The terms ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) and IT consumerisation have become part of business jargon as increasing numbers of employees use mobile devices in the workplace. But what are the associated opportunities for mobile learning, and how should L&D professionals seek to maximise these?
Mobile learning, or m-learning as it is frequently referred to, focuses upon the learning opportunities offered by mobile technologies. These can range from handheld computers to notebooks and mobile phones, but the main emphasis is currently on ‘smart’ devices such as the iPad, iPhone, Android and Blackberry acting as the delivery platforms.
Why Use m-Learning?
M-learning is convenient in that it is accessible from virtually anywhere. It’s collaborative, and sharing is almost instantaneous among everyone using the same content. It also has the attraction of portability by replacing books and notes with small, handheld devices that hold tailored learning content.
In the current issue of Inside Learning Technologies & Skills, James Clay of Gloucestershire College says: “One of the real opportunities that mobile learning brings is how it can take remote and informal learning from a passive experience to one that is active and involved. Connectivity allows the learner to move away from a lone individual learning experience to a shared collaborative one. The ability to have conversations easily and simply on a mobile device changes the effectiveness of the learning… Likewise assessment can be enhanced and developed; a move can be made away from paper-based assessment to online testing, interactive quizzes and the availability of cameras allow for video based evidence recording and assessment.”
The range of potential applications for m-learning is only really restricted by the user’s imagination. For example, mobile devices can help to:
- Deliver coaching and mentoring
- Provide location-aware learning based on where the student is physically located
- Conduct assessments and evaluations
- Provide on-the-job support and access to information
- Deliver podcasts of lectures and training sessions
- Foster communication and collaboration
- Capture evidence of learning activity
- Migration Training – Giving your new employee the company induction before they start
- Technology Briefings – Allowing the smooth and trouble free adoption of new systems and procedures
- Exam Preparation – last minute revision and tips before attempting that important exam
However, a few words of caution. You should bear in mind that small mobile and PDA screens limit the amount and type of information that can be displayed and there are limited storage capacities to contend with. With these factors in mind, there are a number of considerations to take into account when designing m-learning applications.
Content that has been created specifically for a desktop environment may not easily convert to a mobile device. For example, flash-based materials won’t work on an iPad or iPhone. Also, as mobile learners may well be on the move, you need to consider keeping individual modules relatively short.
The constraints on screen sizes, mentioned above, also mean that the number of options and interactions need to be kept to a minimum. Having said this, it is also important to take advantage of one of the great strengths of mobile devices — the range of media options that are available. So, look to integrate audio, video and animation where appropriate.
Conversely, the wide range of platforms, screen sizes, and functionality, together with no clear standards, mean that there are a whole host of infrastructure issues to address.
Certainly m-learning offers opportunities for learning that didn’t exist before, but it may not suit everyone’s needs and will never fully replace face-to-face or mentoring. A widely held view is that mobile learning is best suited to a blended L&D solution, where it can enhance and support traditional learning modes through its portability and accessibility. You should be keeping abreast of developments, maintaining a watching brief on how your competitors are exploiting it and looking for opportunities to trial the approach in your own organisation.