As part of an initiative for ASTD’s upcoming International Conference and Exposition, I was filmed as I responded to 10 questions around mobile (if you’re there, hope to hear how it goes) from Tony Bingham (he came in via conference call). Here is what I wrote up as thoughts before the filming (and then answered spontaneously, but mindful of what I’d written).
1. How do you define mobile learning?
I really think mobile learning is about augmenting the brain wherever and whenever you are, or, as I say “accessorize your brain“. Yes, you can get into elegant definitions (I like how Judy Brown mentions size, familiarity, and omnipresence), but really it’s about how it’s used. I advocate not thinking about courses on a phone, but instead about augmenting formal learning and augmenting performance.
2. Why mobile / why now?
I think the reason mobile is becoming ‘hot’ is that the devices are converging and offering powerful capabilities in a small factor, and that mobile devices are now ubiquitous (at least in the developed world, and are at surprising levels in the developing world. But perhaps most importantly, as I think about it now (and not what I said or wrote originally), is that the space is maturing. We have workable app stores and easy usage. The power is now out there, and the mechanisms are now there to take advantage of it. When a small company like Google is saying they’re developing for mobile first, something significant is happening.
3. Where is mobile learning having the biggest impact today – how do you see that changing in the future?
Right now, I think the biggest impact is in quick access to needed problem-solutions, whether it’s content, computation, or the right person. In the future, I expect to see more context sensitivity (e.g. augmented reality). The opportunity already exists to get information based upon where you are, and I hope we’ll see more, but also support for ‘when’ you are (that is, what you are doing regardless of where it is), and of course the combination of both.
4. How does mobile learning support other types of learning at the organizations with whom you work (e.g., formal learning / social learning)? Has it replaced any other learning modes?
I see mobile learning as providing a way to extend the formal learning in time and space, and while the time one is important, again I think the space one will be come important. I don’t see mobile learning as a replacement though I think it can spark a useful shift to consider performance support in addition to or in place of formal learning.
5. What impact has mobile learning had on instructional design?
I think that mlearning has had a beneficial impact on instructional design in several ways. For one, it requires minimalism, and that’s good for elearning in general from the perspective of the learner experience. Second, I think it has emphasized more granularity in design, separating out concepts from examples from practice activities, and that’s beneficial in terms of looking forward to adaptive and personalized systems. Overall, I think it has helped foment a greater emphasis on separating out the content itself from how it’s delivered.
6. From a development perspective – do you think the industry should be focused on apps or the web for mobile learning – do you see this changing in the future?
I don’t think there’s one answer, it’s horses for courses, as they say. Mobile web currently has a greater reach across platforms, and is easier to develop. On the other hand, it can have limitations in terms of taking advantage of device-specific capabilities. And, of course, there is still such dynamism that whatever answer you give now might change between when I write this and you read it. In the longer term, I hope for a cross-platform development environment that allows production of highly interactive experiences and the delivery can be platform-specific for most devices and then have a web option for other devices.
7. How do you recommend dealing with the various platforms that are currently available – and, what do you consider in making those decisions?
The platform solution depends mightily on many factors: who the audience is, what devices they have, what the need is, and what resources are available all can play a factor in deciding what platform to choose. Increasingly, you also have to ask what the context of the individual is, and the task as well.
8. Please talk about the importance (or not) of senior executive and organization support for mobile learning.
Like all organizational initiatives, top-down support is really beneficial. While stealth operations, bottom-up grassroots initiatives can succeed and have done so, in the long term you want executives to ‘get’ the value. Increasingly, we’re seeing that executives are using smartphones and tablets, so the opportunity is there.
9. What advice would you give to someone thinking about implementing mobile learning in their organization?
Think strategically. And, at the same time, get your hands dirty with a first experiment. That may seem contradictory, but you want to be developing both your experience with it as you start incorporating mobile into your long-term thinking. Naturally all the pre-existing wisdom holds true: start small, find something easy that will have a big impact, etc.
As I think of it now, I think you should do several things:
- make sure all the content you generate (and post-hoc do this for legacy content) is mobile-accessible and mobile deliverable.
- find mobile solutions for all your internal communication channels: phone, text messages, email, but also access to social networks, wikis, etc.
- create a place for mobile-generated content – images, videos, etc – to be stored and shared
10. What do you see in the future for mobile learning?
I naturally mentioned my interest in slow learning, beginning to move away from the event model and start thinking about a more mentor-like relationship in developing individuals over time, in ways that more naturally mimic the way our brains learn. Also, of course, I think alternate reality games will combine the best of simulation game learning and mobile learning, making learning closer to the real task, more engaging, more distributed, and consequently more effective.
Those are my answers, what are yours?