Market Update January 2014

January is conference season in the elearning world. We’re all looking forward to a number of major events over the next few weeks in the UK, Australia and the US. There is a slight sense of deja vu as last year many speakers and companies were convinced that 2013 would be the year of mobile. This year even more are convinced that 2014 will be the year of 'mobile learning'. It may be blasphemous but I personally think it is an unhelpful term.

Many conferences, one main theme…

Many of our City & Guilds Kineo friends and colleagues are presenting sessions at the upcoming Learning Technologies conference and exhibition in London. There is no shortage of sessions billed as mobile learning. For example:

  • Global mobile learning case studies from Upside Learning
  • Practical tips on mobile learning from Simon Greany
  • Repurposing content for mobile learning from Kallidus
  • Mobile performance support sessions from CM Group and also from Redware
  • Mobile assessments from QuestionMark
  • Mobile learning for improved learner retention by Donald Clark

There are also many, many mobile tool launches or updates such as Lectora, Kallidus and Elucidat. At City & Guilds Kineo we also have new mobile device offers such as the open source Adapt responsive authoring framework co-developed with our friends at Learning Pool and Sponge; and Totara LMS Mobile – a mobile version of the open source LMS that we’ve developed for Totara.

The ASTD Techknowledge event which takes place before Learning Technologies also has many sessions on mobile learning from speakers including:

  • Chad Udell
  • Kevin Oakes (i4cp)
  • Knowledge advisers
  • Michelle Lentz

The Australian Elearning Congress in Melbourne in early February has more of a focus on mobile learning case studies from Medibank and McDonald’s amongst others.

Let’s move on from mobile

From reviewing the websites and the sessions above it is clear that ‘mobile learning’ is the preferred term of marketing managers. However, I am not sure it is a helpful expression, unless everyone is clear what it means.

According to Wikipedia, mobile learning is learning “that focuses on learning with mobile devices” though it does also say it is also learning that “focuses on the mobility of the learner”. uses the Elearning Guild definition of mobile learning namely:

Any activity that allows individuals to be more productive when consuming, interacting with, or creating information, mediated through a compact digital portable device that the individual carries on a regular basis, has reliable connectivity, and fits in a pocket or purse.

ADL are wary of fixed definitions of mobile learning but say mobile learning is:

A way to augment the learner through the use of ubiquitous technology that provides access to learning content and information, anytime and anywhere. Unlike other learning technologies, mobile learning is unique in that it can accommodate both formal and informal learning in collaborative or individual learning modes.

As we can see from these definitions mobile learning can mean different things to different people. I do understand the need for companies, and marketers in particular, to adopt terms like mobile learning but I fear it is too wide to be helpful. You can probably say the same of elearning, which is why different terms have emerged to define subsets.

Multi-device learning is a much more focused and precise term. It is clearly focused on delivering content to multiple devices. This typically means responsive elearning, which is content that adapts and automatically repurposes content for different screen sizes. This can be the same content or variations of the content adapted for different screen sizes, thus content can be tailored for smaller mobile devices despite being a single version.

Thus multi-device learning or responsive elearning are reasonably clear terms. Mobile learning is a much wider term and can mean many things. For example, if I am using my iPad sitting on the couch at home, is it mobile learning? What about if I use my laptop on the train? Or does mobile learning only mean learning solutions that use mobile features such as say a learner's location or the features of a mobile device not present on say laptops? There is less clarity with the current definitions which often focus on the learner’s physical location or mobile device. In our experience many corporates use mobile learning when they mean access across multiple devices rather than a mobile specific solution.

As learning professionals, it seems to me we are not trying to develop or deliver mobile learning, but rather to ensure that we take all opportunities to use learning to improve performance in the workplace. Some of these opportunities may involve delivering learning to multi-devices whilst some opportunities may mean developing a mobile app for a specific purpose using, for example, geo-location functions. Rather than using terms such as mobile learning we could do well to focus on the learning approach and on the challenge or task we are trying to solve. I personally like the model below from Charles Jennings:

It is a simple model and there is no marketing jargon, or buzzwords.

Adding learning involves integrating learning courses, classes, and elearning modules with activities within the workflow. Charles quotes examples of “making an eLearning module available on mobile devices, or making an online community space available for follow-up after a face-to-face course."

Embedding learning provides learners with opportunities for development as part of the workflow; this can include opportunities to deliver performance support to multiple devices or to develop a mobile app for a specific need where staff are mobile and using functionality such as geo-location or taking photos.

Extracting learning is based on a ‘work then learn, then improve how you work’ model rather than a ‘learn then work’ model. This can be very powerful such as the extraction of learning that can be achieved by a project team meeting to reflect on last week’s experiences and learning in a semi-structured way. These may be captured and then used to add learning to work or to embed within a workflow. Tools like microblogging / blogging for active reflection can be powerful here. These of course can work on multiple devices (Yammer, Twitter etc).

These three activities are device independent and put the learning and performance context first, then address the implementation question second. They recognise when mobility is a key requirement, for example in evidence gathering on the job. In other contexts, it’s more about making access possible across all devices. That seems like intuitively the right way around based on our experience.

Will 2014 be the year of mobile learning? Even a broken clock is right twice a day, so maybe one year the prediction will be true. However, I personally don’t think any year will be the year of mobile learning. I think what we will see is more sophisticated blends of learning which use mobile solutions and multi-device solutions to add, embed and extract learning to meet specific needs.

Want to discuss mobile vs multi-device? Come and talk to us at Learning Technologies on Stand 142, or join our Green Room sessions on Adapt and Totara LMS Mobile.


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