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Right Time and Place: mLearning Use Cases

by Paul Clothier

May 12, 2014

Feature

by Paul Clothier

May 12, 2014

“Follow these guidelines and think about the use cases, and you’ll be moving in the right direction. They’ll help you uncover the right content, the right design, and the right delivery method.”

What’s the first thing most people do in the morning and the last thing at night? According to a 2013 IDC-Facebook report, 79 percent of 18-to-44-year-olds check their smartphone immediately after they wake up and last thing before they go to bed. Also, the average person keeps their smartphone with them for all but two hours a day and checks it 150 times a day. Yes, 150. Compare that with our use of a laptop or desktop and you begin to see why designing mLearning might be a little different than eLearning. How we use a mobile device and a laptop are distinctly different.   

Let the device and context drive the content

Even so, many companies are designing learning content for mobile in a similar way they do for eLearning. They neglect to consider the mobile usage contexts, and as a result such projects meet with marginal success or they fail. The key to successful mLearning is in understanding context. The when, where, and who determine what and how (Table 1).

Table 1: Compare the contexts

Context

eLearning

mLearning

Delivery platform

Desktop or laptop (large screen); stationary

Mobile device (small screen); handheld and often moving

Learner posture

Seated (usually)

Sitting, standing, walking, prone, supine

Distractions

Typically few

Typically many

Time available for learning

Typically 15 minutes or more

Varies, but generally short bursts

Input device

Keyboard, mouse, and/or trackpad

Thumb, finger, and touchscreen

Situation

Often in an office or workspace

Anywhere, anytime, including on trains, in bed, in coffee shops


What works for eLearning probably won’t work for mLearning. Squeezing your existing instructor-led or eLearning content onto a smartphone is not going to be very useful. The information may be valuable, but the time, place, and context of mobile usage don’t complement that type of content.

A common problem when designing mLearning is that content is step one, and how to render it on a mobile device is step two. Instead, we need to start with the device and the context and then move towards designing the content. Consider the features and characteristics of the smartphone (Table 2).

Table 2: Smartphone features, characteristics, and use

Features and characteristics

How it’s used

  • It’s small
  • It’s always on
  • You’re always connected
  • You can hold it in your hand
  • You can put it in your pocket
  • It can alert you throughout the day
  • It is location sensitive
  • It can take photos, record audio and video
  • It can detect movement and location
  • It’s private—generally only you can see the content
  • You carry it with you on your person
  • You look at it many times a day
  • You communicate with many people every day
  • You hold it when you use it
  • You use it in short bursts
  • You often use it with one hand
  • You use it in hundreds of different locations
  • You use it when you’re on the move

 

There are other considerations. How might people use the device? How long will you have their attention? What are the typical target devices? What’s in it for them? Will they be eager to use the content? Should…

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