‘Mobile learning, just for the sake of it, is definitely not a good idea!’ – Some insights on Mobile Learning

Posted on : August 5th, 2011
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In these times of ‘just-in-time’ learning, mobile learning is fast gaining popularity as a medium for learning across all learner groups. To dwell deeper into this growing area of interest for all learning enthusiasts, we bring an excerpt from an interview with Kapil Gupta – an e-learning professional with more than a decade’s experience in the field. Co-Founder and Director of G-Cube, Kapil brings with him a wealth of experience gathered through extensive work in the area of technology-aided learning – with Indian as well as international clients.

Mobile learning is becoming more and more of a reality than just a concept everyday. How do you think it affects corporate learning?

Mobile learning is not something that we have started talking about in recent years. I remember, as early as the year 2000, we were hearing a buzz about mobile learning. Of course, in today’s context the greatest catalyst in its popularity is the growing user-base of mobile users. In India alone, there are over 700 million mobile phone connections. With the entry of companies like Max mobile and many others, which provide high-end smart-phones at surprisingly low prices, the reach is increasing every day. Coupled with ever-changing training needs of the corporate world, mobile learning has come of age today.

Every organization in the learning industry, is trying to achieve something in this field, knowing that anybody who does not, will not be a fore-runner in the coming years. So it is truly where the future of learning lies. There are of course, many technological challenges to be overcome, but mobile learning is definitely a reality today and especially so for the corporate learner.

What are the kinds of mobile learning content that are being well accepted? Can you give examples and explain why?

Mobile learning is especially suited for certain kinds of training. Product training for the sales force is one kind that truly benefits from the ‘Just-In-Time’ training that mobile learning delivers. For big companies, with multiple product lines and a changing audience, this is a way to reach the entire sales-team in one go. For the sales-team, this is a means of learning on the go and as per their needs. So when traveling for a meeting or even minutes before a sales-pitch, access to learning material is available. The list of companies that have benefited from this type of learning is long! This is primarily because it achieves in imparting the much-needed confidence for a team, generating an overall positive morale for all and eventually, culminating in increasing sales figures.

Another example that has seen tremendous success is the development of refresher courses for professionals seeking to keep up-to-date with the latest certification courses. These courses are short, precise, make easy reading and help in refreshing key points or summaries. These courses can also be utilized by the customer-support teams which are always on the go for support or maintenance requests from clients. They spend very little time in the back-offices but have to be trained on newer technologies as well as on the working and repair of newer devices. So, instead of carrying a load of technical manuals, they can now have an application on their smart-phones, which gives them precise diagnostic solutions to common problems which they face everyday at work. And all this makes sense for organizations, because end of the day, it gives a positive ROI.

To make sure that the module is effective, we just need to make sure that the devices used and the kind of training imparted are in sync. For example, in India, barring few pockets,the most commonly used mobile devices are still ones with small screens and limited applications. A completely fresh perspective on an unknown subject might not be a good idea in such scenario. Instead, small nuggets of information and refreshers work very well.

What do you think should developers focus on, when creating content for mobile learning?

As developers, the first step is to identify the user base- is it Android based, Blackberry users or iPhone users. The platform to develop the content has to be chosen based on this.

>From an instructional design perspective, the most common format that works for learners is not much removed from a regular WBT or a presentation – a series of pages or slides. However, it should not be text heavy. Graphics, like diagrams or graphs, could be used in lieu of text. If it is a downloadable application, it could have an audio backup.

Also, the user base may operate on a common platform (for instance, Android), but carry different devices which support it. These devices may be of different sizes and have different screen resolutions. This should be kept in mind when writing code, for the module should be readable and retain clarity across all user devices.

Mobile devices still have lesser processing capabilities as compared to desktops or laptops. Applications like heavy video files or graphically rich simulations may not render properly on the device or not be compatible to the screen size – defeating the very purpose of training. Technology still has some way to go in terms of increasing the scope and capabilities of mobile devices and till that time, it is imperative that we work along with them. Mobile learning, just for the sake of it, is definitely not a good idea!

So, while undoubtedly, mobile learning increases the reach of training, we still have to work around the limitations of the medium. How does one move around them?

As developers the first limitation that we face is the unavailability of a single development platform which renders content across all devices – be at an iPhone, Blackberry or Android based mobile device. However, there are newer frameworks that have started to do the rounds, which are simple to use and aid development of content rapidly for usage across multiple platforms. Most of them are open-source so many developers are finding it easier to pick and choose the best that works for them. Here’s a list of tools that I found quite comprehensive. While working with tight schedules to deliver content for mobiles and limited budgets, these tools have been proven to be quite useful and effective. While there is not a clear market leader, it is just a matter of time that one of these would definitely become the most preferred framework to develop mobile compatible content.

If I talk about personal experiences with development hurdles, I could talk about a client of ours for whom we developed a mobile-compatible learning module. We developed the content in Flash and then recorded it creating a series of videos which can run on any kind of mobile device. The only drawback in this kind of approach is that there is no scope for interactivity – You cannot click on a video and get a response from it!

So, for another client who was keen on interactivity, we developed the module in HTML, and added animations wherever necessary. Creating content in HTML allowed room for interactive elements like drag-and-drop and small assessments like CYUs (Check-your-understanding). This type of content would run on an iPhone, Blackberry or even an Android based device as well.

Development of content for mobile learning throws up challenges no doubt but I would reaffirm my belief that there are more and more people working towards addressing them and the list mentioned above stands testimony to that.

Especially for corporate learners, tracking and evaluation is an important part of any learning material. How does that aspect get taken care of?

To begin with your LMS should be mobile compatible, and most enterprise class LMS today, are delivering content over mobile phones and successfully tracking them – including Wizdom, which is our LMS we work with to test content on mobile devices.

When developing the courses on HTML or Flash, we can have a SCORM wrapper around the course which sends back the learners’ scores or evaluations back to the LMS. When the learner accesses his or her learning material, tracking data is stored offline (in case device is not connected to Internet), which can then be synched with LMS when device is back online. So, tracking and evaluation is not really a challenge anymore.

Is mobile learning poised to exceed the popularity of e-learning or ILTs, which are the popular tools of training in the corporate circles, or will each retain its own place?

I firmly believe that each has its own place and will continue to do so. Mobile learning clearly caters to the need of creating training for ‘unproductive’ time, thereby increasing ‘productive’ time. It gives the learner access to trainings, wherever and whenever they need. Not all types of trainings would do well with this kind of approach – for some there will be a need for in-depth study, extensive text or close supervision that only an instructor can provide. So traditional instructor-led learning, e-learning and mobile learning are all here to co-exist!

But as the limitations – technological as well as logistical, of the medium keep narrowing down, more and more types of trainings will definitely be included for this medium. A big hurdle today, is the war between Flash and HTML – which will hopefully be resolved with the emergence of a platform which can be universally used to develop content across all mobile devices. This would be the next giant-step in mobile learning.

And finally, what are the future trends that you predict in mobile learning that will affect the way we learn in years to come?

To begin with, K12 is a huge market. Given how tech-savvy and mobile-happy the young generation is, mobile learning could definitely be a medium that could catch and retain their attention successfully. If the applications are made interesting with an element of interactivity, young learners would definitely benefit from the utility of this medium.

Corporate trainings will continue to lead the need for mobile learning for the simple reason that time is often if essence when it comes to training. But sadly, it is also often ignored for the lack of time or other aspects of the job taking higher priority. So, organizations are always looking for ways to have more connect with their employees, and make every minute count. This is where mobile learning shows them promise. So even with little experience with it, most organizations who take training seriously seem eager to embrace it for their needs.

Mobile Technology is also developing and devices are getting more sophisticated. Memory space in mobile phones, which was touted as a big hurdle even a few years ago, is now coming almost at par with desktops. So, in coming years, I foresee more and more organizations getting interested in mobile learning. Along with that, more and more types of trainings will also be delivered through this medium. I look forward to interesting times in this perspective!

Arunima Majumdar

Arunima is the Marketing Head at G-Cube. She loves exploring and blogging about innovations in training & learning for the new-age corporate sector.

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