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Free mLearning White Paper May 11, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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If you’re interested in Mobile Learning (mLearning), check out Clark Quinn‘s free white paper titled, "mLearning Devices: Peformance To Go." (Get the PDF or read his blog post.) Clark presents his theory of mLearning and explains why mLearning is important to consider as an option for our learners. He states that mLearning is more about doing than about learning. He says, "We learn to accomplish something: to get better at things we need to do, to better perform those things we want to do, to be more effective, more efficient, smarter, even wiser."

Clark also dispels several common misconceptions about mLearning, including:

  • My employees don’t have mobile learning devices
  • Those small screens are too limiting
  • Too hard/costly to program these things
  • Limited to (smart) phones
  • I don’t know what (devices) employees have
  • Mobile devices aren’t secure

Clark then outlines the types of mobile devices that are often used for mLearning, including cell phones, digital media players (ex. iPods), GPS units, handheld gaming systems (ex. PlayStation portable, Nintendo DS), and PDAs. He avoids classifying laptops as mobile learning devices, mainly because they function the same as a desktop PC when internet connectivity is available. (As an aside, I once heard Judy Brown state that mLearning takes place on portable devices that are within arm’s reach and have untethered power supply that can last for at least a day. I thought that was a pretty solid definition.)

The white paper then goes into some of the specific functions and connectivity options available in mobile devices (ex. GSM, CDMA, WiMax, IR, Bluetooth, WiFi). It’s a great little summary, especially if you’re not familiar with these technologies.

I have high hopes for mLearning, but I still have a few logistical concerns about it. They include…

  • Do all employees at your organization have a mobile device (ex. a cell phone)? Sure, I know most people do, but will an organization buy a phone for the few that don’t currently own one?
  • Will organizations make their employees use their personal devices (phones) to access mLearning materials? What if people aren’t comfortable with this?
  • What if employees don’t have a data plan on their personal phone? Will the organization pay for their data plan so they can access mLearning materials?
  • Is it unfair to make mLearning materials available to a lucky few in the organization who have capable devices? Could the left-out employees complain if they don’t have access to the same learning materials as everybody else?

Organizations are working through these scenarios now. I’m guessing best practices will emerge in the coming months. Please chime in if you have thoughts on this!

Comments»

1. Mike Becvar - May 12, 2008

BJ,

I am not yet in the mLearning camp. I own a PDA and will use it to play games when riding the Metro or sitting in a waiting room. I have a cell phone that I rarely use. I haven’t even used its camera to do anything other than take a picture for the wallpaper. I don’t own a MP3 player or a GPS.

In my opinion, 98% of training can wait until I am able to sit down at my computer (either at work or home). I don’t have a pressing need to learn something that can’t wait. On a computer, I have more control and can feel free to follow links to related content.

Now, there are definitely a few times where I feel my phone or PDA could make a good reference tool. If I got a flat tire, I would love to have a pocket reference guide to changing my tire on my PDA. It would be direct and get right to the information I need to know. I wouldn’t need something that compares the differences between changing the front tire or a back tire. I also wouldn’t need tips on changing a tire in the snow or mud (unless I was really changing my tire in the snow.). I have been meaning to download the Metro maps to my PDA and I am looking into getting one with built in wireless so I can access the Internet from the local hotspots.

I know that some people say that they would enjoy having access to training podcasts to listen to during their commutes. I am not sure that I could give the podcast the needed attention during my daily commutes. I have listened to books on CD on long car trips, but I ususally have to stop the CD or rewind if I am driving in construction or heavy traffic because my attention is on my driving and not the book. Even on the Metro, I am paying attention to the next stop and could not devote the mental energy to the training to make it worth while.

Unless wireless subscription plans become dirt cheap or a standard part of everyone’s package, I would want my employer to pick up the tab if I was required to use my phone or PDA for training. I would also want them to pay for my time if I was taking training outside the standard work hours.

Maybe, once I have wireless Internet access I will be singing a different tune. Until then, I am not ready for mLearning.

2. B.J. Schone - May 12, 2008

Hi Mike,

Thanks for your response. You definitely make some great points. I want to comment on two things you wrote:

First, you said, “In my opinion, 98% of training can wait until I am able to sit down at my computer (either at work or home).” If you have a desk and a computer at work, this makes sense. But if your job requires that you are always on the road, on a factory floor, or meeting with clients, it may be convenient to have certain training resources at your fingertips. Now, even if you do have a computer and a desk at work, it still couldn’t hurt to have some materials available to you via your mobile device / phone. As a simple example, if your company has tons of confusing terms and acronyms, it may be helpful to have a simple lookup tool available on your phone.

Second, you said, “Now, there are definitely a few times where I feel my phone or PDA could make a good reference tool.” That is mLearning! I think many people still think mLearning = courses on your phone. I don’t see it that way at all; I see mLearning as quick-reference job aids, look-up tools, flash cards, mini-quizzes, etc. mLearning is content that can be used immediately on the job, as you need it.

So, we’ll see how this goes. I think mLearning will initially have a tougher sell than eLearning. And it’s a bit Darwinian: If mLearning proves to be as useful as we think, it’ll survive over time.

3. Clark Quinn - May 12, 2008

BJ, thanks for the pointer and detailed summary, and for answering Mike like I would’ve: it’s not about courses on a phone!

To address your remaining questions:

* Do all employees at your organization have a mobile device (ex. a cell phone)? Sure, I know most people do, but will an organization buy a phone for the few that don’t currently own one?

All probably have *some* mobile device, but not necessarily a cellphone (though I’d bet that it’s just a rounding error from 100%). I don’t think mLearning’s necessarily for all, but for the mobile workforce (estimates vary from 20-40%, depending on how you ask), it’s a real opportunity to improve performance.

* Will organizations make their employees use their personal devices (phones) to access mLearning materials? What if people aren’t comfortable with this?

If you are providing value, and align incentives, etc, you can probably make a compelling argument to the employees. You don’t have to make it mandatory, it’s about the end result, of course.

* What if employees don’t have a data plan on their personal phone? Will the organization pay for their data plan so they can access mLearning materials?

It doesn’t have to be on a phone, it can be podcasts, apps on a PDA, etc. Data is a big issue, particularly globally (we have relatively benign data costs here in the US). But it can also be synced via cable, doesn’t have to be over the air. And see above, it’s a value proposition that they can choose or not.

* Is it unfair to make mLearning materials available to a lucky few in the organization who have capable devices? Could the left-out employees complain if they don’t have access to the same learning materials as everybody else?

It may be unfair, but so’s whether folks have a computer and internet access at home. However, it’s worth thinking of providing mobile devices to the mobile workforce, at least, and instead of think of disadvantaging a few, think about empowering many. The ‘capable devices’ are increasingly common.

4. Mike Becvar - May 13, 2008

Maybe I have a definition of mLearning that leans more towards the training/learning side of things. Reference materials are valuable, but not really training (in my mind). I am all for mReference.

I know that not everyone has a desk. Factory workers, mechanics, pilots, door-to-door salesman, landscapers, etc. don’t spend much time at a desk (if they even have one). But if there is a skill that they will use on a regular (daily or even weekly) basis, I hope that they can get formal training either in a classroom or time to sit at a computer to take online training and not have to squeeze in a few minutes here and there on the floor. Looking something up on a portable devide for a quick reference for tasks completed less frequently is different. But this would definitely not include taking tests, quizzes or games.

I still think that the mobile devices should be used for training only when a desk is not available. Like I said, when I have a flat tire, I need to fix it then and there. I can’t wait until I am comfortable at home to figure out what to do. Again, no fluff, just the information needed to complete the task at hand.

When a police officer suspects a guy was driving under the influence, I don’t want him to take 5 minutes to review the instructions for giving a sobriety test. That should have been done in a more formal setting.

I think the one place that I see games/flash cards on a mobile devide would be foreign language training. If I was going to go to Paris for several weeks, I would likely want to squeeze in as much of a crash course as possible and could see myself using flashcards or other training on a PDA before my trip.

When it comes to use of my personal device (and my footing the bill) I am not as comfortable. It seems like what used to be considered a fulltime position is now a 24/7 position. I only get paid to work 40 hours a week, but there is that unwritten expectation that I will eat, sleep and breathe my job. Is it bad enough that I am giving them all of my time that now you ask me to pay for internet access at home so I can reply to email messages at midnight and cellular service so I can not only make business calls but also download training. I need a raise.

Anyone who wants to take their work home and complete training outside the normal business hours, more power to them. I am trying to have a live besides work.

5. B.J. Schone - May 14, 2008

I think your idea of mReference is my idea of mLearning.🙂

And I completely agree that mLearning won’t ever take over and be the primary method of training. Your example with the police officer nails it: We must have formal training for the big important stuff. Now, if that officer needed to look up protocol for dealing with a very unusual or specific situation, mLearning may be helpful. But their primary training should be done in-person, or maybe even online.

I like your example of language training. I see that as a perfect situation where mLearning can be helpful. I think many people are trying to identify situations like that where mLearning can help out…

I understand what you mean about using your personal device and being expected to be on-call 24/7. That’s a very valid concern, and I think it should only be expected of certain critical jobs, rather than normal everyday jobs. But, I also look at it this way: mLearning can be viewed as a resource that people can use (when they feel appropriate) to help them do their jobs better. If they want to brush up on their own time, that’s great. If not, that’s fine, too.

6. mLearning | Adventures in Corporate Education - June 3, 2008

[…] is mobile learning. Here is a great white paper on the topic. Including technology. addthis_url = […]


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