Why Mobile Learning is a Slow March (#ATDTK Reflections)


While a huge number of organizations are still just getting their feet wet with mobile, this year’s ATD TechKnowledge conference sought to get learning professionals thinking beyond our current approaches to imagine how technology in 2020 and beyond will impact learning.

David Rose, MIT media lab instructor, entrepreneur and author, painted an exciting picture of the “internet of things” in the opening keynote. He showed a number of products that fade into the background of our lives while using data and connectivity to make our lives easier. We saw orbs that glow a certain color to tell us what the weather is like and tables that create beautiful images to show the balance of conversation in a meeting. Augmented reality was shown as a way to turn the world around us into a user interface we manipulate.

His book, Enchanted Objects, sounds like a must-read. I myself am very excited by the possibilities of these objects!

The Glass Slab

Mobile learning as we know it today is reliant on the “glass slab” in our hand. It’s about building an app or website that is intuitive and useful and moving learning to this device, anytime and anywhere. And while the technology around us is moving forward very quickly, executives and training professionals are constrained by the needs (and sometimes the limitations) of their organizations.

This is why the concurrent sessions at a conference are so useful. These presentations, for the most part, are more grounded in the here and now. One of my favorite concurrent sessions was a mobile learning case study presented by Brandon Carson, Director of Learning at the Home Depot. Carson shared the business needs, process and approach his team has taken to develop a mobile performance support app for Home Depot employees. While David Rose’s presentation was all about exciting products and technologies that will change our world, Carson’s presentation was about his team’s multi-year journey to create an app that is simple to use yet contains a massive amount of information. His team navigated some significant constraints such as lack of bandwidth, device distribution and training time available to create a meaningful learning experience.

The contrast between these two situations was a bit ironic, really. Carson commented on it at one point, noting that his team “was taking three years to figure out what smart phone experience may or may not work. Moving a ship as big as Home Depot is not easy. (This makes it hard to)… keep up with the pace of technology.”

Back to the Here and Now

I feel like many of the organizations we talk to are on the same boat (pun intended). We are all excited about the future of technology and how that future, whether it be algorithmic learning or the internet of things, will change the way people learn and remember. But we are all still living in the here and now, working for or with organizations that have real constraints and challenges that must be addressed. For example:

  • You might know that a software-as-a-service (SaaS) learning product is right for your learners, but your IT Procurement might not really know how to buy it and pay for it!
  • You might want to deliver more training via a mobile device, but the LMS that your organization invested six or seven-figure dollars into makes this experience clunky at best.
  • You might believe that games and gamified experiences will enhance learner engagement and help drive retention, but stakeholders are still feeling burned by a past “experiment” that blew up in their faces!
  • You want to invest in a new, innovative learning platform, but your organization is structured into different business areas and it is difficult to leverage a single platform across multiple areas.

What Can Be Done?

There is no easy answer for how to navigate these challenges. I liked how Brandon Carson’s presentation gave a very real picture of how to move forward with new learning technologies. It might take longer than we would like, but it is possible to bring new learning approaches to an organization if we take the time to build the case, analyze the target learner, prototype and pilot, and match the solution to business needs.

That’s what it really takes to bring the “future of learning,” whatever that ends up looking like, to an organization.

More Reflections on Mobile Learning

I’ve written some other articles recently that explore mobile learning in greater detail, both here and on our Knowledge Guru website. Here are a few:


eLearning Trends That Will Fizzle, Sizzle, or Simmer in 2014

2014 eLearning Trends

Our industry is notorious for chasing after trends. We all enjoy reading the summaries of the past year – and seeing predictions for the new one. Most folks want to know: which trends are worth pursuing and which ones are going to fizzle? Is gamification going to go the way of Myspace and Foursquare? Will social learning be replaced by “isolation learning” (okay, I made that up)?

At any point in time, there are trends that sizzle, others that simmer, and ones that fizzle out. The really, really good ones become “best practices” over the long haul. So let’s see what’s on the stove right now.

First, the sizzle

This is the stuff that I see TRULY taking off inside organizations. It’s not just talked about…it is happening:

Experience API (aka Tin Can API): Considering the fact that “xAPI” was just introduced in 2012, I think this trend is sizzling. There is no question that companies – particularly large ones – love to track data. If they can’t track it then people didn’t learn… or so the feeling goes. Experience API allows for tracking of all that stuff that has been so hard to track – use of social media, for example. So – just as SCORM took several years to get to a point of critical mass, I think Experience API will – but I do believe this type of tracking is going to be a force for the future.

Gamification/learning games: This trend is at full sizzle right now. We are having LOTS of conversations with folks who want either a learning game developed or would like support in creating a gamification strategy related to a large endeavor or program. I fear that over-use or inappropriate use could lead to it falling out of favor by 2016 because a lot of efforts may fail due to poor design or implementation.

The same reasons games and gamification are being used should be reasons to keep them around: they tend to structure learning experiences into challenges and provide feedback loops, two things that engage people and help foster behavior change.

Storytelling in Training: This trend/topic began peeking its head out last year, and seems off to a roaring start in 2014. Almost every recipient of the “Best” awards at the 2013 eLearning Guild DemoFest featured the use of stories within the learning solution. There is a nice body of research that points to the value of stories in helping us remember. It’s harder to remember discrete facts, for instance, than it is to remember those same facts when they are woven into a narrative. Check out John Medina’s Brain Rules book for info on this.

Agile development: This one got very hot in 2013, and I think interest in it will remain strong in 2014 and beyond. Why? Because a linear approach doesn’t work when you are designing highly interactive web-based solutions; you need to iterate. The skills people will want to acquire are skills in creating rapid prototypes on paper and digitally.

Visuals and graphics: Along with the use of storytelling, the winners at eLearning Guild’s DemoFest featured heavy use of visuals. Designers are wisely shifting away from screens filled with text to ones dominated by visuals. Check out this YouTube video that showcases the World Wildlife Fund’s new educational app for an outstanding example of how visuals can be used to help educate people on facts and “build awareness.” We’ve put together a comprehensive guide for using graphics in eLearning, available here.

Here’s what’s simmering

…With the potential to reach sizzle status:

Mobile Support in lieu of “mobile learning:” This one is just now creeping its way out. There’s no question that mobile has NOT taken off as predicted. The 2013 ASTD State of the Industry Report tells us that only 1.39% of respondents are actually distributing content via mobile even though we’re very close to reaching market saturation with SmartPhones (predictions vary from August of this year to early next year).

I think the concept of mLearning needs to fizzle as we’re not seeing people really wanting to take entire courses on their phones. BUT – we are seeing that people use their phones for tons of stuff – in short chunks – and they love to use phones to find/locate information. Hence, I think more and more corporate L&D people are going to want mobile solutions that help people with these find/locate tasks or with quick two-minute reviews of concepts.

Video: This one has been on simmer status for awhile. I think 2014 will have it burning brighter – but for very specific uses, not broad use like “Click NEXT to continue” did in eLearning.

The low price of the technology is quite a driver. The GoPro lets anyone take amazing video for about $300. Today’s SmartPhones enable high-quality video shooting AND post-production, right from the phone. Video is no longer something you have to consider too expensive to do or leave to professional videographers and editors. It lends itself to storytelling and it allows people to share. In fact, the “homemade” quality videos have become quite acceptable, courtesy of YouTube. Its limitation will be that it’s best suited for the 2 to 5-minute support function rather than a formal course-like learning solution…and lots of companies don’t have a good infrastructure for deploying videos yet without making folks log into an LMS to view them.

Spaced Learning and Repetition: The research is compelling in these two areas, and I am getting phone calls from folks who are telling me they are actively researching these topics – and trying to figure out what they need to be doing differently within their L&D functions to help people really remember what they supposedly “learn” in training courses. I think this one could go from simmer to sizzle at some point in 2014.

What Will Fizzle?

Here’s my big fizzle prediction – and I know I’m going to upset the people who passionately support the concept. I, personally, am an avid user of social media for learning, however…

Twitter-style tools for “social learning:”  I will stop short of labeling “social learning” as the fizzle because I personally am an ardent fan of it… and it’s a natural part of how people have always learned, no matter what L&D has to say about it. I love content curation tools such as Zite, Flipboard, and, though I believe I am in a small minority of people who DO consume content and gather information with these tools.

I sense – based on watching my various Twitter feeds –  that the Twitter fascination is ending – at least in corporate settings. Twitter feels a bit like yesterday’s news. So many tools have entered the landscape that the landscape is starting to feel overwhelming. The number of social tools out there is massive – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Snapchat, Pinterest, YouTube, Vine, etc.

I think people will continue to use a variety of social tools for personal learning – but I’m not seeing wide adoption or interest in it inside corporations – despite heavy conversation on it within the L&D world for the past several years. In fact, I see active resistance to it – not from corporate leaders but from employees themselves. The landscape has become overwhelming; when people feel overwhelmed, they opt out.

mLearning: So I identified mSupport as a “simmer” status trend. I think mLearning is going to fizzle as employees let us know they do not want to take courses on phones. MOBILE won’t fizzle… but the idea of entire courses distributed via phones will. The landscape shows us that we use our phones in very short bursts, though the phones are constantly present. My one caveat to this would be mobile games – people will spend lots of time playing them. If we can design a full-blown course that is as immersive as a mobile game, we may be able to get some sizzle going.

Virtual Worlds: These fizzled a couple years ago, but it’s worth mentioning here only because I still hear others mentioning it… as a tool that fizzled. Second Life had so much buzz back in 2008… and, while the tool still exists, you do not hear organizations talking about how they will use virtual worlds in training anymore. The technology curve was too steep in terms of the hardware and systems requirements to use it – and the learning curve simply to function in the world was too high.

So I’ve gone out on a big limb to predict my sizzle, simmer, and fizzle trends. I would love to hear others’ views on this one. This is a topic that begs for lots of diverse opinions and discussions.

Interview With Mobile Learning Thought Leader Mayra Aixa Villar

Mobile Learning - Glacier, Not Waterfall

Mayra Aixa Villar

Mayra Aixa Villar

I had the opportunity to interview Mayra Aixa Villar, instructional designer and thought leader in the mobile learning space. Mayra has authored articles for ASTD and Learning Solutions Magazine and writes frequently on her personal blog.

If you are interested in where mobile learning is headed, or in how mobile learning is different from “regular eLearning,” read on!

How did you get started in instructional design, and what sparked your interest in mobile?

In 2009, as I was writing my M.A. thesis on Applied Linguistics, I focused my research on a field called Computer Assisted Language Learning. My research findings on how to develop effective educational applications led me to complete an internship at the United Nations Headquarters in 2010. My tasks consisted in assessing online as well as instructor-led courses and to carry out an in-depth research on training course design and training needs. It was at that moment when I fell in love with eLearning and instructional design.

A year later, a sense of curiosity and eagerness to leverage the latest technology in order to design enhanced learning solutions sparked my interest in the potential of mobile for educational purposes.

What tips would you give a learning designer new to designing for mobile devices?

In my opinion, it is crucial to observe how the target audience behaves in the context of performance. When designing for mobile, the ability to understand the environment, the habits, the problems and the needs of the learners is far more critical than in any other training initiative. All these factors heavily influence on the activities and goals that learners seek to accomplish though mobile devices and therefore, they will determine the relevance and usefulness of mobile learning solutions.

When is a learning experience really mobile learning… and when is it just eLearning on a different device?

As Scott McCormick stated in his recent presentation at mLearnCon 2013, 10 Essentials for Successful Mobile Learning Implementation, re-imagination is the first and the most important aspect to consider. When we take advantage of mobile devices built-in capabilities to enhance learning and stop talking about “clicks” to start exploring how touch can free up our interactions with content, we can make our design utterly mobile. I´d also like to add that a really mobile learning experience should integrate seamlessly into the task the learners are trying to perform and help them attain their goals without all the hurdles and constraints that traditional eLearning or instructor-led training usually pose.

What are some of the biggest reasons to transition from desktop eLearning to mobile?

Many people talk about stats that refer to the massive adoption of mobile devices, the impact of devices in our daily life and so on. While I think these facts are very important because they portray the habits and expectations we need to cater for, I truly believe that the biggest reasons to transition from desktop to mobile lay or should lay on the type of experiences we can create and how we can meaningfully respond to learners real needs in order to help them successfully accomplish a task within their performance context.

At Bottom-Line Performance, we often refer the uptake of mobile learning tools and uptake as slow and steady rather than a sudden spike. What’s your take?

I agree. I see that many companies are too attached to old systems and solutions, which is completely understandable as they have invested time and resources in their development. There are also many misconceptions around mobile. Some may think that “mobile learning is too complex and expensive to be implemented” while others prefer designing their own solutions and end up with a bunch of PPTs delivered through mobile devices. This last option is fine as long as it helps learners at the moment of need. Otherwise, why would you want learners to go over 20+ slides of irrelevant content when they just need to know the specific function of key components or equipment?

Many companies want to transition to mobile, but still require eLearning courses to work on desktop and mobile. What are some ways to make the best of this situation?

I have been working for an American company in the health sector during the last couple of months. At the beginning, they asked me to create eLearning courses without mentioning mobile delivery at all. But, I decided to optimize all the courses so they can also be consumed from the iPad even though that was not part of the client´s requirements. This has helped me not only to introduce new approaches to design and information organization but also to start conversations about the need of envisioning mobile learning solutions. Even though this is not the ideal, unique mobile experiences I described in previous answers, it is a good starting point to pave the way for a future multi-channel training strategy.

Organizations invest lots of time and money in deciding which mobile device to deploy across their workforce. What are some best practices for evaluating which device to choose?

Every mobile solution is different. Therefore, a thorough analysis of the convergence of factors and priorities can better guide all your decisions. As I said in one of my posts, the three key elements that we need to consider are the learner, the need(s) and the context. If we concentrate on which mobile device to deploy from the very beginning, we will not be designing a solution from a holistic, more effective approach. In other words, we will not be designing for a dynamic learner with specific needs in a specific context. We need to stop thinking about the device because this may lead to unnecessary constraints and also, ineffectiveness.

What role will adoption of the Experience API play in the adoption of mobile learning?

In words of Megan Bowe, now with xAPI, we can focus on different activities and track different interactions between the technology and the user. Designers are not constrained to create only courses any more. Now, xAPI allows for a comprehensive view of activities across all the systems.

Also, as a linguist, I see great potential in application of Natural Language Parsing techniques in order to extract information from the types of statements generated by this wide range of activities, which, in turn, are delivered to a LRS. This information could help me define behavioral patterns of users and possible influences from the environment and therefore, design more learner-centric experiences.

What do the popular authoring tools (Storyline, Captivate, Lectora, etc) need to do to improve their mobile learning capabilities?

Tools are just tools. It is our approach to design what needs improvement, adaptation and evolution. Some tools are better suited for some projects while fall short for others. Again, everything depends on what needs and priorities you have identified. I could argue that rapid authoring tools cannot offer the benefits of responsive design to deploy content across multiple screens, or they don´t take full advantage of HTML5 technologies.  But, what if those approaches are not the best solutions for a specific project? For this reason, I am always exploring new tools that can help me accomplish every project´s unique goals and requirements in the most efficient way.

What formats and interactions work best on mobile devices and why?

Video is one of the most ubiquitous media formats, and this makes it extremely practical to deliver relevant content at the right moment and virtually on any device. We can also add layers of interactivity that allow for quick search and exploration or we can integrate social interactions. In this way, we could leverage mobile users´ typical behaviors too. I have also seen great examples of mobile applications which make use of AR and 3D simulations. These are ideas I am particularly interested in and I am planning to research in the near future. As regards interactions, simple touch-based gestures that allow the user to quickly perform a task and attain his/her goals will definitely work best.

Are certain types of content better suited for mobile devices than others?

I think that performance-support solutions and jobs aids have become the “wild cards” when talking about mobile learning initiatives. However, I think that rather than content types, there are interactions and ways of presenting information which are better suited for mobile devices. In fact, any type of information could be delivered through mobile devices as long as it is mobile-enabled content and relevant for the end-user.

What are you to now? Any big projects?

Aside from developing eLearning courses and testing platforms and applications, I have been appointed by a local Scientific and Technological Center to be part of a research project in the field of Computational Linguistics. My first task is to design and develop an application aimed at assisting university students and researchers in the processes of grammar writing and text generation. The project involves a web-based as well as a mobile component. So, in spite of its complexity, I am highly motivated to start and also, to contribute to the advancement of mobile learning from my side of the world!


Using Rapid Authoring Tools to Design eLearning Courses for Multiple Devices

eLearning Challenges Banner

Our eLearning Challenges blog series explores the common situations our clients face when deploying learning solutions. We use samples from real projects to help you uncover the best way  to meet these challenges in your organization. To get today’s content, I interviewed Alicia Ostermeier, a senior learning designer for this project. This is Part 3 of our series.

Let’s face it: the primary delivery tool for eLearning is still usually a desktop or laptop computer. And it’s not even close. The 2012 eLearning Guild research report on mobile surveyed 819 respondents about their mobile learning usage across four categories: Content Delivery, Content Capture and Uploading, Custom Applications and Social Networking and Communication. Each category of mobile learning had only been implemented by 12.5 – 20% of respondents:

eLearning Guild's mlearning Report

These numbers put the current state of our industry into perspective. When clients come to us in need of a learning solution, accessing the solution on a phone or tablet is still usually a “nice to have.” They may be researching mobile usage and plan to implement mobile learning in the next year or two (maybe), but we still must meet their needs today with the learning solution we produce.

Just because many clients have not implemented mobile learning yet doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. We still expect to see wide mobile learning adoption soon. That’s why so many are currently researching and building the business case for mobile now.

Our client, MISO, is a perfect example of this. We recently created a course for MISO to help managers handle organizational change. MISO currently does not require their eLearning courses to function on an iPad, but they are seeing usage of the iPad increase in their organization… especially at the director level and above. Since our target learners are Managers, there is a high probability that they will want to access the course on their iPad.

This was our approach:

  • Use Articulate (a rapid authoring tool) to decrease development time and cost.
  • Use Articulate Storyline specifically because Articulate Studio was already the development tool of choice for MISO but Studio did not allow you to publish courses for use on an iPad. Storyline does! MISO wanted to complete a project in Storyline and see how they felt about the upgraded tool.
  • Create a design that is similar to the desktop eLearning courses the client was familiar with but with subtle changes to maximize the learner experience on the iPad.
  • Enable tracking through MISO’s learning management system (LMS).

eLearning Design Considerations for iPad

As we were designing the course, we made a couple of choices specifically because we knew the iPad was one distribution method. For example, the original course design included rollover states. Those do not work on the iPad, so we replaced them with “tap” or “swipe” activities that would translate well to the tablet. This drag and drop activity is a great example of an iPad-ready activity:

Articulate Storyline - Drag and Drop activities on the iPad

You’ll notice that the faces of the characters are large enough to touch with a finger. We used large links and buttons throughout the course. The buttons are much bigger than what we might use in desktop-only eLearning. The key is to design the entire course while thinking about the smaller screen. Use generous amounts of white space and make links as large as possible. The screen below is a great example:

Articulate Storyline - Large links for iPad

It’s not just the size of your links and buttons, either. Notice how those magnified faces above are all at the bottom of the screen? That’s where users hold their tablets. We placed lots of interactions near the bottom of the screen so learners can easily tap the links with their thumbs. The lower right hand corner is also a good place to put your interactions. Take a look at the branching scenario screen below. Alicia intentionally placed the dialogue choices in the bottom right so users with iPads have easy access:

Articulate Storyline- Button placement for iPad users

Check out the left-hand navigation menu on all of these screenshots. Articulate Storyline gives you the option of publishing courses with or without the navigation. It may not look as pretty, but our internal testing showed that learners preferred having the navigation menu when viewing on an iPad. It makes the course much easier to navigate. If you publish to the iPad without this navigation, you do not have any navigation controls at all. We left the navigation off when publishing for the desktop.

Tracking mobile Learning in an LMS

SInce MISO needed the course to function within their LMS, we had to adjust some settings when publishing for the iPad. The Articulate Player gives you the choice of letting learners download the course on their iPads or running it through the web. If you are not yet using Tin Can API for tracking, you do not want to let learners download your courses. The data will not be passed back to the LMS. Unfortunately, Articulate Storyline courses that are meant to be used without an internet connection are not a good option if you need tracking with your LMS. If your LMS is Tin Can API compliant, you can work around this pretty easily.

Using the Articulate Player

Rapid authoring tools allow us to publish courses for the iPad easily and cheaply, but they do not deliver a fully immersive experience. You’ve already seen images of the left hand course menu and likely noticed a black “shell” around the course content. This is the Articulate Mobile Player. Users will have to download the Articulate Mobile Player app to their devices to view Storyline courses. If they try to access the course without downloading the app, this is what they’ll see:

Articulate Storyline Mobile Player

Once learners have the player though, it acts as a library to house all of their Storyline courses. If you are delivering multiple courses to learners using iPads, the app is pretty nice.

If mobile learning is still a “nice to have” or you are still researching the possibilities, designing eLearning courses that are “iPad ready” with a rapid authoring tool is an inexpensive, easy-to-element solution.

Stay tuned for part four of eLearning Challenges!


This Week on #TalkTech: Cisco and Social Learning, Simplifying #mLearning and Fantasy Elements in Learning Games

#TalkTech is the “flipped” approach to Twitter chats. We publish all the topics a few hours before the chat so you can show up at 3 pm EST / 12 pm PST on Thursdays ready to discuss. We discuss three topics a week and the chat lasts around 30 minutes.

We’re shaking things up in 2013 here at #TalkTech! Every couple of weeks, a guest curator will be picking our topics and leading the discussion. Not much will change format-wise… we’ll still publish the weekly post here and the topics will still be tweeted by @BLPIndy, but a guest curator (besides yours truly) will pick the topics and be ready to lead the conversation during the chat. If you are interested in being a guest curator for TalkTech, let me know!

Topic 1: How does Cisco combine social learning and games with traditional learning tools?

Cisco and Social Learning

Cisco has long been a leader in using the latest technology to educate partners and customers. They were ahead of the curve when it comes to social learning and game based learning when they launched their “Cisco Learning Network” in 2008. It blends all sorts of learning tools together: Discussion boards sit alongside certification programs. Skill evaluations are readily available, as are multiple online games, such as the popular Binary Game. It’s a powerful example of how an organization can combine multiple forms of learning together to make online learning as effective and enjoyable as possible. What do you think makes the Cisco Learning Network a great tool? What would you add or take away?

Cisco: A Learning Social Community

Topic 2: What are the best ways to simplify #mLearning design while meeting client expectations?

We often look to RJ Jacquez’s mLearning Revolution blog for inspiration when it comes to mobile learning design. He put forward some great ideas to help instructional designers kickstart 2013 with a  well, simple, call to “Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.” What are the best ways to accomplish this task? How can instructional designers convince their clients to focus less on the content and more on the learner experience?

Our 2013 Mantra for mLearning: Simplify, Simplify, Simplify [Lessons from LinkedIn]

Topic 3: Why is it a good idea to incorporate fantasy elements into instructional games?

Fantasy Elements in Games

Many companies have a rather serious image of themselves. The thought of implement a learning solution with a fun, “out there” theme seems decidedly “off message.” But learning game design expert Karl Kapp takes a different view in his recent blog. Karl cites research that shows how fantasy themes can help cement memories. The novelty actually makes content more memorable than making a game too realistic. Read his well-researched post and let us know what you think.

Using Fantasy in Instructional Games

If you’re new to Twitter chats, don’t forget about awesome tools such as that automatically save the hashtag and help you focus on the conversation!