Let’s take a moment and look at a few other industries as an example first.
The music, film and, publishing industries … the Internet changed them all.
Then mobile devices came along and changed them further. Who remembers walkmans? Weren’t they the most marvellous invention? Then along came these fab shiny disks called CDs with their amazing sound quality.
Then along came Napster! Before Napster we would happily pay for an entire album just for the 1 or 2 hit songs. Then Napster gave us choice! You just want one song, you can have it. You want the entire back catalogue, you can have it. You want every version of a song ever recorded, you can have it. Napster didn’t last, but they changed the game and paved the way for iTunes, Spotify and many other online digital music services.
Now we have more music than we could listen to in a lifetime on our mobile phones. We can:
- Read countless books on our mobile devices.
- Get the latest news whenever we want it.
- Make calls, send messages, email, take photos, watch movies, play games, shop, complete our banking, and…
- Learn.… the list is almost endless.
The point is, we do like to be in charge of what we consume and when and how we consume it.
Do we feel the same way about learning?
Why wouldn’t we want the same immediate, anytime anywhere access to learning as we do to all our other digital resources, via our most commonly used device, the mobile phone. Mobile learning is about accessibility to learning and knowledge sharing.
We use our mobiles to socialise with friends, to seek advice and to give feedback via text, IM, and social media apps. Why wouldn’t we want to interact with our learning peers in the same way? It is as much about our behaviours as individuals and in groups, as it is the devices and how the learning is delivered.
Technically, mlearning is a form of elearning as it is an electronic means of delivering learning content. However, it is as different to elearning, as elearning is to instructor led learning. We don’t use our mobile devices the same way as we use our laptops or desktop computers. Just like we don’t use computers the same way we would a book, or a CD.
Definition of mobile learning
While there are many opinions and ideas surrounding this, we quite like the Mobile Learning Network’s definition of mlearning:
“the exploitation of ubiquitous handheld technologies, together with wireless and mobile phone networks, to facilitate, support, enhance and extend the reach of teaching and learning.”
Mobile learning has a few unique characteristics
Learning on demand
Unless you’re in some remote uninhabited corner of the earth, resources can be accessed anytime from a mobile device. Mlearning works well when you want to consume small chunks of information when you only have a bit of time to spare (e.g. on public transport, waiting for a meeting.) Small screen size means we don’t want to be spending hours looking at our mobile. So mlearning can be used when you want instant or refresher knowledge.
Self defined context
Our context drives how we use our mobile devices. We can easily access information to satisfy an immediate need. For example:
- Getting directions to a town we haven’t visited before
- Learning about specific features of a newly launched product when a customer asks.
Like other forms of elearning, mobile learning is collaborative. Content can be shared and discussed in real time and feedback, support and advice can be found instantly.
Mobile learning will not replace elearning, just like elearning will not replace classroom training. All these methods enhance and complement each other. You’d be pretty alarmed if your surgeon looked up refresher notes on his mobile phone before performing your open heart surgery. However, you might find it reassuring if he looks up your records before prescribing your next round of drugs.
Mobile learning may not be the best way to deliver complex or large amounts of content. It is an effective way of meeting specific learning, development and performance needs. For example, it can be used to provide refresher modules, quick reference guides and practical feedback in support of a broader learning programme.
Do you have any experience of mlearning? If so, we’d love to hear about your experiences.
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