Too many times, at conference expos and advertisements, it appears that folks are trying to say that courses on a tablet (or phone) are mlearning. On the contrary, I’ll suggest that courses on a phone or a tablet are elearning. Then, what is mlearning?
My argument is pretty simple: just because courses are on a different device, if they’re a traditional course – page turning with knowledge test, a virtual classroom, or even a simulation – if it’s only made touch-enabled, it’s still just elearning. Even if you strip it down to work on a phone, minimizing text, how is it really, qualitatively different?
Now, if you start breaking it up into chunks, and distributing it over time, we’re in a bit of a grey area, but really, isn’t that just what we should be doing in elearning, too? Learning needs to be distributed, but this is still just a greater degree of convenience than doing the same on a laptop. It’s a quantitative shift, not tapping into the inherent nature of mobile.
So, when is it really mlearning? I want to suggest that mlearning – and here I’m talking about courses, not mobile performance support, mobile social, etc, which also could and should be considered mlearning or at least mperformance – is when you’re using the local context to support learning. That could be restated as when you are turning a performance situation into a learning situation, wrapping the performance context with resources and support to take a performance experience and turn it into a learning experience.
Most of our formal learning involves what IBM termed ‘work-apart’ learning, something that happens away from your regular job. And most training and online learning are just that, separated from work. We artificially create contexts that mimic the workplace in most of our learning. And there are occasionally good reasons to do that, like handling multiple people and when failure can be costly or expensive.
Now, however, when we can bring digital technology wherever we are, we can use our real work to be the base of the learning experience. We don’t need an external context, we’re in one! We can provide concepts, examples, and feedback around real contextualized practice. Or, we can add a layer to performance support that educates, not just supports, as Gloria Gery had proposed (but is still to be seen).
And, if the work context is using the desktop, then mobile isn’t necessarily a sensible solution. However, on those increasing circumstances when we’re on a site visit, meeting, at an event, and generally away from our desks, mlearning as I’m construing it here makes sense.
I don’t want to discount the value of elearning on mobile devices, particularly on tablets (where I have argued that the intimacy may have uniquely beneficial impacts), but I do think we shouldn’t consider context-free courses on a small device as anything other than just elearning. So, the question I’m wrestling with is whether mlearning includes mobile performance support, informal, etc, or do we want a separate term for that? But I kinda do want to keep mlearning from not meaning ‘courses on a phone (or tablet)’. What say you?