Mobile learning is about much more than just technology: it’s about a mindset, about a relationship between ‘people‘, ‘technology‘ and ‘subject‘ and how we maintain a balance between the three of them.
‘People‘ are our audience and we have to understand their everyday reality: what is their environment. Not just the physical, but also the knowledge environment that they sit within. What is the context for the learning? Understanding context is the foundation of our learning methodology, we have to know what foundations are in place and how what we are saying lines up against what they already know to be true and what everyone else is saying. Learning does not take place in isolation: it’s part of a matrix of experience with each node impacting on how the others are perceived and understood.
We see this especially at times of change: organisations put out multiple messages in multiple channels, but often lacking a coherent context and a context that reflects the everyday reality of the learner at that time. Part of this context is the physical environment. Are people out on the road, in busy offices, in noisy environments? Are they target driven or regulated? All of this impacts by introducing filters through which our messages are received.
People are our audience. If we get the technology right and we take the correct storytelling approach, we will still fail if we neglect to take into account the priorities and everyday reality of the learner.
‘Technology‘ is often the starting point of the organisational view: how do we buy a solution? But it’s not the starting point for ‘People‘. People start with experience. Is what i’m doing both engaging and effective? This gap between where organisations start and the what people experience is often the cause of failure in projects (failure being measured in low uptake or low success).
Technology facilitates experience: it doesn’t guarantee it.
Technology is often sold on ‘features‘, but adopted on ‘usability‘. I bet you i can only work ten percent of the setting on my television in any meaningful way, but i can still enjoy the experience of watching a film. I have no idea what ‘dynamics control’ means and i don’t intend to read the thirty page technical guide to find out. At least not unless the picture gives out.
We most often see failures in the area of technology when we allow technology to dictate experience, rather than support it. For example, just because we are able to implement drag and drop features on a touchscreen doesn’t mean that it’s adding anything to the learning experience. Just because we can deliver assessments to people whilst they are on the bus or in the bath doesn’t mean that it’s a good way of assessing learning. Learning design should always be driven by maintaining a coherent narrative and ensuring that we follow an appropriate methodology, not driven by the features of the technology.
‘Subject‘ is interesting: not every subject is suited to mobile learning. About eighty percent of initial conversations i have with clients around mobile learning tends to be about how to use it to deliver regulatory or compliance training, but this very training is probably least suited to the methodology. Or, rather, it’s least suited if we just try to port across existing materials. What works well on mobile? Stories: video, audio. Not text. Simple messages, not complex concepts. Performance support, not detailed explanation and demonstration. Mobile only really suits part of the learning journey: it’s great to support context at the start, great to support performance support when people transition back to their everyday reality at the end, but less good for some parts of the demonstration, exploration and reflection that sit in the middle.
So you can understand people, have great technology, but still fail if the subject just doesn’t suit mobile.
Mobile learning is one tool we can use in learning, but like all tools, it’s good for some jobs, poor for others. Sure, you can hammer a nail in with a screwdriver, but it’s hard work. There’s a tool that’s more suited to the job at hand. The triumvirate of mobile is part of our mindset for mobile learning: thinking about experience instead of just technology. Every solution needs to be fine tuned, needs to be considered in terms of people, technology and subject.