One size fits all?

Undoubtedly, mobile learning is a massive growth area.

The Towards Maturity “In Focus Report on mobile learning in the workplace” shows that 71% of respondents to their 2013 Benchmark Study use mobile devices (up from 36% four years earlier – so no doubt the figure has gone up even more by now).1

Pros and cons of mobile learning

There are many advantages to mobile learning (or, more accurately, multiple device learning). It increases the opportunities to learn; a learner could access it on their way into work. Smaller devices can also offer on the job training, providing an aide memoire which could be particularly useful for employees who work off site. In some parts of the world mobile devices are the only means of access to the internet.

On the other hand there are a number of issues to consider, especially in the corporate environment. For example, who owns the devices the content is accessed on? If you are working for a company do you really want to use your own phone for work purposes? And if you are the company do you want a range of different devices accessing content on your servers? Having said that, it is interesting to note from the Towards Maturity study, however, that around half of the organisations that responded provide devices for their staff. There is also the work/life balance issue. Should an employee be expected to learn in their own time? Should they be getting paid for it?

Despite this it seems to be the case that more and more people are using their mobile devices for learning, and more and more organisations are offering their learning across multiple devices.

There may be more mobile devices in the world than people

A lot of this is driven by the simple fact that there are lots of mobile devices in the world. Indeed we may well have passed the point where there are mobile devices than people in the world.2 They have now become so ubiquitous in our lives. Research suggests that we use them for almost three hours a day – more than we make use of desktop computers.3 It would be strange, therefore, for an employer not to offer employee services that could be accessed on mobile devices.

Is mobile learning simply the same content on different devices?

So mobile learning makes sense. But is it just simply a case of making the same content available on different devices? The CTO of Articulate seems to think this might be the case. His argument is that whether watching a movie on the big screen or on our phones we expect to see the whole thing and it should be the case for learning.4

Do we use mobile devices in a different way to desktop computers?

I am not 100% convinced that this is the case. I think making a smaller version of the desktop e-learning module might not always be the right answer. E-learning, in my book, should be as interactive as possible to maximise the amount of learning and it is not always possible to completely replicate on a mobile device an activity designed for a desktop computer. It’s harder work but we need to be thinking about creating content that is specifically mobile friendly. A good starting point would be looking at how we use mobile devices compared to desktop computers generally.

Worldwide over half of the visits to the internet now are done on mobile devices.5 Google say that now more searches are done on mobile devices than on desktops.6 However for many types of websites we still use desktops to visit them7 and the purposes for accessing the internet on a mobile device is different. The main purposes are for social networking, searching, or checking the news and weather.8 I would suggest that we use mobile devices more for shorter activities such as adding a post to social media or finding out a discrete piece of information. Apart from watching videos, longer activities are left to larger devices.

Mobile learning should reflect the different ways we use mobile devices in our day to day lives.

This is what we need to be replicating in our e-learning; creating the more detailed content to display on desktops and tablets, and more discrete pieces of content for smaller mobile devices. Of course good practise would be to break the e-learning module into the smallest chunks but perhaps it would be better to use the unique strengths of each device to create a more blended approach rather than replicating the same content on each device.

I would suggest that mobile devices would be best for videos (downloadable), access to forums so the learner can check out and respond to the latest comments on the subject being covered, aide memoires on key learning points so they can be accessed on a just in time basis, and some exercises and activities. The content for the desktop version would be more detailed, including more information on the key learning points, and providing a platform for more detailed activities.

Mobile devices are becoming (have become!) prevalent in our lives and they are being used to deploy e-learning. However it is more than just a question of simply making the same content developed for desktops available for smaller devices. Each method of deployment has its own strengths which can be utilised to design and develop optimal e-learning.

This posting arose from my experience developing e-learning content using rapid authoring. I have used Lectora extensively and have written previously about its latest version. In a later posting I will look in a little more detail at how a range of rapid authoring tools can create content that is appropriate across platforms. I’d also be interested in other people’s view if they’d care to share them in the comments section below.

Footnotes

1. Towards Maturity In Focus Report 2014
2. More mobile devices than people
3. Mobile Marketing Statistics
4. Delivering E-Learning (PDF)
5. Statistics and facts on mobile internet usage
6. Google says more searches on mobile than desktop
7. Percentage of desktop vs mobile visits 2016 data
8. Types of websites visited on smartphone or tablet