The promise of Mobile Learning is real…but it may not be what you thought it was

Let’s start with two very different perspectives:

1) Mobile learning leverages today’s smart phone technologies to deliver a unique experience to the user.  GPS, for example, makes it possible to provide a one-of-a-kind experience for the user by tying content to the learner’s location.

2) Mobile learning gives us the opportunity to better serve each learner’s unique needs.  Given the option, many users with lots of downtime inherent in their jobs, will choose to access content remotely via a mobile device.

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to explore Mobile Learning concepts and application with some of the definitive experts in the space, including researchers at ADL Co-Labs and practitioners from Bank of America/Merrill Lynch. Their lens’ couldn’t have been more different, but both offered tremendous insight into this emerging learning methodology.

Lessons learned at Merrill that are being adopted by new Parent Bank of America show success by focusing on “low hanging fruit” like compliance training first.  Rather than push innovation to its limits, they are focused on old school html, downloading in 128 kb increments without a need for a persistent connection.  Their solution connects to LMS through middleware and simply conveys initiation, completion and scoring.  And the solution was developed for both mobile and computer-based platforms.

The bank has benefitted by significantly reducing the time to completion and certification for about 20% of the 60,000 employees that it targeted.  Users who self select this mode love it…it shows high efficacy…much faster completion rates…and strong preference feedback.

Judy Brown from ADL Co-Labs suggested a very different insight: Mobile learning can be but is not necessarily elearning lite…she challenged us to think about the additional opportunities that a mobile device offers…e.g. the GPS example referenced above.

Consider wildly popular applications like the Obama ’08 tool for iPhone as a possible template for future on-boarding applications.

While Judy was quick to cite the growth of mobile access: In 3 years, ATT mobile traffic has increased nearly 5,000 percent.  She also acknowledged that the single biggest issue is trying to develop solutions that can be accessed from all types of devices since each (i.e. Blackberry and iPhone) has different programming requirements.

Still the temptation to chase this new holy grail for learning is great. Ray Kurzweil the much ballyhooed technology futurist is quoted as saying: “Mobile phones are misnamed. M-learning: Pervasive. Get learners to complete tasks while going about their day-to-day lives.”

There are other factors that will greatly influence the adoption of mobile learning.  Consider the following:

1)We have already developed proven technologies that allow development of very immersive yet very low bandwidth level 4 simulation designs.
2)2010 will usher in new technologies including a mobile version of flash called the Flash Lite Distributable Player.
3)3 and 4G networks are beginning to make persistent connections possible.

So where does this leave us?  In my view, solving business problems is still what’s most critical.  We have a new and evolving arrow in our quiver.  We need to consider the design that delivers the maximum benefit to the learner and the business.  Initially, mobile learning will find it niche in performance support applications — applications that deliver JIT/just-enough knowledge (and skill to a lesser extent) at point of need will offer the greatest return.  Or in large scale compliance heavy learner populations with downtime built into their jobs like the opportunity targeted at Bank of America.

Its a great time to be a business professional in the field of learning! Learn more about Mobile Learning Solutions from Blueline Simulations

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