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Mobile Learning: Look Before You Leap

Jay Bravo

by Jay Bravo, senior development specialist

There were a lot of great phrases this year, and beside anything that came out of Charlie Sheen’s mouth during his crazy rant – “I’m not bi-polar, I’m bi-winning!” (my personal favorite) – perhaps the most appropriate phrase of the year for the e-learning industry is … “We need to go mobile.”

Going mobile – it sounds so easy and logical for e-learning. I mean, at its core, e-learning is courseware designed to be taken anywhere. That’s why it is online, right? So that countless learners can access it to gain knowledge and skills without having to travel somewhere special and rely on an instructor to teach at his or her pace.

Of course e-learning should go mobile. But what does that mean? What are the implications, in terms of development, strategy and usage?

LeapBefore diving into the world of mobile learning, there are considerations that need to be made, questions to be answered. The first, and most important, question we should ask is: “Does a mobile learning application meet my desired outcome for this project?”

Here at Allen Interactions, we strive to create activities that logically support the instructional challenge. The same holds true for delivery of training: the medium should support the training expectations or outcomes.

Just because the market is flooded with mobile tablets and smart phones with giant screens and network access virtually everywhere (except my dining room for some reason), simply choosing to develop a mobile learning app because we can may cause us to miss the mark on our targeted outcomes. Before diving head first with half of your annual budget dedicated to mobile learning, let’s explore some questions you should ask.

  1. On what device(s) will learners access the training? With so many devices, screen sizes and operating systems available, you need to consider how learners will access the learning. Will they take the training on an iPad, an Android Tablet, a smart phone? Unless your organization has provided, or dictated, a single platform or device, you may find yourself faced with a range of accessibility and compatibility issues.
  2. Do you need to track data? LMS connectivity is a big issue with mobile learning. Will your LMS connect to a mobile device? How will you connect if you want to build an app vs. web app? If I can’t connect to my LMS with an app, how can I be sure people are using the courseware?
  3. What technology will be used to develop your mobile learning? While picking a specific mobile device, such as Apple’s iPad, limits your development strategy, what’s more limiting is to say, “I want my learning to run on all devices.” Building web apps in HTML 5 seems like a logical choice, however, for more robust apps, it has many limitations that may affect your outcomes. A very common misconception I see in online discussions is that Flash developed courses will not run on mobile devices. This simply isn’t true. Flash runs seamlessly in Android devices, and can be published out through Adobe AIR to run on Apple products.

Instead of building a course which can run on both the web and mobile, developing the course for the web and supporting it with mobile learning applications may make more sense. This way you will be able to track user progress through your LMS for the course while allowing learners to access supplementary learning via supporting mobile apps.

By using this method, you give learners and developers more flexibility in terms of an informal learning environment, allowing for smaller and more frequent updates to mobile apps, as well as “apportunities” to build on to existing and future learning programs.

The short of it is that mobile technology is more than just a fad. We should all consider how we can take advantage of its opportunities to reach our learners. However, while evaluating the medium on which we design, develop and ultimately deliver our learning, our focus should always remain fixed on our desired outcome. 

So my simple advice when it comes to mobile learning is to look before you leap.

Image Source: Nadeem Chughtai