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mLearning: Now I See The Light June 4, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
Tags: ,

There’s quite a buzz around mobile learning (a.k.a. mLearning), but up until recently I hadn’t seen examples that I believed were convincing or promising. I always envisioned people working through eLearning courses on their cell phones, squinting their eyes to navigate from page-to-page; it never sounded like a good idea to me. Well, my outlook on mLearning changed dramatically this weekend. Follow me for a minute…

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

My wife and I were running errands on Saturday, and we stopped at a bridal shop so she could get fitted for a bridesmaid’s dress. One of her best friends is getting married soon. Knowing that I would be waiting for a while, I grabbed my cell phone (a Sprint PPC-6700) and started surfing the web to kill time. I remembered that I had access to Google Reader, my RSS reader, on my phone. Over the past few months, I’ve set up Google Reader to pull in feeds from about 50 eLearning, training, design, and development resources (blogs, news sites, etc.). I decided to dive in and see what was happening in the world.

I ended up waiting for about a half-hour, and I’m surprised to say I was very productive during this time. I was able to catch up on a large amount of information that was/is important to me. I felt like I’d just spent some quality time at my PC.

I finally realized that mLearning consists of chunking content and delivering it to the learner when and where they want. This is certainly not a revolutionary concept, but I hadn’t thought of it in the context of learning. I was too focused on the course model. When I used to hear mLearning, I would think of eLearning courses on a phone. Instead, I should be thinking of RSS readers, knowledgebase applications, web sites, and other tools that can be accessed on a phone (PDA, mobile device, etc.). These provide the learner the opportunity to grab information on-the-fly, as they need it. The tools can act as a learning resource and a job-aid.

mLearning Uses

I see three main uses for mLearning:

  1. On-the-job assistance / information lookup
    It’s no secret that people are more effective at their job when they have the right information at their fingertips. For example, if a client asks a difficult question in a sales meeting, it’s much more effective if the sales person can grab their cell phone to look up an answer and immediately respond intelligently – instead of the classic, “I’ll get back to you on that.”
  2. Keeping a company connected
    Many companies have employees (consultants, sales associates, etc.) distributed across large geographic areas. If a company had their managers and/or executives maintain blogs, the traveling employees would feel more connected and have a better opportunity to communicate with management. The traveling associates could easily access this information via an RSS reader on a mobile device. (The word "blog" is still scary to many people; if you take this approach, you may want to call it an "online journal" or something similar.)
  3. Something to help time pass
    My example above illustrates this use of mLearning. How many people spend time waiting in airports? Or on airplanes*? These are great examples of times where individuals can catch-up or brush-up on their skills.

    * Some mLearning solutions offer offline capabilities, so connectivity is not always required.

Give It a Shot

There are some technology constraints with mLearning, but they’re becoming less and less of an issue. Many cell phones are capable of accessing web sites and online tools, data rates are speeding up, and data plans are getting cheaper. I’d recommend testing the waters of mLearning, if you haven’t already. I’m certainly going to do more research and look for ways to use it both personally and professionally. Feel free to share ideas, recommend tools, etc., too. Good luck!



1. Brent Schlenker - June 4, 2007

Glad you’ve seen the light! I don’t think you are alone in being stuck on the course model. Its an unfortunate byproduct of the last 10 years of elearning. What you experienced is a small piece of Learning2.0: RSS delivered content to the device of your choosing.
Welcome to the conversation!

2. Ben Edwards - June 4, 2007

Great post. You’ve helped me see the light too.

3. Clark Quinn - August 7, 2007

Yep, I think you’ve got it. Job aids & communication, certainly. Not sure I wouldn’t complexify your categories. How’s communication different than time-passing? When is reading something of interest versus being forced to make a decision? I’d argue that something interactive, e.g. a quiz, sent is something different than just time passing. And do you put RSS feeds and podcasts in the same ‘communication’ bucket? Not that I’ve a better cut at it, yet…

Glad you’ve seen the light!

4. Chris - October 17, 2007

Take a look at Studycell.com (http://www.studycell.com/c_Trainers.html) if you’d like to see an example of an applications that fall into your group 3 above.

5. Claudia Escribano - April 23, 2008

I think you’ve done a great job here of capturing the essence of mLearning and Learning 2.0. That shift from the “course” model to an mLearning model is difficult to make. A colleague and I were just discussing this morning how we could perhaps change our WBT model from the old module/lesson/topic approach to a short 5-minute You-Tube or CommonCraft video approach.

Have you tried using Google’s text messaging service where you can send a quick message to 46645 (GOOGL) and get information back on things like weather, movie times, stocks, airline flights, and all kinds of other stuff? It is SO cool. You can learn more about it at:

Since I discovered that service, I use my cell phone as my dictionary. When I run across a word I don’t know, I just text GOOGL with d ; for example:
d communication
And a few seconds later, I have the definition. I love it!

Also, I discovered that Papa John’s lets you order by text now, so I tried that once. And it was really fun.

You’re right, though, the more you experiment, the more you start to see how these tools can be used for learning purposes.

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