Mobile Learning Musings I


We at Q2 have been doing a lot of thinking about mobile learning these days.  I’ve been reading all over the place trying to come up to speed. This post is likely the first in a series of reflections on the challenge.

What is it?
What I think mobile learning means to LEARNERS is pretty clear.  It is the ability to access learning experiences on a phone or tablet, something you can take with you, rather than being glued to a desktop or laptop computer.  As somebody who routinely works from my laptop while my husband drives the car, I had always included laptop-based things as mobile, but my 23-year-old medical student son regards the laptop as much too clunky to pull out on his morning bus ride – he moves stuff to his Nook so he can review it there. Apparently, laptop-on-the-go is totally last century,  so for the purposes of this post, I shall treat as m-learning those learning activities which can be accessed from a tablet or smartphone.Mobile standing still with connectivity? Or mobile on-the-move?
If you’re moving to m-learning to reach people who have phones/tablets but not laptops, who need access to reference tools, or who will be taking formal courses while in their offices or in other places where there is a stable internet connection, you have fewer limitations than if you are moving to m-learning to reach people who are literally moving in space while participating in interactive group learning activities.  Most of the excitement in m-learning seems to be around the ability to reach people-on-the-move, but I see some serious issues there.The thing that’s great about having the Internet in your pocket is that you can, at a moment’s notice, decide to google up the answer to a question you have, or download that document or video you’ve been meaning to review – IF you happen to have Internet connectivity at that moment.  So if you have performers who need to reference stuff when they are not in front of their computers, it’s not hard to make the case that it would be a good idea to have performance support tools that are accessible via the computer in the pocket.

The state of connectivity, though, is such that it’s not possible to assume that an on-the-move learner will have uninterrupted Internet access for the duration of a learning activity. So it seems that for now, anyway, interactive learning activities (as distinguished from reference tools) for mobile-on-the-move folks need to be asynchronous and  down-and-uploadable, so that they can run “untethered” from the Internet. In service of this need, there are now ways to author and serve SCORM-compatible e-learning modules which permit the learner to download the module and later upload her results.

Just as connectivity and noise issues make  it problematic to schedule a conference call for a time when several participants will be in transit, scheduling a class via web meeting, or even a simple group voice discussion isn’t really a viable option with on-the-move users, for now.

There are some human elements which also need to be considered.  Older learners (and people on bumpy rides!) may have difficulty, visually, with the small format required by phone-based activities. Transit time is usually PERSONAL time for our learners. Many commuters have that pesky task of driving to attend to during their travel to and from work and clients. Others commute in noisy trains or busses which are not exactly conducive to strong attention or reflection.

As with most new initiatives, getting a sense of the needs of the audience is the very first step.  Are you trying to reach people who use mobile hardware while sitting in a quiet place? Or people who have mobile hardware and are moving through various spaces? Is this use a quick lookup of reference material?  Or a more involved learning activity requiring reflection and feedback?