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What's different about mobile learning?

Monday, February 27, 2012
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As the doors open to a new era of mobile learning and performance support, it's a good time to step back and think about the new mindset required when designing for mobile.

Although a mobile pedagogy will continue to evolve, we already know quite a bit about how people use mobile devices and some of the advantages of mobile learning.

Mobile is Supportive
It doesn't take much deep thought to realize that mobile devices are an ideal medium for supporting performance at work. When an employee runs into an unsolvable problem, requires information to complete a task or needs step-by-step advice, this type of need can often be filled through mobile performance support.

Mobile is Collaborative
Learning and support at work can be provided through one's network of professional colleagues, both internal and external to the workplace. Using mobile devices, the geographically dispersed workforce can help each other solve problems and make decisions in real time when the desktop is isn't convenient. And of course, mobile devices can also be used for voice communication. That's an old-fashioned and highly collaborative approach.

Mobile is Gestural

The gestural user interface (UI) for interacting with a smartphone or tablet seems like another universe when compared to one-finger clicking on a mouse. The gestural UI removes the intermediary device (mouse, pen, etc.) so that users can directly manipulate objects on the screen. Objects are programmed to move and respond with the physics of the "real world." This opens up a new world of design possibilities for creative imaginations.

Mobile is Learner-centric
Learner-centric experiences occur when a person seeks the answer to an internal question. At this moment of need, the individual is highly motivated to learn and remember. When this occurs, it circumvents the need for extrinsic motivational techniques. Instead, it demands more effective information design, to provide quick and searchable access to content.

Mobile is Informal
Although there are bound to be an increasing number of Learning Management Systems that track mobile learning events, the mobile medium seems better suited to informal learning. Because mobile devices are often ubiquitous as well as always connected, they are ideal for learning in a variety of ways to fit a particular time and place.

Mobile is Contextual
Unlike other types of learning, mobile learning on a smartphone or tablet can occur in context. Only 3D simulations come close to this. Mobile learning may be initiated in the context of a situation, such as a few minutes of instruction prior to a sales call or quickly looking up a technical term at a meeting.

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Mobile learning may be initiated in the context of a location, such as augmented reality to learn about a place while traveling or getting directions to the next technical service call. And if employees "check in" to a location-based site, they can find each other anywhere around the world.

Mobile is User-Generated
By taking advantage of smartphone and tablet hardware, users can generate content by taking photographs and recording video and audio. Through these multimedia capabilities, your workforce can send and receive information from the field.

A healthcare worker in a rural area can send photos of a patient's skin condition and ask for help with a diagnosis. An agricultural expert can create a photo album for farmers, showing conditions that indicate soil erosion. Rather than take notes, a trainer can voice record his or her thoughts on how to improve a workshop. Then use this recording back at the office.

Mobile is Fun

The most popular apps in iTunes are games. With mobile devices, games don't need to be limited to the phone. They can take in the larger world and be situational. For example, at a call center technicians receive digital badges through a mobile app for every satisfied caller. Badges are cashed in for various rewards. Think about ways to improve performance through challenges, team competitions and gamification.

Mobile is Sensitive and Connected
Take advantage of the hardware features of mobile devices. They have sensors for detecting touch, motion and device orientation. There is hardware for connecting through your carrier's network, and through WiFi and Bluetooth.

Some mobile devices can be used for tethering, which involves connecting the phone to a laptop with a cable and using the carrier as a modem to connect to the Internet. Mobile devices are also beginning to use Near Field Communications (NFC), so that devices can transmit information by touching them or coming into close proximity.

Conclusion
How can we leverage all that's unique about mobile devices and their use and at the same time, avoid the pitfalls? It will take time, thought and a high-level strategy to get it right. Your thoughts?


Connie Malamed (@elearningcoach) publishes The eLearning Coach, a website with articles, resources, reviews and tips for learning professionals. She is the author of Visual Language for Designers and the Instructional Design Guru iPhone app.

About the Author
Connie Malamed consults, speaks and writes in the fields of online learning, visual communication and information design. She has a Masters Degree in Instructional Technology and a background in Visual Arts. She helps organizations produce a wide range of content, from eLearning courses to websites to information graphics. Connie is the author of two books: Visual Design Solutions and Visual Language for Designers. You can find more about her at http://theelearningcoach.com and http://conniemalamed.com
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