Mobile Learning – SMS Can Get You Started

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Mobile is surely the future of learning. I believe that and have written about it earlier – here and here. The advent of 3G (with 4G looming on the horizon) and the prevalence of powerful handheld devices have made me believe that rich media is the way to go for m-learning.

I attended mLearnCon at San Diego earlier this week expecting to see what’s being done with all the bandwidth and device capabilities at hand.

I must say I have been surprised by the inclination towards SMS (short messaging service/text messages) as the favorite method for m-learning.  During the last four days at mLearnCon, I’ve been listening to numerous high-profile speakers and sharing notes with equally brilliant co-attendees who all have dabbled a bit in m-learning; I am inclined to say that SMS is the future of m-learning, at least in the short term. It may sound like we’re going backwards on the technology evolution graph but the truth is SMS is the only technology (if it’s appropriate to call it that) that fits the bill. Most organizations today face constraints on one or more of these issues – bandwidth (consistently available to whole workforce), devices (huge disparity in what the workforce carries), development platforms (as many platforms as phone manufactures as of now), culture (habits of accessing SMS for personal & business communication), & cost (development and delivery).

Where does SMS score highly?

  • SMS is easy. Practically everyone knows how to send and receive an SMS. 53% of planet uses it.
  • SMS is fast. Actually 720 times faster than email.
  • SMS can reach all types of mobile phones. No special device feature neither high connection speed needed.
  • SMS gateways can be easily setup
  • SMS content development and delivery is cheap (much cheaper that other modes)

So what kind of SMS solutions can you implement? Here are some examples and suggestions

  • Provide Alerts and Updates: From teachers to trainers to state emergency offices everyone could use alerts. There’s an SMS earthquake warning system in place in San Francisco Area to warn citizens of any earthquakes or Tsunamis.
  • Small Periodic Nuggets: Delivering English (or any other language) lessons daily via SMS are a great option for language training. Text4baby: A project to help pregnant women during their pregnancy. Women who sign up for the service by texting BABY to 511411 receive three free SMS text messages each week timed to their due date or baby’s date of birth.
  • Backchannel Communication: Provides an embarrassment free channel for asking questions. Also helps teacher/trainer keep track of back chatter.
  • Surveys: You could use sites like to create instant surveys that people could respond to from their mobiles (or web) via SMS.
  • Assessments: Deliver text assessments over the mobile via SMS one question at a time.
  • Blend with eLearning for Feedback and support: SMS based support or feedback delivered during an e-learning program is a powerful personalized mechanism to keep learners motivated. This could be system triggered based on your actions in the e-learning program. A teacher may congratulate a nervous student after his/her good presentation (from a paper I found on web – can’t locate now)
  • Performance Support: Should a worker get stuck he could SMS to a central support number and get process steps by SMS one after the other.

There are lots of tools for creating rich (some may call it fancy) m-learning but may be SMS is the way most organizations will have to start and grow from there.

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