With its M-Learning Viewer, which became available April 6, Cisco Systems continues to build upon its arsenal of useful applications for the iPhone, this time adding an authorized source of learning materials designed to help people study for Cisco certifications. While the viewer application and available content are currently somewhat bare-bones, the platform could grow into a useful learning tool over time as the company works on it.
M-Learning consists of freely available viewing applications and a series of for-pay content modules. Cisco said it does not intend the M-Learning modules to provide the comprehensive bolus of information needed to pass a CCENT or CCNA exam, but rather envisions M-Learning as a complement to its other educational outlets, such as Cisco Press books and Cisco Learning Partner outlets.
The new iPhone application is available now for free from Apple's App Store, and free viewers for Macs and Windows PCs are also downloadable from Cisco's M-Learning Website. A similar BlackBerry application is expected to ship sometime in summer 2010.
With the Viewer applications being available for free, users instead pay for the content modules-each of which is available for $4.99. At launch, Cisco released 18 modules, with topics ranging from TCP/IP Architecture (at either the Internet or Transport layer) to various VLAN (virtual LAN) or WAN configurations to subnetting how-tos. Users may view the content across any of the supported platforms, with no expiration on content availability.
Cisco and its partners expect to release more modules down the road.
Modules must be purchased from Cisco's Website; payment is accepted via credit card, PayPal, wire transfer or purchase order. To view the content on an iPhone, users must after completing the purchase access their Order History page from the iPhone browser, then click on the on-screen iPhone Access icon to begin the download. This opens the M-Learning Viewer, which begins the download and adds it to the list of available content. Once the download completes, the user can tap on the item in the Viewer, thereby decrypting and presenting the module elements included therein.
I bought the "Implementing and Troubleshooting a WLAN" module and found the subject matter fairly basic. A 12-minute video outlined the history of 802.11 as well as a few differences between the different flavors (a, b, g and n), discussed the differences between ad hoc and infrastructure networking, and talked about the difference between a BSSID (basic service set identifier) and an ESSID (extended SSID). It then provided some very basic WLAN troubleshooting tips.
After watching the video, I could reinforce the lesson using the series of flash cards that came with the module. The flash cards can be viewed individually or in a series.
If interrupted by a phone call or a notification while watching the video, the application keeps track of where the track stopped during the last session. I was also happy to see that after the initial download the content is available for consumption even when the device lacks Internet connectivity.
From the Settings dialog, I also found I could control the maximum amount of storage space the Viewer can consume on the iPhone. The page enumerates the total amount of space available in system storage and the amount consumed by the application, with a slider bar to control the local memory allocation.
In truth, there's really not a lot to either the Viewer application or the content repository at this point in time. However, Cisco has shown a willingness not only to develop compelling mobile applications (particularly for the iPhone), but to continue to develop and improve them, as we've seen with the company's SIO To Go application.
And so, I fully expect M-Learning to prove itself a valuable study tool within the year.