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

15 May 2012

Mobile Changes Everything?

Clark @ 6:06 AM

As a prelude to a small webinar I’ll be doing next week (though it also serves to tee up the free Best of mLearnCon webinar I’ll be doing for the eLearning Guild next week as well, here’re some deliberately provocative thoughts on mobile:

According to Tomi Ahonen, mobile is the fastest growing industry ever.  But just because everyone has one, what does it mean?  I think the implications are broader, but here I want to talk specifically about work and learning.  I want to suggest that it has the opportunity to totally upend the organization.  How? By broadening our understanding of how we work and learn.

The 70:20:10 framework, while not descriptive, does capture the reality that most of what we learn at work doesn’t come from courses (the ’10’).  Instead, we learn by coaching/mentoring (the ‘2o’), and ‘on the job’ (70).  Yet, by and large, the learning units in organizations are only addressing the 10 percent.  They could, and should, be looking at how to support the other 90, but haven’t seen it, yet there’re lots that can be done.

The bigger picture is that digital technology augments our brain.  Our brains are really good at pattern-matching and extracting meaning. They’re also really bad at doing rote things, particularly complex ones.  Fortunately, digital technology is exactly the opposite, so combined we’re far more capable.  This has been true at the desktop, with not only powerful tools, but support wrapped around tools and tasks.  Now it’s also true where- and whenever we are: we can share content, compute capabilities, and communication.  And you should be able to see how that benefits the organization.

And more: it’s adding in something that the desktop didn’t really have: the ability to capture your current context, and to leverage that to your benefit. Your device can know when and where you are, and do things appropriately.

So why is this game-changing?  I want to suggest that the notion of a digital platform that supports us ubiquitously will be the inroad to recognize that the formal learning is not, and cannot, be separate from the work.  If we’re professionals, we’re always working and learning (as my colleague Harold Jarche extols us).  If a new platform comes out that’s ubiquitous yet relatively unsuited for courses, we have a forcing function to start thinking anew about what the role of learning and performance professionals is.  I suggest that there are rich ways we can think about coupling mobile with work.

Why do I suggest that courses on a phone isn’t the ideal solution?  You have to make some distinctions about the platform.  A tablet is just not the same as a pocketable device. It has been hard to get a handle on how they differ, but I think you do need to recognize that they do.  For example, I’ll suggest that you’re not likely to want to take a full course on a pocketable device, however on a tablet that’d be quite feasible.

To take full advantage, you have to consider mobile as a platform, not just a device. It’s a channel for capability to reach across limitations of chronology and geography, and make us more productive. And more.  So, get on board, and get going to more and better performance.


  1. Hello Clark, thank you for kicking off the subject for the webinar next week. I do see the change because of our iPhone, tablet, etcetera. And I like your suggestion to see mobile as a platform. We are, almost all, using those mobile devices. What do you see as ‘good examples’ of mobile learning? Because I can imagine that you don’t call everything we do with our mobile devices, mobile learning.

    Comment by Sibrenne Wagenaar — 16 May 2012 @ 11:41 AM

  2. Sibrenne, I see several examples of good mobile. I believe you can augment formal learning by streaming out or having accessible extra content: tests for knowledge that needs to be memorized, scenarios to practice. We did this for a company that had a very good F2F course on negotiation, and wanted a supplement in it. (The case study appears in Metcalf’s mLearning book). The SMS flood simulation that the University of Aberdeen did counts as another example.

    We also developed a performance support tool for negotiation in the same situation. The flight checklists that are now being done on iPads are another example. For communication/social, the mobile apps that accompany organizational social networking tools like Yammer would qualify. And for contextualized information, some of the examples done in ARIS would qualify: http://arisgames.org/projects-and-papers/

    Though I do consider mlearning to be under the Big L learning (http://blog.learnlets.com/?p=1812) umbrella, including problem-solving, creativity, design, innovation, etc, so most things we do purposefully with mobile devices to make us more efficient would fit in my definition of mobile learning.

    Comment by Clark — 16 May 2012 @ 1:40 PM

  3. […] on blog.learnlets.com Share this:EmailPrintMore Pin ItDiggShare on TumblrLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

    Pingback by Learnlets » Mobile Changes Everything? | techcommgeekmom — 16 May 2012 @ 4:29 PM

  4. Hi Clark, looking forward to the webinar; especially to develop my frame of thinking on mobile. Are you saying that learning professionals in organisations should look both as (1) how to integrate mobile platforms in courses? and (2) helping professionals make smart use of their mobile phones and tablets? And do you consider laptops part of mobile learning devices?

    Comment by Joitske Hulsebosch — 16 May 2012 @ 11:26 PM

  5. […] Mobile Changes Everything? […]

    Pingback by Daily post 05/17/2012 : DrAlb — 17 May 2012 @ 6:31 AM

  6. Joitske, yes and. I do think learning professionals should be incorporating mobile in, and around, courses, and helping them make smart use. But more as well: creating mobile performance support, making sure org resources are available via mobile, having the org social network available via mobile, etc.

    And, no, I generally don’t consider laptops to be mobile learning devices. I think of them as desktops that can be used anywhere, mobile is different. As Judy Brown says: your personal device, with you all the time, pocketable. And see the dimensions I point to in the post on how they differ (link in text above).

    Comment by Clark — 17 May 2012 @ 6:31 AM

  7. hello Clark,
    I ‘m really interested in examples how to use mobile technology as a form of social learning for changing behaviour. I hope you can share some possibilities with us next wednseday.

    Comment by Gerdi Keeler — 20 May 2012 @ 12:17 PM

  8. Clark,

    Most of my work is about facilitation and guiding groups. I am wondering. Are there already free app applications available where I can ask reflective questions to a group? And that at the end through the app all the answers are categorized and analysed? Do you have some recommendations?

    Do you also have examples where you have apps to note down group reports, which are collected during a seminar and which are then transfered to a general platform?
    Looking forward to the webinar on the 23rd May.

    Comment by Simon Koolwijk — 21 May 2012 @ 12:45 AM

  9. Hello Clark,
    I am working for the government (county) and we are moving to a more interactive culture. For this moment I have to organize regulary f2f meetings with experts to help us develop our policy on subjects as health, traffic and so on. We want to stay in contact with the participants and ask them later for feedback and more input. I wonder if you have suggestions for apps which can help us to do so. It is difficult for me to see possibilities, but I think for announcing new developments, of may be to ask questions.

    Comment by Pauline — 21 May 2012 @ 12:52 PM

  10. Hello Clark, I’m working with a Dutch bank with 145 subsidiaries. We often ‘implement’ changes for those subsidiaries and learning means giving a presentation, following an elearning or reading about the change. Managers in the subsidiaries are supposed to embed the change in daily work so it becomes routine. Sometimes we organise webinars for learning – for instance if other behaviour is required. The last one is complicated – how can we reach 10.000 employees and change the way they work? Eg. if legislation changes and we have to change behaviour – if we don’t we violate the law. How can new ways of learning – mobile or social learning help us?

    Comment by Paul Kleinwoud — 22 May 2012 @ 1:56 AM

  11. Hello Clark,
    I am very curious about the webinar, too, and looking forward to concrete ideas for application of mlearning. The way I have understood it thusfar is in its focus on being able to learn and apply anywhere – including using laptops (since they’re not fixed). Of course I can see that a phone or tablet is more practical to carry around than a laptop, but for me it was also somehow reassuring that mlearning is not only about the phone … Maybe I am a bit old-fashioned in my ways but to me a mobile phone can be used more intrusively than a laptop (tablet), and sometimes it is annoying if someone is intruding into something you are doing and not conducive to learning. I think that using for instance texting can be powerful (inspired by http://jenniferparker.posterous.com/mobile-learning-toolkit) but for me personally a lot would depend on timing, frequency and specially phrasing to determine whether I could see it as inspirational & motivating or an annoyance. I am wondering if you have any data or experience to share on this – is this a generation issue, or is it more widely felt, and how could one deal with that? My dilemma is – I like the examples mentioned in mobile learning toolkit, but when someone experimented with texting as a tool it sometimes (not always) greatly annoyed me to be disturbed in such manner. Somehow a text message can have a ring of urgency to it and that seems not always appropriate to me. But maybe this is an attitude that will change over time after using this more often? Looking forward to tomorrow!!!
    PS Simon, the link above may contain some answers to your questions on concrete apps/tools.

    Comment by Suzanne Bakker — 22 May 2012 @ 1:56 AM

  12. Folks, interesting questions. I confess that I don’t (and can’t) know all the apps that do specific things. I do know that LearningMate (caveat: a partner) has an iPad app called GoClass that lets you send out questions to your class and receive back the results, but I don’t think it auto-categorizes.

    I don’t see a need for mobile-specific solutions: following up after meetings can be done by email. You could also do this with SMS. There are SMS tools which can make it easier (tho’ I don’t know if they’re country-specific, which they might be).

    As to changing behavior, our existing training fails. What you need is spaced practice, and while we can do this if learners have access to a desktop, mobile gives us new opportunities. It’s about a persistent and lasting relationship with the learner. I’m mindful of Suzanne’s concerns, of course, and think we might ask the learners how they want to learn, but they have to do *something*; whether it’s email or mobile or…whatever, if they need reactivation, reconceptualization, recontextualization, and reapplication for the learning to stick, they have to be willing, and then it’s a matter of channel.

    And I don’t think a mobile phone is the same as a laptop is the same as a tablet, and we should be looking at what works regardless separate from what specific uses do these devices have.

    Thanks for the interaction and engagement, look forward to talking with you tomorrow (as I write this).

    Comment by Clark — 22 May 2012 @ 1:43 PM

  13. Just came across a blogpost that describes (among other quite technical things) that

    “Early research on mobile learning showed something that is conveniently ignored by mobile learning evangelists. Attention and retention may be seriously affected by small screen size. Few watch movies, read entire e-books or perform long pieces of linear learning on their mobiles. More worrying is research by Nass & Reeves that shows that retention falls rapidly with screen size. This pushes m-learning towards performance support, recording performance and collaborative learning, rather than courses. So be careful about what type of learning you want to deliver.”

    I wonder how ‘retention’ relates to screen size…?


    Comment by Sibrenne Wagenaar — 23 May 2012 @ 3:00 AM

  14. When it comes to concrete Apps, I like this overview: http://www.upsidelearning.com/blog/index.php/2011/08/24/ipad-applications-in-blooms-taxonomy/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=twitter#

    Comment by Sibrenne Wagenaar — 23 May 2012 @ 3:12 AM

  15. Sibrenne, love Donald Clark’s irreverent take on many things, and this too. I fully support his point, which can be summed up as “mobile learning isn’t courses on a phone”. He documents the reasons, and while the early research can be trumped in many ways by much more capable devices, I agree that I don’t watch movies or read books (by and large) on my phone. I *do* however, on my tablet (and wouldn’t on my laptop, by the way).

    And I don’t like Bloom’s Taxonomy (see Brenda Sugrue’s evisceration: http://www.performancexpress.org/0212/mainframe0212.html#title3 ), but the listing of apps is interesting and worthwhile. I’d look at general productivity tools for that matter: writing/note taking, numeric jotting (spreadsheets), drawing/diagramming, presentation software, capturing/bookmarking, search, etc, over perhaps specific learning focused things.

    Comment by Clark — 23 May 2012 @ 11:20 AM

  16. […] upfront to get us all thinking about the power of mobile learning, which you can still read here. We asked participants how do you use your mobile phone? The answered ranged from twittering, […]

    Pingback by Designing mobile learning: people underestimate the power of text messages | En Nu Online — 25 May 2012 @ 6:42 AM

  17. […] upfront to get us all thinking about the power of mobile learning, which you can still read here. We asked participants how do you use your mobile phone? The answered ranged from twittering, […]

    Pingback by Designing mobile learning: people underestimate the power of mobile learning | En nu online — 25 May 2012 @ 6:46 AM

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