In today’s fast-paced society, people are joined at the hip—well, literally, at the fingertips—to their mobile devices. E-mail, voice mail, instant messages, and video conferencing are all available with the touch of a button. No matter what business or industry you’re in, people need to be connected. And because of this growing need for connectivity, more and more people are leveraging mobile devices, in more ways than one. Additionally, because of the fairly recent and wide adoption of social networking, these types of devices have become more affordable and thus readily available to the general population.
Salespeople on the road have instant access to vendor information, numbers, pricing, etc. Area supervisors can easily access information about the employees they manage in various geographical locations. C-level managers travelling for business can easily manage their agendas on the fly. The possibilities are endless as to what mobile communications can do for one’s business.
But what about mobile learning?
Mobile learning, or m-learning as it is now called, focuses on the mobility of the learner, allowing him/her to interact with portable technologies and take in bite-size portions (called nuggets) of content, learning bits at a time. M-learning is convenient, as content is accessible from virtually anywhere. And the lightweight portability of the device removes the need for learners to carry around books and notes.
M-learning, like e-learning, is also collaborative. Learners can easily share advice with or ask questions to others using the same content. This leads to instant feedback from peers, co-workers, managers, etc.
This all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? But are there some possible downsides to mobile learning? Let’s take a look at some of the questions this fast-growing trend has raised.
What types of learning can I access through my mobile device?
- compliance training
- performance support
- policy/regulation updates
- testing and quizzes
- job aids and training
- surveys and polls
- ... and more
How Effective Is M-learning, Really?
Learning experts have known for years that repetition is one of the two best ways to ensure that what we’re learning about sticks in our memory; the other is relevance. With nearly everyone carrying a portable device these days, mobile devices have become the perfect tool for providing regular reminders to help individuals remember and retain information. But how effective is m-learning, really?
One of the keys to successful training is creating the proper learning environment. Can mobile learning be part of that success? I believe it can. The bite-size portions that learners take in via their mobile session can help increase their level of understanding—for one thing, they’re not bombarded with information overload. Moreover, the effective and efficient advantage of ubiquitous learning means learners are ready at any time (and from anywhere) to take a course, survey, or quiz—they don’t have to wait for the class to begin or until they get home to log on to their desktop computers.
But, because mobile learning is still in its infancy, it is very difficult to gauge its use and effectiveness once deployed. As such, this greatly limits the ability for learning administrators or instructors to gain executive support on such an initiative.
What Can M-learning Do for Me?
Through mobile learning, organizations can communicate with their mobile workforce as well as engage employees in rich learning content that is specific to their jobs.
What type of mobile device can I use for learning?
- mobile phone
- smart phone
- iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch
- Pocket PC
- ... and more
Mobility allows learners to do the following:
- access information from different locations, through different wireless capabilities
- use audio/video (streaming technology) to enhance their learning experience
- manage and track their course enrollment and progress
- access and manage their learning in the format that best supports their needs, accessing course content through either a dedicated application or a device’s browser
- learn easily on the run, through the ubiquitous nature of the mobile device
- review information quickly and easily, rather than engage in a prolonged or deep type of learning—10-to-15 minute chunks of learning, at most, are recommended. Unfortunately, people don’t sit still long enough to take in more than that on a mobile device
Did you know that
- as of October 2008, there were more than 1,600 mobile learning applications in the Apple Store (Adkins 2010)?
- the demand for mobile learning in the US consumer and health care segments made the United States the top-buying country in the 2009 global mobile learning market (Adkins 2010)?
What about Technical Issues?
In the past, learners, developers, and administrators faced plenty of technology, usability, and organizational challenges that prevented the widespread commitment to and adoption of mobile learning. These are some of their concerns:
- Security—Proprietary content needs to be secure. Because of their size and portability, mobile devices are easy to lose, subject to damage, and more likely to be stolen than desktop systems, increasing the possibility of exposing confidential company data.
- Content presentation—A lack of technology consistency exists among devices, preventing content, such as video, from being properly displayed, and forcing organizations to dedicate valued resources to reconfiguring content for multiple devices.
- Screen size—Most mobile devices are quite small (except for the recent entrant iPad), making it difficult to view full screens of data without the need to scroll. Picture resolution can also be a factor; graphics should be in PNG format, rather than BMP format, which is smaller for better viewing.
- Usability—As most mobile devices use touch-screen technology, information needs to be organized and easily navigated with the touch of a finger. The interface between screens needs to be quick, otherwise learners will lose interest very quickly.
- Bandwidth—The richer the media, the more likely to be download and bandwidth issues. When people experience slow data exchange, they have difficulty absorbing what they’re learning.
- Support—Mobile learning programs often require new staff and/or skills to integrate and operate. Specialized development tools are also needed, requiring considerable training to develop content.
With the addition of new technologies (e.g., information receivers, cameras, radio-frequency identification [RFID] readers, etc.) and more stringent company policies on the use of portable devices for work purposes, some of these technical challenges are beginning to dissipate. I believe the bigger challenge lies in the global adoption of this technology in business. Many organizations are still unsure of how mobile learning will affect their bottom line.
Let’s face it, with everyone joined at the fingertip to their mobile device, it only makes sense to make use of a growing trend and add learning to our already favorite pastime of mobile computing. The use of mobile devices seems a natural fit for distributed learning and field activities, as handheld technology can not only accompany the learner virtually anywhere, but also provide a platform that is always connected to data sources.
The popularity of mobile technology makes this an option worth exploring in a company’s training strategy. Today’s organizations should feel confident in developing and deploying mobile learning programs that support their key corporate initiatives. Remember, however, that mobile learning should not be a replacement for other modes of learning, but simply an extension.
I’ve just scratched the surface on the topic of mobile learning in this article; there is a lot more to be said about this rapidly growing trend. Check back for future articles on this subject.
For further reading on the subject of m-learning and mobility, I recommend the following two books:
The Mobile Learning Edge: Tools and Technologies for Developing Your Teams
Portable Communities: The Social Dynamics of Online and Mobile Connectedness
Some Vendor Offerings
New kinds of devices are emerging on a daily basis, blurring the distinctions between phones, personal digital assistants [PDAs], e-readers, and other types of hardware. Future mobile technologies will be able to present textbooks, create data visualizations, and foster contextual learning. Here are just a few software vendors that have added “mobile” to their capabilities:
OutStart—Hot Lava Mobile leverages the familiar PowerPoint environment to easily and quickly develop mobile content once for deployment across commonly used mobile devices. Hot Lava Mobile’s extension to PowerPoint supports the development of quizzes, polls, assessments, and more.
Blackboard—Blackboard Mobile™ Learn takes interactive teaching and learning to the mobile device, giving students and educators access to courses and content on a variety of mobile devices, including Android™ and BlackBerry® phones as well as iPhone OS-powered devices.
Xyleme—A learning content management system (LCMS) for mobile learning provides a set of publishing templates that enable training content to be delivered on demand to any java-enabled mobile device, including iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and other smart phone or PDA.
We’d Like to Know . . .
We’d like to know what your company’s current position is on mobile learning. Is it an initiative that you’re currently promoting? Are you looking to adopt mobile learning in the future? Or, do you have no intention of adopting mobile learning—ever? We’d like to hear from you. Please leave your comments below.
Adkins, S.S. 2010. Ambient Insight Comprehensive Report: The US Market for Mobile Learning Products and Services: 2009–2014 Forecast and Analysis. http://www.ambientinsight.com/Resources/Documents/AmbientInsight_2008-2013_US_MobileLearning_Forecast_ExecutiveOverview.pdf (accessed December 14, 2010).