In the field of training and development, we have all heard that mobile learning is the next big thing. It certainly has garnered a lot of press and is a hot topic at many training conferences. But where do you start if you want to try it out or develop some pilot content to see if mobile learning is going to be accepted in your organization?
What is it?
I would start with an understanding that mobile learning is not about putting e-learning course materials into a smaller package so that they can be played on a mobile device. Rather, it is thinking differently about learners and the new possibilities that being both mobile and connected can offer to employees who want to learn something "on the fly."
In your organization, this may mean developing and deploying mobile learning possibilities for employees who are already on the move, such as sales staff, consultants, transportation personnel, or field workers.
Today, many people physically "go to the office" only sporadically, if at all. A mobile worker doesn't do her work from just one physical location. On any given day, a mobile worker can be found in a home office, a neighborhood caf, an automobile, or at a friend's home, yet still be "at work." (These environments, alternatives to home or a workplace, are sometimes referred to as "third spaces.")
To get funding approval for any mobile learning initiative, you will need to make a business case to those who control the finances of your organization. This means revisiting the process of defining business requirements, researching costs, and calculating potential return-on-investment. To acquire funding, you may need to partner with other branches of your firm to strengthen the business case and lower risk.
If you are able to obtain funding for your mobile learning plan, then you need to develop a plan for how employees will find and connect to the information that they may need. Creating mobile learning content and experiences is not an easy task because, at the present time, the environment in which one needs to design and develop mobile learning content is a complex mix of different forms of mobility, different technologies, a variety of types of learners who learn in different contexts, and trainers with many different approaches to instructional design.
Moreover, content and experiences are somewhat restricted by the requirements of different mobile carriers and are regulated by several levels of government. Add to that the huge number of possibilities for content or activities involving mobile devices and the many design processes that can be used to approach this task.
The mobile learning ecosystem consists of more than 4 billion mobile phone subscriptions on more than 5,000 distinct mobile devices with more than 30 different web browsers. Unlike the Internet, there is a limited opportunity to change the system and little in the way of guidance to learn from examples of those who've gone before. So in undertaking the creation of mobile learning content and experiences, you are truly a pioneer.
About a decade ago, the first versions of mobile learning (what we might call "m-learning 1.0") were usually the same as the e-learning programs of the time - "courses" made up of many "pages" of text and graphics, but delivered on a very small screen. Mobile learning 2.0 is more about creating learning experiences - engaging and challenging activities that result in significant changes to knowledge and behavior - or about providing online resources that learners can find without the help of an instructor. In the near future, mobile learning designers will use a mix of all of these approaches.
The first question you need to ask is, "Why should this particular learning design be mobile?" If there is not a good answer for this question, then you might want to consider whether developing a mobile learning solution is worth the effort involved. However, if you find that there is a particular advantage to being mobile, then look at the end goal of what you're trying to achieve and reverse-engineer it. Sketch out the individual actions in the "clickstream" that the end-user will need to perform to realize his learning goal.
As mobile learning becomes more prevalent, new do-it-yourself tools will arrive to lower the cost, while custom developers will become more experienced with their techniques, and a pool of experienced programmers and designers will be available for you to hire.
This technology is developing at a rapid pace so that it is necessary to continually check for the latest information and methods. Try it out; not only will your employees learn, but so will you!
One of the decisions you will need to make is whether or not to develop your mobile learning application within your company or to use a custom developer. If you are selecting a custom developer, it is important to evaluate whether he understands how different developing for the mobile learning environment is from e-learning development.
Inevitably, someone (usually in management) will ask the question: How much is it all going to cost? A report in 2009 set the price of a no-frills mobile application at a minimum of $20,000 and estimated that a more sophisticated app could cost as much as $150,000. Of course, it's difficult to give an exact figure for the cost of developing any computer application without knowing the specifications and the production values expected.