This column is for two different groups of readers. Those in the first group believe they don't need a strategy for mobile learning, possibly because they don't anticipate ever needing to deliver content through mobile devices. Those in the second group have decided that they will use mobile technology if, when, and where appropriate, but they haven't thought about a strategy to do so, possibly because they think such a strategy would be redundant to their current eLearning strategy.
There are at least two problems with these responses to mLearning. First, not having a strategy for mobile learning is itself a strategy. Unfortunately, it isn't a very effective strategy, and with half of all organizations that are trying mLearning already showing positive ROI on their initiatives, it is difficult to justify a “wait and see” strategy. Second, not having a strategy makes it difficult to proactively protect the return on investment in learning. By at least understanding the decision criteria for mLearning, and having a plan for periodically reviewing those criteria and their performance against those criteria, designers and managers are in a much better position to make good decisions about how they will support learning in their organizations. This includes implementation strategy (knowing where to start), and the learning strategy itself.
Seeing the handwriting on the wall
On May 18, 2011, The eLearning Guild released a new Research Report, Mobile Learning: Landscape and Trends, authored by Clark Quinn. In this data-rich document, Quinn discusses the current developments that clearly point to the reasons why every organization should develop a mobile learning strategy, even if the organization has no performance, learning, or information issues for which mobile technology is currently a relevant solution.
The most significant of these reasons is that mobile learning is a transformative opportunity. It is not necessarily disruptive, but it does represent a significant means of augmenting formal training.
Mobile devices are not only convenient and always with us, they are the focus of a convergence of capability, each device offering a combination of applications to support:
IM, SMS, and MMS
Interactive computer applications
- The World Wide Web
- Social interaction
Not only that, it is also an increasingly available alternative to the "event model" that has for so long dominated the thinking of instructional designers and managers. MLearning makes it possible to think beyond formal instruction (especially classroom-based, instructor-mediated events) to integrate learning strategy with overall performance and technology strategy, and to complement formal learning with informal learning, social learning, and performance support. In short, there are new opportunities unique to use of mobile platforms.
The value of this combination is obvious to developers of other enterprise software. In 2011, many of these developers have started to develop software for mobile platforms first, and this is a growing trend that Quinn documents. We can soon expect to see solutions to support learning that are similarly factored into elements to leverage the benefits of complementarity across platforms.
Figuring out what to do
As you read through the Mobile Learning research report, it becomes clear that any organization must understand the new value proposition that mLearning presents (which the report addresses clearly), what is currently possible (including examples of actual use and outcomes), and the practical aspects of adopting mLearning.
It is a mistake to try to implement a full "course" as an mLearning application, or to think of mLearning as classic asynchronous eLearning but on a smaller screen. In order to avoid this, designers must think through their instructional strategy (how to effectively combine the various modalities and platforms) and their implementation strategy (it may be better to start with performance support via mobile than to start with delivery of instruction).
You can get a lot of help in this effort from the Mobile Learning: Landscape and Trends report itself. It will give you unbiased information about the issues, the tools, and the experience of many organizations as they implement mLearning.
In the next two weeks, Learning Solutions Magazine will offer features on implementing mLearning. On June 14, The Guild’s Thought Leader Seminar will feature Gary Woodill, speaking on “The Mobile Learning Edge: How Learning on the Move Can Be A Competitive Advantage.”
For a complete set of offerings, designers, developers, and managers of learning in all organizations should attend The eLearning Guild’s mLearnCon, June 21-23 in San Jose, California. This unique program offers over 125 focused learning opportunities, delivered by your professional peers who are already deep into their mobile learning implementations or who have guided others through implementations. Discounts on the registration fee are still available – see the link in the previous sentence for details on these details and for the complete conference program. For those who are already planning to attend, be sure to download our handy mLearnCon Mobile Conference app.