I am constantly amazed by how much I do on my cell phone—read e-mails, send texts, take photos, play games, access the Internet—all of which make using a desktop computer seem less and less necessary. In fact, it’s entirely possible (and likely) that you are reading this blog post from your own personal Smartphone. We have integrated mobile devices into our lives at a lightning fast pace: In 2009, 83% of adult Americans owned a mobile phone (and who knows how many children!) (2009 Pew Internet Report); we can assume that a poll taken today would show even higher percentages. Seventy-seven percent of the global population owns mobile phones. By 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide (Gartner IT Report).
Chatter about – and forays into – mobile learning solutions are spreading like wildfire, especially to accommodate an increasingly virtual workforce. I support this trend; I see huge opportunities to engage learners in more appealing, motivating, and RELEVANT ways. Why? Because mobile learning doesn’t limit us to a single viewable event. It provides easy ways to repeatedly access information – or to access information in smaller time blocks. It makes it easier for us to complete learning activities in a time and space that fits our schedules. It also provides us with a way to devise solutions to post-training follow-up that we never had before. With mobile we can:
- Create tools that enable people to find or locate information as they need it. The “formal” part of class may help learners acquire foundational knowledge. The mobile tool then enables them to find/locate as needed. (Example: Learning about the implications that formulation TYPE may have on the performance of an herbicide and then having a mobile application in the field that enables you to quickly look up a specific formulation type to see how it affects product performance.)
- Create reinforcement activities that are “quick hits.” Learners may go through a host of eLearning courses or instructor-led courses and gain quite a bit from them. But…what happens after a few months? Without constant reinforcement, they will forget most of what they learned. A mobile learning game can be just the ticket to refreshing their memory and reinforcing the knowledge they need on the job.
- Create more palatable formal learning. The touch screen and the tablet are a mighty combination. They enable us to create richer, more interactive learning experiences – and they enable us to repurpose traditional eLearning courses into a portable solution than can be accessed from anywhere.
Case Study on Reinforcement: Knowledge Guru
Knowledge Guru combines a vision of how people learn through games with the need to make learning portable – or mobile. We’ve developed several learning solutions in the past few years associated with product launches. Too often, the product training – which can be quite extensive – has to happen way before the product actually launches. Retention of information becomes a problem. Knowledge Guru (trademark pending) is a way to counteract this loss. Its function is to provide the repetition that people need to remember. It is designed to be played in short bursts (as little as six minutes) and to be played repeatedly over time. Players are on a quest to become knowledge gurus, collecting seeds of knowledge and pearls of wisdom as evidence of their expanding store of knowledge – the game play is what motivates them to return. As they play, they encounter questions associated with the knowledge they acquired via formal channels – and they have the opportunity to encounter these questions multiple times (ensuring lots of redundancy, which is key to remembering).
Case Study on Accessible eLearning: NxStage vascular access course
NxStage offers home hemodialysis equipment – freeing many people in renal failure from being tied to a dialysis center multiple times a week. But learning how to do home hemodialysis takes time and patience. Patients learn it in a dialysis center, which means they have 2.5 to 3 hours of time in each session when they are captive in the chair. This is a perfect opportunity for eLearning that supports the live instruction a nurse provides to them. Check out this iPad version of a course we developed for NxStage.
So, if mLearning is so great…why isn’t everyone already doing it?
- Cost: The major caveat to the hype around mobile learning is cost. Companies have already invested heavily in “traditional” eLearning development tools and learning management systems. Now mLearning comes along with a host of new costs associated with it. Developing mobile applications is not cheap. Expect to spend $25K to $100K+, depending on the scope of the project.
- Concern over compatibility and devices: How many mobile devices should a company support? If the official company phone is a Blackberry (and many are) but people prefer their iPhones, what should a company do? What about the iPad? Should companies build apps for those when they may not want to provide company iPads? How about compatibility of an app between device types? If I design for a Blackberry will it work on an iPhone? HTML 5, the latest iteration of hypertext markup language, promises standardization, but it’s not completely mature. Many folks are still relying on the individual software development kits provided by owners of the various operating systems (e.g. there is an SDK for Apple’s iPhone and iPad, for RIM’s Blackberry and Blackpad, and for Google’s Android, etc.). Developing an app in four different SDKs gets very expensive.
- Lack of know-how. EVERYONE is still learning how to develop for mobile. When eLearning came onto the scene, lots of people started cranking out really bad eLearning. The same is true for mobile – lots of people are trying to figure out the best way to design and deliver “mobile learning.” Many folks are waiting to see what others do – and how they do it – so they can copy good and avoid bad.