General Considerations for Mobile Learning (mLearning)

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Wikipedia defines mobile learning as “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 technologies”.

In other words, mLearning decreases limitation of learning location with the mobility of general portable devices1.

Simply put, mobile learning is the acquisition or modification of any knowledge and skill through using mobile technology, anywhere, anytime and results in the modification of behavior2.

In this simple definition:

• Mobile Technology – refers to any device that is designed to provide access to information in any location, or while on the move.

• Terms such as teaching and training are not used in this definition. It is not suggested that these methods of facilitating learning will disappear; however, greater emphasis will be placed on self-directed learning.

• The behaviorist idea of an ‘alteration in behavior’ is used because as the information age continues to progress, more people will have access to knowledge, often and easily. However, without an alteration in behavior, it is not deemed to be learning.

While in the future it’s plausible that all types of learning content will be mobile, we aren’t quite just there yet. In the current situation, it’s more feasible to build mobile learning into the blend rather than replacing your existing training methods. I’ve often mentioned that if we were to step back in time and look at instructional methods through history, one would notice that the advent of a new delivery method hasn’t fundamentally altered the existing methods. What has happened is that the new delivery medium gets co-opted and integrated with the existing methods of delivery. This is nothing but creating a ‘blend’; similarly, we cannot expect mobile technology to ever completely replace instructor led training or computer based training; however, it will surely be included as an adjunct to these methods initially. And when it matures, which is starting as I write this, it’ll become a substantial part of the training blend.

I’ve mentioned previously there’s an entire generation of mobile savvy learners entering the workplace, mobile communication and computing devices are becoming commonplace and communication networks powering these devices are becoming pervasive and support higher data bandwidths than ever before.

In my opinion it’s only appropriate for mLearning to be adopted for specific learning situations. How does one quickly determine whether mobile learning is appropriate for your learning need and audience? What are the key considerations that drive the decision to go for mobile learning?

Simply ask a series of questions.

Can we use mobile capabilities to enhance learning?

The operative words here are ‘to enhance learning’; consider whether the capabilities offered by mobile technology can actually enhance the learning experience you want to deliver. If your answer at this point is ‘no’, stop right there and consider other options.

Which of those capabilities would interest would-be learners?

Having determined that you can use mobile capabilities to enhance learning, the next logical step is to ask which of those capabilities would actually interest learners. Would it be the ability to access content regardless of location? the ability to use GPS? or to use a specific application? It’s important that the learners/would-be learners have an interest in that capability, or any learning associated with the use of that capability just won’t happen.

Will ubiquitous connectivity better enable learning interaction?

Next ask if ubiquitous connectivity will enhance learning interactions amongst peers, fellow learners, instructors, SMEs, mentors and others. If your answer is ‘yes’, mobile learning has great potential in meeting your learning need.

What services will help learners be more productive?

Mobile technology lets learners access a variety of services. We need to determine from amongst these many options, which is most suitable for learners to use such that learning or performance is enhanced. Try to list how such services can be used by learners, would they use it to call their mentors? Or would they use the mobile device to post to blogs or comment in forums?

What content is already on hand that could be made easier to access via mobile devices? Does content already exist in another form?

Moot point – having existing materials that lend themselves to conversion into a mobile format give you a distinct advantage in adopting mLearning. All you need to get started is a simple conversion. When looking for such content remember to look beyond your regular training department or L&D; and consult with acknowledged subject matter experts, look up the recognized power users and leaders. This is where you’ll find content; it’s important to recognize that it doesn’t solely exist in learning and training silos.

What network will be used for distribution?
What actions or activities will need to be tracked?

Having considered that mobile technology is appropriate for enhancing learning, and having identified the services, capabilities and content that will be required for learning. We move on to actually asking about tracking learners, how will learning activities or content be administered and tracked? This is typically where the learning/knowledge management system comes in, and a determination of how it will track these mobile based activities must be made.

Will mobile learning integrate with other corporate systems or does it need to?

As with determining tracking of learning activities, one also needs to consider the need for integration or data exchange with established corporate management information systems or human resource information systems. As the cost for such integration varies widely, it’s ill-advised to try any sort of integration while piloting mobile learning your organization.

Who will handle any needed user support?

Next obvious question is to decide who will handle user support and how it will deal with issues that emerge while piloting your mLearning initiative. Be advised that there will be definite need for support, as with any technology initiative, users will need to have questions answered, trivial though they might seem.

While seemingly simple, these questions take time to answer; but are crucial if you want any sort of mobile learning to be effective. There is always the likelihood that as you answer these questions, you may just realize mobile learning isn’t what’s needed in your situation. In my next post, I’m going to delve deeper into the technology of mLearning. Understanding the network and the devices are the next critical step in being able to use mobile technologies effectively for learning.


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