There are now over 5 billion mobile phone subscriptions according to the International Telecommunications Union. This amounts to 2 mobile phone subscriptions per person. The ubiquitous nature of mobile phone devices, in particular Smartphones such as Apple iPhone, Google Android and RIM BlackBerry devices is unescapable facet of our daily life. You see people of all ages and backgrounds carrying and using these devices at the restaurant, subway, and when traveling. The explosive growth of these devices and related technology innovations have created a proverbial “fork in road” for organizations seeking to deploy mobile learning initiatives. There are some significant and difficult choices ahead for organizations and learning professionals implementing mobile learning initiatives.
The first and most provocative question is What is m-Learning? Depending on who you ask, answers will and do vary. I recently completed some intensive research in the field of mobile learning over the past 15 weeks. I reviewed numerous peer-reviewed publications from academic scholars and practitioners in the field over the past decade only to find that there is no one agreed upon definition. Current perspectives about mobile learning fall into four broad categories:
Companion to eLearning
Technocentric definitions of mobile learning focus exclusively on the hardware and software. These definitions tend to focus on defining mobile learning based upon the device, its size, and portability. Defining mobile learning exclusively by the technology is problematic as the technology is every evolving. To define mobile learning as learning that is merely facilitated by a device that fits into your pocket limits our imaginations for thinking about factors that matter most in the learning experience – namely you. As a learner, you have a central role in the learning experience and its ultimate outcome.
Another groups of practitioners and academic scholars identify and associate mobile learning as a companion to eLearning. They define m-learning as just another delivery format for its bigger cousin – eLearning which we have all become accustomed to using on personal computer. For those that subscribe to this perspective, mobile learning is all about converting and creating miniaturized versions of PC based courseware. This perspective is directly flawed in my view by my experience with such pursuit. For organizations deploying mobile versions of existing elearning courseware, significant opportunities to enhance the learning experience are missed by not addressing the mobility of the learner in instructional design and delivery of the experience.
I had the opportunity about a year ago to lead a mobile learning initiative that involved converting and delivering an existing online learning course to a BlackBerry device. The results of the project gave our organization significant pause with pursuing the eLearning companion perspective as part of our mobile learning strategy. We faced numerous instructional design and development considerations and technical challenges with pursuing this avenue. The form-factor of the device and technical limitations required redevelopment of significant portions of the course that were designed and developed from a personal computer interface perspective.
But more importantly, we began to ask ourselves— are we missing something more with mobile learning? The answer was and is YES!!
This leads to the last two perspectives on mobile learning. Learner mobility and collaborative learning. Learners are free and untethered with a mobile device. They have the ability for them to access and interact with people and resources specific to their particular location at the moment. Imagine visiting Chicago or Philadelphia and as you physically pass thru locations, specific areas information resources are presented to you. WikiPedia Mobile if you will. Now imagine you are completing new hire orientation at factory assembly line in Detroit, MI or Rochester NY and using mobile device to explore and learn about different areas of the factory thru Augmented Reality browser that identifies various pieces of equipment, their use and safety considerations. The mobility of the learner presents opportunities and challenges with designing m-learning experiences. You can not assume a pre-determined location, nor can you anticipate what the learner was doing and is doing while they begin their m-learning experience. Perhaps they have only a few minutes in between meetings or during break in a business trip. These factors are not even typically thought of in traditional elearning courseware.
Mobile learning is much more about the learner, their mobility, and opportunities for them interact with resources and people specific to their location than it is about the device and its hardware. The technology does matter but the role it plays should be in supporting the design and development decisions you make with m-learning not defining the choices. I’ll talk about the mobile device platforms in my next entry and specific innovations occurring outside of traditional educational technology that I believe have potential to impact and shape mobile learning in the coming year. I welcome your thoughts as always on this and other entries. If you are interested in receiving a copy of the research that I conducted as well notifications of updates to my blog, please sign-up.
Had some opportunity over the weekend to attend Apple Store opening in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Using my iPhone to capture some video, I put together a short video using Apple’s iMovie ’11 software application.
iMovie ’11 offers some dramatic usability improvements as well as the addition of new feature movie trailers. The movie trailer functionality provides some interesting possibilities with supporting organizations seeking to build awareness of learning and development programs with employees. I will post some additional thoughts on user generated content and design in coming weeks. For now check out the movie trailer.
Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine, famously said “The only factor becoming scarce in a world of abundance is human attention.” Actor George Clooney recently remarked while accepting an Emmy for his humanitarian work, that “When the disaster happens, everybody wants to help…the hard part is seven months later, five years later, when we’re on to a new story. Honestly, we fail at that, most of the time. That’s the facts. I fail at that.”
Human attention is the most sought after ingredient in any training and learning program. iPods and iPhones have changed people’s expectations about traditional limitations of when and where to listen to music and communicate with others. The mobile application market is now poised to alter people’s expectations about when and where they can learn.
My two hour daily subway ride to my downtown Chicago office has presented growing imagery of people huddled into crowded train spaces with their “i” white headphones and touch screen devices. These riders come in all races, genders, and ages. They share many common attributes with other riders but the one that most stands out to me is the duration and level of their engagement with their ‘i’ device. Their faces squarely fixated on their screens and their fingers performing rapid succession of gesture based interactions. Now imagine for a moment the users were all engaged in learning and training applications. Filling their daily commutes with personal growth, spiritual, lifestyle, and other types of training experiences.
Several years ago, critics of eLearning said that elearning lacked the ability to engage learners in immersive experiences. While there is much truth to that; one can not argue any longer that learners are not ready to fixate their attention on handheld devices for minutes and hours at a time.
So i am going to begin a 15 week graduate project examining the essential question “Mobile Learning, hype or happening? The project will examine current educational and technological trends in mobile learning. I will also incorporate findings from an R&D project that I conducted to examine the challenges and opportunities with converting a PC based elearning course to Smartphone device. Stayed tuned.
Professional Training & Coaching | Greater Chicago Area, US
Accomplished Learning Leader with a proven ability in leading organizational adoption of technology to improve workplace performance. Recognized as an expert in translating and aligning workforce performance improvements with targeted instructional programs. Practical experience with operational process improvement, project management, developing consulting services, marketing and communications, instructional design and delivery of workforce training programs.
Specialties: Workforce training, eLearning development, instructional design, classroom-based instruction, assessment, backwards by design, Total Quality Management