Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

20 February 2008

Context is king

Clark @ 5:33 PM

In two recent readings, I’ve seen people miss one of the essences of mobile. In the New Media Consortium Horizon report (which has some pretty good points about collective intelligence, collaboration webs, and social operating systems), they talked about mobile broadband and how people are connecting. Which isn’t wrong, but incomplete. In the other, the author mentioned using mobile while waiting for the bus, and further cited a work that insisted people doing mobile learning ‘on the go’ won’t do deep reflection.

In both instances, the authors are first making the assumption that mobile devices are about reaching out to people and content while out and about. That’s fine; in training, huge amounts of effort is spent to reproduce a performance context so we can wrap learning around it. In mobile learning, if someone’s performing, they can wrap information and guidance around that performance to turn it into a learning experience.

And that can be a reflective experience. Here I am on a plane, writing my blog, which is a reflective experience. The author missed that on the bus is also a mobile learning opportunity. If you can prompt, or capture, a reflective thought anytime, you can get deep reflection.

But the point I want to make is that one of the other opportunities is ‘context-sensitive’ learning. That can be where you are, using your current location to connect you to some available resource that connects with a learning goal (Jim Schuyler at Red7 has a nice example of a puzzle hunt that leads you around the Yerba Buena Gardens outdoor sculpture collection). It can also, and this is something I’m quite keen on and yet haven’t seen people really take up, do something for when you are, not just where you are. For example, knowing that you’re in a meeting with a vendor might trigger a system to deliver some negotiating tips, or refresh some negotiation content you’ve recently viewed.

When I naively wrote about mobile learning in 2000, I admit I missed the context-sensitive opportunities (I wrote “Soon there will be essentially no distinction between mLearning and elearning”), but it is more than seven years later!  I hope you’ll be looking at the broader mobile opportunities, rather than limiting yourself to courses on phones.


  1. Clark,

    I totally agree that mobile learning is not about courses on phones. Context is absolutely crucial to all learning and by going mobile we can add back some valuable dimensions of a point of need – namely time and location.

    Have you come across Jotyou? I wrote a few thoughts on Location based Learning on my blog:


    I’d be interested in your thoughts.


    P.S. You may not remember but we met nearly two years ago at SRI when I came over to US as part of a Government Mission entitled “Beyond eLearning” – hope you’re keeping well.

    Comment by Lars Hyland — 21 February 2008 @ 9:10 AM

  2. Lars, pleased you remember me from the UK Mission, and yes I remember you as well. I have just heard about JotYou, and agree it’s really cool. I’ve been thinking about some applications as well. It’s definitely a context-sensitive capability, and consequently really opens up some interesting opportunities. Scavenger hunts for one.

    Nice blog (great title)!

    Comment by Clark — 22 February 2008 @ 12:47 PM

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