early adopters learned, careful planning is essential. Our checklist will help you plan and execute your beacon deployment.
- As of this writing, few beacon providers have a complete end-to-end solution for learning management. You may need to team up with a consultant who knows the industry.
- Some beacon manufacturers are appropriate for hobbyists but not enterprises. Make sure the solution you choose can support your needs. At this time, Gimbal and Nomi are robust solutions, but consider others, as the industry is changing rapidly.
- Plan locations carefully. Walls, reflective surfaces, and other devices can affect Bluetooth signals. Beacons too close together can confuse a device. Use line-of-sight as a guide.
- Calibrate distances during installation. Beacons are more accurate than GPS or WiFi, but the environment can affect distance measurement.
- You will need a platform to manage your beacons. Choose a beacon agnostic platform so you don’t find yourself unable to replace hardware. At a minimum, the platform should keep you informed of battery health and missing beacons, but it should also help you categorize and tag them.
- Security is essential. Choose a platform that enables you to provide additional security layers and to register and de-register user devices. The platform should allow you to manage different levels of user permissions and role-based access control.
- Consider whether you will be able to integrate with your LMS analytics or if you need an analytics-capable platform. A welcome feature in an LMS is xAPI compatibility. The xAPI standard enables a Learning Records Store that captures and stores information from any device.
- Managing mass notifications can be difficult, especially if they are time-sensitive. Implement them slowly and determine how effective they are as you go. Too many notifications can impact on user adoption.
Beacons can be a welcome addition to your learning technology. We hope this guide helps you decide whether it is appropriate for you.
Pixentia is a full-service technology company dedicated to helping clients solve business problems, improve the capability of their people, and achieve better results.