Smart-Phone Led Mobile Learning (Part 2) Mobile Enabled Content isn’t MLearning

Mobile Learning is not just for Staff with High Mobility

The most obvious end users are those who spend a good % of their work time away from formal offices- Airlines, security, field support, sales, project staff, construction, social workers, educationists, insurance agents, etc. But this view is traditional. The challenges and virtues of mobile learning will make it one of the most preferred learning medium across staff categories. It also acts as great leveler for sectors /companies who find it difficult to open out e-learning opportunities because of the hardware investments involved. Network, laptop provisions for staff, etc create barriers for entry. However, as most employees now have moved or are moving to smart phones, the cost of user level hardware can actually go out of the equation by allowing the user to access the same on his /her personal smart phone. With smart phones already starting below Rs 2500, in the next couple of years for most forward looking corporates, we can expect near 100% penetration of smart phones amongst the work force.

In fact, if a mobile learning design is appropriately designed, it takes away a significant or large part of the formal time needed to do such courses, since they happen so informally and in such personal time settings that the professional work time is not lost. It is highly unlikely that your employees would be clocking in formal office hours for sitting at their desks and going through mobile phone. They hardly cause any additional loss of productive work hours. For all practical purposes therefore, the employee cost of time spent in training is either zero or significantly lower than alternate methods. But not all mobile learning is leads to such benefits; only those which are scientifically designed to meet such needs.

Mobile-Enablement of Content is not M Learning

Except for some rare instances, almost all that is passed on as mobile learning is not appropriately for the smart phone. Just enabling the present e-learning material on the phone in an HTML format is not M Learning. This is just mobile-enablement of existing documents. But these are unlikely to achieve the potential that m learning holds, or should evolve in to. At best it will enable one to say that the new fad has been introduced in your company; but the challenges would remain as before. All one achieves is the convenience of opening documents on the phone. But at what cost ?

Solution without Mobile Ready Content is Nothing.

There are also solutions which offer mobile solutions platforms. But the solution is just one part of the cost. Both the cost of content and expertise to develop that piece when isolated from the solution create their own challenges. With just the platform or solution you will have large machinery without adequate fuel. If we just upload mobile enabled content on this platform, the outcomes as explained above would not be giving enough value, and will only remain a fad.

Mobile Learning Solution What to Look For

To truly leverage mobile learning driven through smart phones, I expect the interplay of four primary elements. The Communication Interface which is the platform along with the application that sits on the mobile device that effectively enables learning, engagement, monitoring, evaluation and recommendation. The Context of learners physiological and psychological environment, which includes experiences, needs, challenges, distractions, The Content which are the various learning and education attributes that enable a learner to gain knowledge, skills and perspectives through elements of sight, sound and touch. And of course the Consumer who is our learner; one who is central to the other three elements.

While there are several layers and nuances to each of these dimensions, each having a unqiue impact on the learning experience and effectiveness; as an illustration I have tried to share some of them for your decision making.

Let us say we are dealing with the context related issues. It has to be understood that learners will have varied experiences, maturity levels in their life cycle, as also on the domain. They will generate biases and preferences. People will also have varying learning styles and perceptions of self. How well does the content and the communication interface, which is the mobile learning solution address some of these. It also has to keep in mind that people today have low attention span, higher drop-out rates, high information explosion; and that they will be accessing this product in a highly distracting environment. How do you manage the Young Child Like context of the learner. How do you keep him honest through an engagement model builds automatic anchors and provides assisted learning. How does it get context specific to such situations, or modify the learning approach dynamically while managing hindrances and drop-outs. How does one anchor the user in spite of frequent distractions. How do you build continuity of learning when the person goes through hibernation or withdrawal ? What are the unique propositions that understand user behavior and address them?

Notiifications and Alerts Dont Work : In my experience, no matter how many times we follow up, to get a busy employee to search out that mail with the pdf attachment, or to have him do multiple clicks to go and open an app or website and then search the content and read it, means a journey of 3-4 clicks at least. To get someone to be motivated to do those 4 steps without a stick or carrot is extremely tough. Sending out notifications and alerts for example is an age-old technique which after a point gets irritating to the user, and yet does not achieve adequate results. If it was so, it would have worked for the CBT based e-learning. Yet there are unique opportunities that the omni-presence of the phone offers which can help a person stay anchored. These are some of the questions we must ponder upon.

If for example a user prefers an informal approach and his learning style is based on kinesthetics (people who process information(or learn) by doing things themselves), can the same course uniquely change from a standard course to offer him a simulated approach preferred for such learning style ?. Simply put, are there multiple means to learn the same thing ? Can the course quickly leverage the power of the social interactions and groups, without opening out users to external tools like facebook and twitter which some companies may not be willing to offer due to productivity, security or bandwidth concerns. How does the solution support situations where learner experience gets impacted by network issues in at their location; or they are unwilling to spend money on data usage. Do the courses work in an offline mode ? If they do, how do you manage security and copyright infringement concerns.

MContent is a Rare and Evolving Expertise. As discussed above, mobile enabling current the content is not good enough. The user as we realize will possibly get only few minutes. A general range being as low as a minute, to a maximum of 10 minutes in a one shot. Each screen therefore must be able to drive home a clear message in bite sized format. The cost and effort of converting a two page of write-up and converting that into a high impact essence that drives the point without missing out key things is painful, time consuming and therefore costly and difficult. But putting that cost is worth the effort because of the dividends it will generate. But how do you keep creating scores of content while keeping the costs economically viable enough to be taken organization wide. More importantly, there are very few players in the world, let alone India who can do this with any degree of skill. One may find many people claiming m learning expertise. But when you use the bite-sized learning principle, your evaluation criteria will filter out large part of the current pool. It will therefore make sense to do long term deals with your content creators; those who show-case this expertise to drive economies of scale. This arena however will mature in the next few years as the field opens out. The perspectives of current instructional designers would need to change to achieve this goal more cost effectively.

MLearning Content Must Support Varied Learning Styles

Also, from adult learning point of view, we must address varied learning styles that each user may have. Can the course offer you multiple styles to do the same course? How informal can be the package? It will be critical to provide variety. You like to learn through an approach of formal course. I dont like a formal course; but I enjoy learning just through quiz format or game. With low thresholds for boredom, one will have to find ways to engage the employee for those three times in the day when she is willing to spend 5 minutes on her phone focusing on our content. If we dont hit it right, we would not cross the first five minutes of the first day on the course.

Games and Not JustGamification as Pillar of Mobile Learning

How much have the content is gamified? The easy part is to just create leader-board point system and claim gamification. That is the base layer. What about offering a course on sales or team work based on actual animated mobile game as an alternate form of learning ? How wide spread is Gamification on the smart-phone. Gartner Research has predicted that by the year 2015, more than 50% of corporate processes will be gamified . In addition, gamification will be the primary mechanism that 40% of the Global 1000 organizations will employ to improve their business operations.

The Future of Mobile Learning

Smart phone being the primary companion of our employees that stays with them, HR and learning cannot afford to ignore this mediumWith a compound annual growth rate of 18.2% for the next five years, it is estimated that the worldwide mobile learning market will reach $12.2 billion by 2017, and the top buyers of mobile learning products and services will be China, US, Indonesia, India, and Brazil. (source : elearningindustry.com)

There are immense opportunities for HR leaders and learning professionals in our organizations to leverage and build a new development story which will get a far higher zing factor; while getting better results, not just for new age industries but also traditional industries as well.

If we understand these aspects, ask the right questions and start making investments into it, we will mature faster and reap in quicker dividends. Once we identify this as an area of focus, it would be absolutely essential to stay invested, look at a longer term journey along with some short quick wins, and build on this channel layer by layer. Therefore, one must build the right eco-system, go with larger players who have the stability and wherewithal to go the distance and partner with you. But most importantly, they should be willing to give you a commercially and technologically viable, stable and scalable program. This applies to both the solution and the content space in the Mobile Learning Domain. This is where the world is moving.


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