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Insights From a Thought Leader—Big Ideas in Mobile Learning


Wed Feb 25 2015

Insights From a Thought Leader—Big Ideas in Mobile Learning

One of the best ways to identify trends is to connect with thought leaders who are advancing the training profession by researching and testing actionable ideas, and presenting new points of view. One such thought leader, Dr. David Metcalf, a senior researcher and director of the Mixed Emerging Technology Lab at the University of Central Florida, is an expert in mobile learning. 

We recently asked Dr. Metcalf to share three big ideas for mobile learning that are changing the design and delivery of training. Below is a summary of those ideas. 


Increasing Use of Crowdsourced and User-Generated Content 

This refers to material on websites produced by users rather than by companies or paid professionals. Mobile content and applications (apps) are being developed by amateurs and employees who are not part of training organizations. Cellphones provide the affordances of video, audio, and images, allowing rapid development of content that often meets an immediate training need. 

The speed and proliferation of this kind of content has the potential to change the roles of developers. In response to this training, organizations must think about how to support these amateurs and integrate their content and apps. 

Declining Reliance on Command and Control 

Social and mobile learning are changing the idea that learning comes exclusively from a centralized training and development organization. It is also challenging the idea that learning is delivered through a structured curricula. Users are finding their own sources for learning through formal and informal sources, inside and outside the organization. 


In this emerging, decentralized environment, learners draw content from a number of sources of their own choosing. Mobile devices can foster constructivist learning by providing a way to have conversation and interact with immediacy. There is no right way to deal with this change; rather, organizations need to think about how they can use this decentralization to their advantage. 

In short, we are entering an age of smart content, in which the intelligence and organization are built in. Learning playlists can serve as a curriculum map or advanced organizer for many types of content or delivery methods. 

Emerging Integration of Social, Mobile, Real-Time Learning, and Geo Location 

This refers to the Golden Triangle or what Ian Kennedy calls “Web Squared.” Web Squared is the integration of something like Facebook for social, iPhone for mobile, and Twitter for real time; and a fourth dimension location awareness app such as Google Maps. 

The combined power of these technologies promises learning design models that are authentic, personalized, and context aware. Learning design based on these technologies means learners can have real-time dashboards to monitor their progress and access to the right content or experts based on geo-location—all through mobile delivery. 


In Closing 

Dr. Metcalf recommended training professionals monitor mobile innovation beyond North America. One place to start would be monitoring the use of mobile technology in Africa, where innovations in banking and healthcare are noteworthy. It would also be helpful to look at industry verticals in which knowledge and mobility are critical, such as healthcare (mhealth), transportation, and customer service. Innovation and technology developed outside the realm of training and development offers insights and a look ahead.


Editor’s Note:** This post is excerpted from TD at WorkApplying Learning Theory to Mobile Learning” (ATD Press, 2015). In this issue of TD at Work, you will learn about: 

  • the varying definitions of m-learning, as well as drivers and barriers to its use

  • learning theories, and how to apply those theories to m-learning

  • informal learning methods, and how they can be part of a learning and development professional’s toolbox.

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