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

8 January 2014

Making Mobile Mayhem

Clark @ 6:10 AM

As I suggested in my post on directions for the year, I intend to be stirring up a bit of trouble here and there.  On a less formal basis, I want to suggest that another area where we need a little more light and a little less heat (and smoke) is mobile.  There is huge opportunity here, and I am afraid we are squandering it.

We’re doing a lot wrong when it comes to mobile.  As Jason Haag has aptly put it, elearning courses on a phone (or tablet) is mobile elearning, not mobile learning (aka mlearning).  And while there’s an argument for mobile elearning (at least on tablets), and strong case for augmenting formal learning with mobile (regardless of device), mobile elearning is not mlearning’s natural niche.

mLearning’s natural niche is performance support, whether through content (interactive or not), or social.   Think about how you use your phone? When I ask this of attendees, they’re using them to get information in the moment, or find their way, or capture information.  They’re not using them to take courses!

So we need to be thinking outside the course.  To help, we need case studies, across business sectors, and across the areas.  Which means we need people to be getting their hands on development tools.

Which is a second problem: the tools that are easiest to use are being used to create courses.  The elearning tools we use are increasingly having mobile output, but it’s too easy to then just output courses.  It turns out one of the phenomena that characterize our brains is ‘functional fixedness’, we use a tool in the way we’ve used it before.  Yet we can use these tools to do other things. And there are tools more oriented towards performance support.  Anything that creates content or interactivity can be used to build performance support, but we have to be doing it!

There’s more that we need to be doing in the background – content, governance, strategy – but we need to get our minds around mobile solutions to contextual needs, and start delivering the resources people need.  Mobile is big; the devices are out there, and they’re a platform for so much; we need to capitalize.

The place where you’re going to be able to see the case studies and explore the tools and start getting your mind around mobile will be this summer’s mLearnCon (in San Diego in June!). And you really should be going. Also, if you are doing mobile, you really should be submitting to present.  We need more examples, more ideas, more experience!  (If you need help writing a proposal, I’ve already written a guide.)

Really, presenting is a great contribution to yourself and the industry, and we really could use it.  Help us make mobile mayhem by showing the way.  Or, of course, join us at the conference to get ready to mix it up.  Hope to see you there.


  1. Why do the mLearnCon folks make it so hard to find the link to submit a speaking proposal? Ugh!

    Thanks for the encouragement. If I can find the link, I’ll submit a case study on tablet use in medical education.

    Comment by Rebecca — 8 January 2014 @ 11:33 AM

  2. So why in the world did the name “mLearning” even get started? I agree with you 100% – the best use of the Smartphone is as a support tool. It seems, then, that the appropriate nickname is mSupport or mResource rather than mLearning. Phones are awesome “find and locate” tools that can help you research something on the spot – something you may not necessarily need to remember after you’ve located what you need, used it in the moment, and then moved on.

    I’m not sure we can get away from the term mLearning – it’s too entrenched, but I believe it is the wrong term and it sets people in the industry up for thinking that they CAN put courses onto a phone with good results.

    Mobile devices (phones and tablets) are also a lot like other technologies that have been explored in our industry over the past 25 years.Our first efforts with the new technology is to simply try to repurpose what we’ve done before in a different medium. When video was a “new” technology in the learning world, people’s first uses of it were to videotape people lecturing….essentially replicating what we used to do in a live classroom. When virtual worlds came into being folks would host events at which you would arrive at your virtual destination to watch someone deliver a virtual PowerPoint presentation. We tend to try to replicate what we know rather than thinking of the entirely new learning and support strategies we can create in conjunction with a new distribution technology.

    Our colleagues in the marketing world face similar struggles with the shifts in technologies. Suddenly we have DVRs and subscription services that let us stream our favorite TV shows and movies WITHOUT having to watch commercials. We have digital magazines and newspapers that let us ignore advertising. Thus far, advertisers seem mostly flummoxed by this – and unsure of how to respond. Their approaches to commercials largely remain unchanged (except to shorten them in some instances) – and their response to creating advertisements in digital media is to put the same ad in digital format that they would have had in a print publication. They can’t get out of their box and think of an entirely new way to do advertising now that distribution technologies have changed.

    Mobile will mature and get better once we stop trying to do what we’ve done in the past and force ourselves to come up with new patterns and ideas.

    Comment by Sharon Boller — 14 January 2014 @ 6:19 AM

  3. “Anything that creates content or interactivity can be used to build performance support, but we have to be doing it!”

    For an example of how an eLearning tool like Articulate Storyline can be used to create Performance Support instead of a course, take a look at this solution:

    Landing page:

    Jump straight in to an example:

    We used existing tools and resources, along with external PS content already existing in uPerform. Storyline allowed us to create rich interactive content with ease, using a familiar PPT-inspired interface. However, it is not so easy to maintain the content inside once created unless you have some comfort with multimedia tools and FTP. This solution is then sort of a hybrid between eLearning and PS, as one would expect.

    I would not say that this is a best practice to be emulated everywhere, such as where a dedicated PS system can be deployed, but it was the optimal solution amongst the available options at the time. Also, we were able to create something completely customized that included everything we wanted, with no capital expenditure.

    Comment by Jonathan Atleson — 1 February 2014 @ 1:18 PM

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