Technology and Learning Design for Autism


KnowledgeShift, a company providing learning services and technologies in a range of industries. Mobi-RolePlay is a KnowledgeShift offering that supports learners who have autism.

Designs2Learn: Can you provide a quick snapshot of KnowledgeShift? How’d you get started, what services you provide, etc.?

Nancy Munro: KnowledgeShift started out as a company that provided customized eLearning services to large corporations.  As time went on, we became experts on various technologies used to deploy, measure and evaluate adult learning in a corporate environment.

How did the idea of Mobi-RolePlay come about?

Approximately 5 years ago, we knew that mobile learning was going to be a new emerging market in the learning space, but we didn’t want to get into the business of creating “apps. ”  So by happenstance, I stumbled up on IVR (interactive voice response) technology and a light bulb went off.  This technology would allow me to build interactive conversations that work not only from mobile phones – but any phone!  It was much easier to deploy and manage that working with Apple or Android software for mobile applications.  We then went down the path of creating simulated role-playing.  The application allows for someone to practice having a conversation with a real person.  The real person has been pre-recorded, but it still feels like you’re talking to them live.  As we created simulations for professional situations a friend of mine who is a speech therapist suggested building some for kids that have autism to practice social conversations.

What have been some of the biggest challenges in working on a project such as Mobi-RolePlay for learners with autism?

The first phase of launching Mobi-RolePlay for kids with autism was – figuring out what they talk about, which types of conversations to build for each developmental level and how to make it all seem natural.

What kind of responses have you gotten to the offering? 

We have sat down with teachers and schools who work with kids with autism. They all love the idea of allowing the student to practice on their own.  Teachers really liked the fact that they could build their own conversations based upon what each student needed to focus on.  The application comes with a built in library of practice conversations, but the real bonus is tailoring the role-plays to each student.

We did get mixed feedback on the fact that the student has to use a telephone to connect to the simulations.  So we are working on a version that can be deployed from a computer using the built in microphone of the computer to capture their responses for each conversation.

What are some other social impact projects on your roadmap? 

We currently donate the use of Mobi-RolePlay to anyone who wants to use it for their child or student with autism.  We have also begun working with colleges and universities who participate in a national role-playing program for students who are seeking a BS degree with an emphasis on selling.  We are donating the use of Mobi-RolePlay to any college who wants to use this with their students to help them practice sales role-playing as part of the annual curriculum. This competition is held annually through the Pi Sigma Epsilon organization.  Currently we have three colleges using Mobi-RolePlay for this, the most involved of which is Northern IL University.

What advice do you have for others who are interested in focusing their talent and expertise on social impact projects?

Luckily we have an alternative source of revenue from the corporate side of the business, so we do not have the pressure of generating income from the use of this with students.  Just in general for anyone wanting to start a business, make sure your business plan recognizes that it may take more time than you estimate to really get momentum.  That being said, some of the more social focused programs ramp up faster because of the story behind what they are trying to accomplish.  Leverage social media as much as you can – if it’s a great story the network will help spread the word more effectively than you could do on your own—but be authentic, that same network that can be your arms and legs for momentum and quickly cut you off at the knees if they sense your intentions are not genuine.

Thanks for your time, Nancy, and for the work you do. We look forward to hearing more about the evolution of the Mobi-RolePlay technology in both the corporate and educational spaces.

See these sites for more on KnowledgeShift and Mobi-RolePlay. Stay tuned to Designs2Learn for more on learning design and technology for social impact.

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