Five Lessons in Mobile Learning

Last week I attended mLearnCon 2011 in San Jose, CA.  mLearnCon is a growing and dynamic event by the eLearning Guild that’s focused on Mobile Learning with a mixed audience of technologists, educators, analysts, corporate L&D professionals, training & courseware providers, and technology vendors (typically for authoring tools, mobile delivery platforms, LCMSs, and LMSs).  This year some really good points came up that reinforce what we have learned the hard way via our own (and our clients’) experiences in implementing mobile learning.  I felt it might be worth recapping here.

  1. What is mLearning? It might sound surprising that there is no clear commonly agreed upon definition of Mobile Learning.  Does it include learning on laptops or not?  Does it imply Internet connectivity?  Does it apply if the experience is not mobile per se?  Does it have to involve some level of collaboration among learners?  Personally, I am not surprised there is no single definition for all.  Because what is becoming clear is that Mobile Learning really means different things to different people (depending on objectives, needs, scope, constraints, resources, and more).Now, as a side note, if you ask me about what definition I feel closer to, I will choose something that approaches mobility from the learner’s point of view and not from a technological perspective; for example the definition in the MOBIlearn Guidelines report that considers mobile learning “… any sort of learning that happens when the learner is not at a fixed, predetermined location, or learning that happens when the learner takes advantage of the learning opportunities offered by mobile technology.”
  2. mLearning is not eLearning on a smartphone. Ok, everyone seems to agree that if you take eLearning and squeeze it to fit the dimensions and resolution of a mobile device is probably not the way to go. And we know enough now to avoid the early eLearning mistakes. Yes?  Right, so why are most conversations focusing on how to make Powerpoint flash content run on iPad?  Is this even the right approach?  On the other hand, what about all this eLearning content that has (finally & successfully) been developed?  Can we port it to mobile?  Should we? According to an excellent study by Bryan Chapman, the average cost of creating an hour of interactive eLearning is $18,500 which can rise to $50,000 with more advanced interactivity. So, how do you justify the ROI moving to mobile learning while protecting this eLearning investment? I think there is a real business challenge here.
  3. It’s the learner, stupid. Maybe it’s just me, but I am seeing that most conversations revolve around devices and platforms instead of the learner.  With mobile, we have an opportunity to design technologies and solutions that put the learner in the center of the learning experience.  An experience that includes content, activities, and people, along with the ability to access and administer all these in an intuitive, if not seamless, way.  The simplest way to do this is by meeting the learners where they are, whenever they need it, and with whatever approach is most effective for the particular situation.  We also have the know-how to do all that while addressing key business drivers like supporting an increasingly mobile workforce, improving on-the-job performance, increasing the impact of corporate L&D programs, and developing a new generation of talent.
  4. mLearning is an evolution, not a revolution. This is what our clients have really taught us.  You need to think big about mobile, but start small.  Take an objective, a program, a specific group mobile and work hard to make sure the undertaking is successful.  It’s always worth listening to your own audience to see what their needs and particular situations are, and hence what makes sense to go mobile.  And always link mobile learning to your overall learning and talent strategy, because that’s where the value lies.
  5. There is no silver bullet in mLearning. No matter what vendors say, there is no single solution for all.  We are dealing with such a diverse ecosystem of technologies and business situations that we need to be thinking along the lines of multiple solution approaches.  And, I would suggest let’s not take innovation out of the way we think about mLearning.  I think there are great things to achieve in front of us, so let’s not make the mistakes of the past.