M-learning — mobile learning — is a hot new topic among training professionals, but what, exactly, is it? And who uses it? We know the idea is to tap into the immense power and popularity of smartphones and tablets and to deliver training on-the-go. But, as new as the concept is, most training pros still have more questions than answers about how to use, utilize, and implement m-learning programs. So we turned to Connie Malamed, e-learning consultant, speaker, and author of the popular instructional design website The eLearning Coach, to talk about the benefits and drawbacks of m-learning.
The Daily Mindflash: Why make your online training program mobile?
Connie Malamed: If we’re talking about mobile learning on smartphones, you can’t really take your e-learning or training program and shrink it down to a phone-size screen and call it a strategy. It’s more complicated and nuanced than that.
The advantages of mobile learning to consider are that smartphones are portable, always available and convenient. Therefore, mobile learning can provide just-in-time training and support when it’s needed. They can also provide content related to the user’s location. If it’s possible to leverage these features so that they align with organizational goals, then a strategy can emerge out of this.
What kinds of training programs translate best to mobile?
Many people whose jobs are out in the field or whose lives are on the go can benefit from mobile learning and support. For example, a home nurse visiting a new patient might want a quick mini-lesson on a patient's illness. The lesson could show how to assess the patient and how to tell if the symptoms are worsening. A sales representative might use mobile learning to review how to pronounce scientific and medical terms.
Construction workers might need a quick lesson on safety prior to operating a new tool. An augmented reality application could allow the construction worker to point his or her phone at the device and see a display of safety features overlaid on the device.
Mobile learning is even useful for people sitting at desks. Rather than going through a cumbersome Learning Management System, a mobile app can provide information quickly and conveniently, providing all the information you need in one place. For example, grad students have told me they use my Instructional Design Guru app in the library and in class, even though their laptops are handy.
Designing m-learning courses is pretty unfamiliar to most trainers. Can anyone do it?
Just like any sophisticated and complex task, instructional designers, graphic designers, and programmers will need to come up to speed learning how to design and develop for mobile. Organizations will need to invest some time and money to support this learning process. If there is a real need for mobile learning, then it will be worth the investment.
What differences should training designers keep in mind between m- and e-learning?
… People use their phones in short bursts of activity. Designers will need to think more in terms of performance support and micro-learning, rather than long courses. With smartphones we can take advantage of location information and leverage communication between phones. I think we’re really in kindergarten when it comes to understanding the possibilities.
Who is the target audience for m-learning?
You wrote a piece in the summer about designing your first app, Instructional Design Guru. Any revelations since then?
I actually spent so much time researching how to design a smartphone app, I think the tips I discussed in “10 Tips for Designing mLearning and Support Apps” still hold true. But I think that there is much more to learn about how to make the best use of the (touch-screen) gestural interface and the hardware capabilities of the phone. For example, are there ways we can take use the GPS, camera, video, phone communication and motion sensors to make learning more effective?
In addition, there is the potential for learning games and collaboration. As users become more competent in their phone use, our apps will need to keep pace with them. Mobile learning has a lot of potential for the future, but it takes a well-thought out strategy to succeed.
In March, Connie will be presenting a session about designing mobile performance apps at the Learning Solutions 2012 conference in Orlando, FL.
Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user Veronica Belmont.