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

21 May 2010

Mobile as Main Mode

Clark @ 2:01 PM

As I was booking my travel to San Diego for the eLearning Guild’s mLearning conference, mLearnCon (June 15-17), I thought about a conference focusing on mobile learning versus the regular, full, elearning conference or even a full training conference (congrats to Training magazine pulling a phoenix).  And I wondered how much this is a niche thing versus the whole deal.

I'm speaking badgeNow, I don’t think all of everything needs to be pulled through a mobile device, but the realization I had is that these devices are going to be increasingly ubiquitous, increasingly powerful, and consequently will be the go-to way individuals will augment their ability to work. Similarly, increasingly, workers will be mobile.  Combining the two, it may be that support will be expected first on the personal device!  While the nature of the way the device will be used will differ, desktops for long periods of time, mobile devices for short access, the way most ‘support’ of tasks will occur will be via mobile devices.

That is, people will use their mobile devices to contact colleagues, look for answers, access materials and tools ‘in the moment’.  The benefits of desktops will be tools to do knowledge work, and there will be needs for information access, and colleague access, and collaboration, but increasingly we may want that when and where we want.

I’m thinking mobile could become the default target design, and desktop augments will be possible, versus the other way around.  While you might want a desktop for big design work where screen real estate matters.  For example, I’m designing diagrams on my iPad. I wouldn’t want to do it on my iPhone, but I am glad to take it with me in a smaller form-factor than a laptop.  I may take back and polish on the laptop, but my new performance ecosystem is more distributed.  And that’s the point.

Increasingly, we expect at least some access to our information wherever we are.  (Yes, there are some folks who still eschew a mobile phone. There are people who still avoid a computer, or even electricity!)   Mostly, however, we’re seeing people finding value in augmenting their capabilities digitally.  And so, maybe we increasingly need to view augmentation as the baseline, and dedicated capability as the icing on the cake for specialized work.

This may be too much, but I hope you’re seeing that mobile is more than just a niche phenomenon.  There are real opportunities on the table, and real benefits to be had. I’m surprised that it took so long, frankly, as I figured mobile was closer to ready-for-prime-time than virtual worlds. Now, however, while there are still compatibility problems, mobile really is ready to rock. Are you?


  1. Mobile devices can enhance human interactions, the way people live or recreate as well as how they work.

    On a recent trip to Vancouver, BC, a ride on the commuter train was a laboratory of mobile observation.

    Mostly young riders sent text messages to their friends on where to meet them “down line” to go shopping. They used a mobile device to communicate the name of the station and how many minutes until they would arrive. They could text about where to eat, then use their mobile device to find a restaurant or public house.

    Mobile devices could also save lives, another human interaction.

    I recently experienced how the iPad works great for information access after an ILT event, in the role of a performance support tool. As a CPR student/graduate, I was able to view CPR videos on YouTube on the iPad to review my new skills.

    Let’s say the ILT CPR instruction has his/her own video. Students can upload it to their mobile devices to use in the case of an emergency… no WiFi hotspot nor data plan needed.

    These are minor examples; there are people in various parts of the world who are beginning to do wonderful things with mobile devices. And, I can’t wait to learn more at mLearnCon in San Diego.

    I think we’d see more adoption if the cost of the devices and the data plans would become more affordable for daily and general use. And, maybe we will soon.

    Comment by Jenise Cook — 22 May 2010 @ 1:05 AM

  2. I guess my question/comment is…I take my laptop with me when I’m on the road or away anyplace that requires me to hang out more than 20 minutes at a time to get work done (e.g., airports, waiting rooms, trains,etc) and if I do that I’m using my laptop vs my mobile device to access elearning, since I generally want to multitask. So I guess I don’t see mobile devices as being the first tool I turn to for elearning, which is why I don’t see it as the default development tool. I see mobile devices as useful for really short snippets of elearning, for job aids, etc, when you don’t want to connect to your larger device and aren’t bothered by the inherent limitations of mobile devices. I think elearning developed for mobile devices and laptops will run on parallel tracks for quite awhile. I agree that mobile learning is more than a niche phenomenon though. But do wonder if there’s any market research on actual use of mobile learning platforms (as distinguished simply from sales of mobile devices, iPads, or tools being ostensibly used for elearning). What are the demographics of people seriously using mobile devices for learning?

    Comment by dianne — 22 May 2010 @ 8:00 AM

  3. Look forward to seeing you at mLearnCon, Jenise.

    Dianne, look here. This quote seems to sum it up for me:”Over the course of the past year, we have seen use of mobile Internet evolve from an occasional activity to being a daily part of people’s lives”. I don’t think a mobile device may be the 1st device for formal learning, but for informal learning… And I’d take an elearning interaction on an iPad before on my laptop, I reckon. Lighter. It may even be that the interaction is ‘closer’, when it’s on your lap and being touched directly rather than mediated by a keyboard?

    Comment by Clark — 22 May 2010 @ 10:33 AM

  4. Dianne,

    Good points. And, on my latest trip, I took my (new) iPad instead of my MacBook Pro, and used my iPad every day for the things you mentioned (except e-learning; I was on vacation.). The multitasking upgrade to the iPad OS is scheduled for the end of this summer.

    Yes, I’m an Apple-Fangirl, but I’m also a lover of all tools and apps. That includes Adobe/Flash and Google with Adroid OS. That said, as of now, only Apple has come out with a mobile tablet device, and that’s the key, I believe. The tablet device.

    e-Learning designed and developed for mobile tablets could replace laptops at least 50% of the time (my guesstimate not based on research nor evidence). That 9.5-inch screen and its user touch features are amazing, and are getting me excited about the future of mobile learning on tablets.

    Once HP, Sony, Samsung, HTC, etc., come out with their own tablets (at an affordable price, please!), I believe we will see more learners turning to mobile tablets for learning activities versus their very small, handheld smart phones or their larger laptops.

    I’m enjoying the “wars” between the different hardware and software companies, because, in the end, I’m hoping it all will mean wonderful, new learning tools for us as designers and developers, and ultimately for our learners.

    Will mobile become the default design? “That depends”. As instructional designers, we’ll still need to fall back on our analysis skills to make that decision. The goal is to meet both the organization’s and the learner’s needs and produce measurable performance outcomes.

    (From my laptop, because I don’t want it to feel lonely.)

    Comment by Jenise Cook — 22 May 2010 @ 12:44 PM

  5. Not sure it will be the default design as much as building flexible content that can intelligently adapt to the device limitations. Maybe content has a way to breakdown into smaller chunks if it sniffs a certain screen resolution/ device/browser ID etc.

    I do think mobile will force content to be built in smaller pieces. Mini train-ettes that answer 1 question or descibe 1 process that can be quickly accessed, understood, and implemented by the student.

    Comment by ethan — 23 May 2010 @ 1:36 PM

  6. I recently wrote post on how there has been a change in the way my students access information, even in the classroom. As I teach at the university level, these are the future workers (many have just graduated, so they are no longer “future”) and your description, Clark, is very close to how they currently use technology.

    In fact, many do not use a desk-top. They use a lap top (which they bring in case they need more power or a larger screen) and a mobile telecommunications devise (i.e. iphone, ipad, cell phone, ipod or mp3 player). The impact of this on learning is that they don’t “learn” something until it is needed and then they will only learn it for a specific purpose. I think this is one reason why mobile technology will have a greater role in learning as the systems become more powerful (I just saw an ad for the 4g system).

    Comment by virginia Yonkers — 24 May 2010 @ 9:51 AM

  7. Hi Clark. Thanks for another great post on mobile learning and your musings on same. I concur there is a fundamental shift taking place where motivated individuals with capable devices are now using them quite differently than they did just six months or one year ago. Improved devices plus better networks/access speeds combined with easy to obtain/install “apps” have transformed our beloved smartphones into ever ready informational appliances suited for far more than just consuming an occasional factoid or learning tidbit. Mobile device-based consumption is becoming a natural act for many out there (though certainly not for everyone!) and organizations of all sizes should seek ways/methods/tools to capitalize on addressing that growing interest whenever possible. Those whose needs are met with mobile-delivered performance support tools, on-the-go training, just-in-time learning reinforcement and anywhere access to their learning communities are also certain to advertise their satisfaction (when warranted) should help generate further demand from the late majority in discovering some of the myriad benefits for themselves.

    Paving the way to (future) success will require a change in the approach the typical enterprise follows in content design, creation and deployment. What works best for “e” delivery (e.g., mostly Flash-based content delivered through a desktop browser) generally does not work for “m” delivery (e.g., shorter media-based content with fewer user/device interactions) although the converse is true if approached the right way where content designed for the mobile device (or even generated USING the mobile device!) can actually playback in the desktop world with little or no modification. When more and more organizations head this route, your vision of a “mobile first” target design approach should indeed become a practical and important reality.

    Looking forward to seeing you out in San Diego next month too!

    Robert ;>)

    Comment by Robert Gadd — 26 May 2010 @ 8:29 AM

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