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mLearnCon 2013: Getting Results with Mobile Learning

by Bill Brandon

June 24, 2013

Feature

by Bill Brandon

June 24, 2013

What were the lessons of mLearnCon 2013? For some who came to San Jose, the lessons were about strategy. For others, the lessons were about hardware, software tools, design, or infrastructure. For still others, the work of their colleagues gave inspiration. By far the most important message, from example after example, is that many organizations have already successfully implemented mobile learning and performance support and are receiving excellent returns on the investment.

The eLearning Guild’s mLearnCon Conference & Expo 2013 was larger than ever and once again exceeded the quality of its predecessors. Between the keynotes, the concurrent sessions, the Expo, and the DemoFest, and the other networking and information resources available, this was a truly memorable experience for everyone who attended (Figure 1).


Figure 1:
Networking in the Expo was a key component for learning at mLearnCon 2013

In this article, I present a brief look at what happened in San Jose from Tuesday to midday Thursday. If you were at the conference and couldn't get to all of the sessions you wanted to see (and who was able to do that?), or if you were not able to attend mLearnCon 2013, all is not lost! Members of The eLearning Guild have access to all conference handouts provided to the Conference team, and to all session videos (once post production is completed). Not a member of The eLearning Guild? Annual membership is only $99, will give you access to handouts and session videos from past events, including mLearnCon 2013, and will also give you a big discount on the cost of our upcoming events, the Performance Support Symposium and the DevLearn Conference & Expo. Details are on The eLearning Guild website (http://www.elearningguild.com).

Notes from the most important people at mLearnCon: you!

No matter what I might write about the conference, you probably still want to know what the people who attended had to say about it. Here are some of the hundreds of comments that the conference app documented:

  • “Good stuff!”—C. R.
  • “Great session! Can’t wait to get home and try it.”—N. R.
  • “I thought video was powerful, but [I] am learning the tricks of visual simplicity.”—R. T.
  • “This is one of the sessions I had to attend. Go Clark!” —D.R.
  • “Excited about this session!”—C.H.
  • “Best session so far, new features and great info. Can’t wait to get back to work and test what I’ve learned.”—M.R.
  • “I just modeled for a ‘how to use a chair’ video for Steve’s session. Fun!”—E.W.
  • “Full house at the design tips/tricks session by PwC. Lots and lots of great information on formatting and designing mobile courses. If you’re not here you’ll want to download the video of the presentation.”—J.H.
  • “My first B.Y.O.L. session! Looking forward to the hands-on application!!”—C.W.
  • “What a rush of information... Notes, URLs, resources, tinier notes, more links, food for thought for the rest of the week. There’s more tomorrow. Heheh.”—S.K.
  • “I’m excited to see what people are doing with mobile!”—P.G. (at DemoFest)

What the keynotes taught us

In “mLearnCon 2013 Opens in San Jose” (June 19 News in the Related Articles at the end of this recap), I wrote about the suggestions that the Tuesday keynotes offered. Chris Pirie from Microsoft gave his analysis of the four key trends at the intersection of information technology and learning (Figure 2). Tamar Elkeles gave a fast-paced talk that concluded with her specific recommendations for success with mobile learning.

Figure 2: Christopher Pirie offered his analysis of key trends in the opening keynote

On Wednesday, keynoter Chuck Martin spoke about his insights into consumer mobile behavior and how these are of vital importance to our understanding as we implement mobile learning. His fast-paced talk covered many topics, from user stats to the evolution of the untethered consumer to the factors we have learned from the “M-powered” consumer to platforms and interactions to augmented reality.

In his closing, Chuck asserted that it is still early days for mobile, based on how people are (not) using their mobile devices. Martin thinks we are at the “ten percent point”: Ten percent of mobile users generate 90 percent of mobile commerce. Yet, he says, there is a disconnect: The consumer use of mobile is going up, but corporate resource allocation to mobile is not. Chuck urged the attendees, “Whatever your company is spending on mobile, it is way not enough. Just raising your budget is not enough. It’s infrastructure, it’s IT support, it’s all the elements you need in order to influence mobile behavior. You need to go fight for resource in that arena. Beyond that, test and learn: if you do nothing, that’s what you’ll get out of mobile. Measure and analyze what works and what doesn’t. Add value to the learner’s experience. But your biggest challenge is to get corporate resources.”

The conference closed on Thursday at midday, with a game show-themed panel presentation emceed by Jonathan Hall. Mobile learning experts Sarah Gilbert, Robert Gadd, Michelle Lentz , and Garin Hess and responded to questions from conference attendees in point-counterpoint fashion (Figure 3).

Figure 3: The closing panel debated questions provided by conference attendees

The questions came in the form of video clips, Twitter tweets, and direct input from those in the room. While the conversation was too extensive and too varied to do justice to it in this summary, it was recorded on video and will be available for conference attendees after editing and postproduction.

What the concurrent sessions taught us

In his opening remarks, program chair Jeff Tillett said, “It’s a practitioner’s conference this year.” The behavior of the attendees, in the sessions they chose, bore this out.

The most popular concurrent sessions, based on observation and conference app use stats, and not counting keynotes, fell into these areas:

  • Strategies for implementing mobile and for content migration
  • Authoring tools
  • HTML5
  • Video for mobile
  • Case studies, success stories, and lessons learned
  • UI/UX
  • Advanced design

Many of those sessions were standing-room-only and there was very little “session hopping” by audience members. Other attendance figures give additional support. According to conference app use stats, and not counting keynotes, the most popular events were:

  • The mLearning DemoFest
  • The Expo Welcome Reception
  • SB101, “Designing Mobile Apps for Learning” (Figure 4)

Figure 4: Nick Floro’s session on designing mobile apps for learning was standing-room-only

The docent program proved extremely popular and effective at guiding participants, both those who were completely new to eLearning Guild events and those who had attended many conferences in the past.

What the mLearning DemoFest taught us

Demonstrations of effective and creative uses of mobile learning filled almost 40 tables Wednesday night (Figure 5).

Figure 5: A massive crowd came to see the mLearning DemoFest

 

Many of these were true applications of “out of the box” thinking by their creators. There were apps that taught written and spoken Arabic, Japanese, and Chinese, mobile designs that used SMS and spaced delivery, interactive video for mobile devices to teach conversation and coaching skills, and more traditional mobile performance support for troubleshooting, sales skills, and healthcare.

This was the first time the DemoFest event has appeared on the mLearnCon agenda. Judging by the massive response from attendees, and how long they stayed at the event (the room was crowded for most of the two hours), this was exactly what many attendees were hungry for. Those who came voted for the demonstrations they felt were most effective. Watch for a news article in Learning Solutions Magazine that will list the winners.

What the conference app is teaching us

Conference staff will be studying the huge amount of data provided by the conference app in order to improve future events from The eLearning Guild.

Here are some highlights of activity in the app:

  • 401 total active users
  • 29932 actions performed (average 74.64 per user) in 17,646 total app visits
  • 2,122 check-ins
  • 248 photos
  • 82 percent of active users logged more than 10 sessions
  • Device split: 72 percent iOS, 22 percent Android, 6 percent HTML5

Backchannel

A great deal of activity took place in the backchannel: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blogs were loaded with comments and notes from attendees.

You will find curated summaries of the backchannel activity in these places:

David Kelly’s blog: http://davidkelly.me/2013/06/mlearncon-2013-conference-backchannel-curated-resources/

Hashcaster: http://mlearncon.hashcaster.com/home

At the close of the conference

What were the lessons of mLearnCon 2013? For some who came to San Jose, the lessons were about strategy. For others, the lessons were about hardware, software tools, design, or infrastructure. For still others, the work of their colleagues gave inspiration. By far the most important message, from example after example, is that many organizations have already successfully implemented mobile learning and performance support and are receiving excellent returns on the investment.


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MLearnCon was definitely the practitioners’ conference this year. We maybe at what Chuck Martin calls the 10% point but the mobile market has shifted from theory to practice – no question. The super-popularity of the demo fest shows that. The big question for me: what will we learn from MLearn Com 2014? I’m hoping for great implementation case studies and war stories.
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