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Rethinking your CPD: The future is mobile and more


Roll back the clock to 1991.

Just one month before Nirvana’s Nevermind would change the face of modern music something else was quietly bubbling away, something that would forever change how we interact with each other and the world around us.

On 6 August 1991 the world wide web went live. There was no global media coverage and no sign that it was anything special. In fact the only public posting of this event was by its creator, Tim Berners-Lee, on the alt-hypertext newsgroup (now defunct but archived here). It read:

'The WWW project merges the techniques of information retrieval and hypertext to make an easy but powerful global information system.

'The project started with the philosophy that much academic information should be freely available to anyone.  It aims to allow information sharing within internationally dispersed teams, and the dissemination of information by support groups.'

Some 28 years ago the world wide web entered our lives, not with a bang but with a whisper.  

Today, the internet is unrecognisable from its humble beginnings. As of April 2019, 56 per cent of the world’s population and 81 per cent of the developed world have internet access.

Think about that for a moment. It means 4.3 billion people have access to the internet. If you are old enough (and I am) to remember a time you could barely connect with the people in the town you grew up in and now, theoretically, you can connect to billions across the planet you live on. And all in the space of 28 years.

One of the main reasons behind this exponential expansion of access is the rise of mobile.  And it’s been around longer than you might think. Mobile website technology began to emerge around 1996. There is a direct correlation with the evolution of smartphones.

One of the first commercial mobile devices capable of accessing mobile internet was the Nokia 9000 Communicator, initially released in Finland. Other companies quickly followed suit with their own mobile devices and aided by the spirit of competition, drove refinements in both the smartphone and the accessibility of the ‘mobile’ world wide web.  

And I suppose it’s safe to say the rest is history.

We are now constantly connected to the world wide web, in one way or another. Indeed we are so attached to our mobile devices that smartphone separation anxiety, known as nomophobia, is a medically recognised cause of anxiety. Put simply, we get stressed when we’re parted from our phones.

However, look beyond the short term panic of losing your phone and there are clearly many benefits to our constant connectivity.  One of the which provides us the opportunity to learn about things, processes, and people, wherever we go.

Within the National Institute for Health Research we have recently made efforts to adapt our learning to fit with what has increasingly become a mobile workforce.

NIHR Learn is our online Learning Management System or LMS and a recent update has allowed access to learning to be more intuitive. By using adaptive technology the mobile experience is now one which enhances rather than hinders the learner’s journey.

Within this is the acknowledgment that social learning has increasingly been recognised as one of the most popular and effective ways we learn. Online forums have been around for many years but being able to implement them and tailor them to specific communities across the CRN allows us to bring even greater value to the high-quality learning which exists on NIHR Learn. This is something new. It’s exciting. And it’s just the beginning.

NIHR Learn will continue to adapt to the needs of NIHR staff and the clinical research delivery workforce we fund, by adding features that enable us, as learners, to better engage with learning and our peers wherever they are in the world.

If we revisit those key aims for the world wide web as stated by Berners-Lee 28 years ago – 'to allow information sharing within internationally dispersed teams, and the dissemination of information by support groups' – I think it’s clear the NIHR is heading in the right direction.

Tristan Marshall-Regan, Learning Content Curator, National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.