If you're just getting started with mobile learning, here are the basics you need to know.
"Just click the HTML5 box to convert all of your e-learning courses to mobile learning." Sound familiar? With the boom in using mobile devices as a tool for learning, many of the software companies are marketing a one-click solution for your mobile learning needs. But is it really that simple?
To be fair, you can create great mobile learning using rapid development tools. However, there is more to it than clicking a "magic HMTL5 box." In fact, mobile learning doesn't even have to involve HTML5 at all. If mobile learning is leveraging a mobile infrastructure to enable folks to learn wherever they are, then a mobile learning solution could be anything from a short video to an interactive e-book.
To get a good handle on mobile learning, it is wise to explore more than HTML5. Are there other formats that work well on multiple devices? How will learners access the information—especially when everyone has a different type of device? Why do they need access to this information on a mobile device at all? Will we be able to develop mobile learning in-house or do we need to look for a supplier? What tools will we need to get started? What does mobile learning even look like?
Focus on design
When considering mobile learning, there is more involved than buying user-friendly tools. It is great to be tech-savvy and to figure out how to use rapid development software. However, where we really need to focus is on doing a better job of designing the project upfront. Spend far more time here than you do in development.
Many instructional designers have been (often unknowingly) stuck in a traditional, classroom facilitation mindset. We may be quick to apply the same methodology in the same way, with little or no adaptation for the way technology has changed how we access information. This crept into our e-learning courses despite the opportunity we had to change the way we interacted with our learners.
Enter mobile devices—an extension of the way that individuals interact with the world. Your smartphone can show pictures of your family, places you go, what you eat, and where you bank (and that's before opening any apps).
What does this mean to us when we are designing mobile learning? We need to think about not only how our audience will interact with what we build, but why.
Throw away the "click next to continues," roll-over captions, and learning objective slides (if you haven't already). Think about how you can break down the content into manageable, on-demand chunks. To quote Chad Udell, managing director of Float Mobile Learning, "e-learning for mobile is more about instructional design, whereas true m-learning is more about information design."
How do you develop the skills needed to successfully design mobile learning? There are tons of resources and workshops that can help you build a good foundation. Look for blogs and examples from industry experts. If you are looking for a more hands-on option, hire a consultant to help you define your mobile strategy and walk you through a pilot project.
Your personal experiences also are useful. What have been your best Google search experiences? Which YouTube videos are most helpful? Do you have favorite apps that you can use as a model for your project?
Selecting the best tool (or combination of tools) for mobile learning projects can be painful for many organizations. Often there is one big question: "Do we need to purchase new software or can we use what we already have?"
There are many new rapid development tools that claim to be your mobile learning savior. Some tools may be easier to use than others, and some more or less expensive, but there is no one-stop shop for mobile learning.
Put some time into researching different tools. Use free trial periods. You will limit yourself by trying to find just one program that fits all of your needs. Save time and money by using multiple programs that are individually best suited for a specific purpose. The tools that best meet your needs may not be the same tools that your peers rave about.
Do it yourself or hire talent?
Rapid development tools in their current state are only useful for very basic mobile projects. However, sometimes basic is best.
Are you looking for sustainability and ease of implementation? Perhaps you need something that is flexible for your BYOD (bring-your-own-device) strategy. Consider e-books, video, and audio for a quick start. For example, you could create a guided tour of your building for new associates by recording audio files and storing and distributing them on MP3 players.
If you need a more advanced solution, or if you don't have the technical know-how, hire a supplier or talent with both consulting and specialized programming skills. Examples of advanced solutions include custom apps that use such device features as geolocation, camera, accelerometer, and contacts.
Remember that if you plan on developing a custom solution, such as a native app, you need to plan and budget for continuity. Will you be prepared to update your app for each new operating system release?
Ensure mobile success
No matter what your mobile learning goals may be, there are some typical considerations that you'll want to keep in mind.
Is this a good candidate for mobile learning? A good mobile learning solution requires a supportive infrastructure. Don't fall into the trap with some organizations that have decided on mobile learning without considering the audience, environment, and nature of the content. What devices (if any) do your learners have or need? Will they have the mobile device with them when they need access to the information?
For example, if mobile devices are not allowed in your building or your learners are stationed at a desktop computer, there are larger strategic decisions to be made in your organization first.
Have you established your goal? What are you going to accomplish with this mobile learning solution?
Clearly identify and state the training need. Determine what impact your solution will have and how you will satisfy the need. Of course, this should apply to any of your training projects, so make this common practice.
Mobile learning is not e-learning on a mobile device. Gather your content and break it down into small chunks of information. Avoid a linear course with learning objectives and "click next to continue."
Keep the content basic and straightforward with a shallow structure. Don't simply attempt to convert your existing e-learning to HTML5 and call it good.
Mobile learning isn't always the right choice. Just because you can technically create something using a rapid development tool doesn't mean it is the best training solution. Think about what will give you the best return. What will meet the needs of your learners?
Sometimes what we training folks think is fancy, engaging training is distracting and time consuming to our audience. Simple is good.
Don't arbitrarily add bells and whistles. If you plan to use images, audio, and video, it should have a purpose and add value to your content.
A screen shot to supplement system training is relevant and adds value. Background music on auto-play for system training? Not so much. Besides, the more media you load into your mobile content, the more opportunity there is for instability and lag time.
Is the information credible, reliable, and in the right format for accessibility? If your content's validity is questionable, or if learners have trouble finding it, there is a good chance that they won't use it.
Is this a web or native solution? Will users need access to the Internet or will they need the content stored locally on the device? How will users access the content? If you plan on using your learning management system, is it web-accessible? Or does it reside behind a corporate firewall? Can you simply house information on a webpage?
Do your research. Check out other mobile learning to get an idea of what types of layouts will work well. From there, you should wireframe (or storyboard) your project.
Again, a good design is not only critical to success, but it speeds up your development work. This also will help mitigate the risk of major structural changes later.
Can your pilot be measured and evaluated? How will you measure success? Show that your mobile learning pilot worked with real data.
Build in time for testing. You will need to thoroughly test your mobile solution. Don't build a huge project and then go see if it works.
Start with a small pilot and test throughout the process. Want to start with video? Test a sample video before building the real thing. Interested in e-books? Convert a short document to an e-pub and test your process of making that content available.
Ensure your mobile success by devoting the time to make practical, informed decisions. Try to avoid being intimidated by the newness of mobile and start small to test the waters. When done right, mobile delivery can be one of the most significant pieces of your learning strategy.
Can you effectively use your existing tools for mobile learning? If you are just getting started with mobile learning, here are a few popular tools with recommendations for use.
Camtasia Studio. Great for creating short YouTube-style video demos. Use it to demonstrate the steps to a process in a new web application. Publish to MP4 and store on a webpage for easy access.
Adobe Captivate 6 (or greater) or Articulate Storyline. HTML5 publishing allows you to build basic interactive modules. Create a product information page with lightbox-style pop-ups that give details about the product’s features, operation, and sales proposition. Publish to your website on the product page so that your sales team has easy access to the information before an important sales pitch.
iBooks Author. Create interactive e-books for Apple users with this free application. Junk your old new-hire manuals and create an interactive orientation experience. This tool allows you to create highly interactive content by incorporating anything from 3D models to embedded video. Use the notes, glossary, and flashcard features for activities.
Build Content or Buy It?
In a business world laser-focused on containing costs and maximizing return-on-investment, “buy or build?” has become a compelling question on a variety of topics ranging from leadership development programming to workforce planning to performance and succession management.
Within the organizational learning function, buy-or-build decisions related to mobile learning center on internal development versus use of external sources. According to Going Mobile: Creating Practices That Transform Learning, nearly twice as many respondents chose to develop their mobile learning programs internally, as opposed to seeking the services of an outside consultant. Putting that trust in their own know-how appears to be the best choice since the report indicates strong correlations with both market performance and learning effectiveness for those learning organizations that opted for internal development of their mobile programs
Going Mobile reveals that the largest percentage of respondents—almost half—said that their organizations chose to repurpose existing learning content for use in the mobile environment. However, more than six out of 10 participants with learning content already deployed to mobile devices said that they designed new content specifically for mobile delivery, a choice that correlated strongly with learning effectiveness.
Source: Going Mobile: Creating Practices That Transform Learning, ASTD/i4cp, 2013