Mobile devices come in many shapes and sizes and have many ways of connecting to and distributing information. Input devices include microphones, cameras, keypads, small keyboards, clickable scroll wheels, mini joysticks, touch pads, touch screens, voice, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, RFID, Near Field Communications, infrared, accelerometers, sensors, magnetic field detectors, and styluses. Output methods include text, sound, video, images, digital signals, LED lights, and various forms of 2D and 3D projection onto surfaces or directly into the eyeball. Work is underway on devices that stimulate the senses of smell and taste using a mobile device.
Mobile Learning Applications
Learning designers and developers have many choices for how to facilitate learning using mobile technologies. The specific techniques that you choose to implement in your mobile learning design will depend on your learning theories, your experience at training or teaching, and the characteristics and needs of the learners you are trying to train. Mobile learning applications can be broken into five broad categories.
Content Transmission and Retrieval
Learning materials relevant to an employee can either be created by the training and development department and “pushed” to the learner, or can be retrieved by a user at “the point of need.” Because of the nature of mobile learning, it is best if learning materials are in the form of small “nuggets” of information, rather than large-scale productions or courses. For most workers, mobile learning is something that is usually done in small amounts, but several times during the day. Notifications can be used to alert employees to a required or important piece of information they need to consult.
In contrast to e-learning, mobile phones and tablets are bidirectional, allowing users to employ them as data-gathering and storage devices as they move about. An inquiry-based pedagogy makes sense for mobile learning and turns a mobile device into a research tool. First-person documentation activities can include maintenance of a learning portfolio, monitoring and trend tracking of local phenomena, and the creation of user-generated content.
Communicating and Interacting with Others
Because mobile devices can be networked, they are great for communicating, coordinating actions, and collaborating with others. Networking allows for texting, social media, voice communications, group games, simulations, experiences in virtual worlds, and real-time mentoring, as well.
Mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets can also be thought of as computers in their own right. Many of these are more powerful than many desktop computers just five or ten years ago and, because of that, they can be programmed to do almost anything. This has spawned a mobile app industry that has exploded, with over two million separate pieces of software available in various app stores on the Internet. Thousands of apps now available can be used for mobile learning.
Not only can mobile devices retrieve information from databases, but they can also be used to interact with “smart” objects and/ or other mobile technology–connecting people in a person’s immediate environment. Additionally, the ability of many devices to detect a user’s location and orientation allows for new kinds of informational experiences, such as augmented reality and geofencing.
In addition to these five categories of mobile learning experiences, mobile applications can also be used to manage learning activities in the classroom or in the field. Live information on emergencies and instructions on what to do in those situations can be conveyed to a group of dispersed users very quickly. And mobile extensions of more traditional learning management systems allow the tracking of mobile learning by existing learning and development software.
Editor’s note: This post is an excerpt from Mastering Mobile Learning: Tips and Techniques for Success, co-published by Wiley and ASTD. This excerpt has been adapted with permission from the publisher, Wiley, copyright © 2014.