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10 dos of mobile learning


With m-learning continuing to gain a foothold, Nigel Paine outlines ten key tips in embracing learning on the move.

I was standing on the tube last week observing everyone who was sitting down in my immediate vicinity. This is endlessly fascinating but also quite interesting. What was immediately apparent on the six seats, three facing three, was that five people had their mobile phones out and were deep in concentrated action hunched over the screens. Three had iPhones, two had Blackberries and the one person left was reading an unbelievably scrunched up copy of the Metro. 
Two people appeared to be doing email but the other three were playing games of one sort or another. There were three important features that I could not help noting: The level of concentration and dedicated focus; the obvious pleasure of doing something interesting on a boring journey, and the very high level of uptake: In this case 80% of my viewing sample. No one in the whole carriage had a lap top open; and few people were reading books: At a rough guess, glancing up and down the aisle,  the book readers were out numbered three to one by the smart phone users and the mobile texters. There are ten lessons to be learned from this little journey on the Jubilee line.

1. People are willing to use their mobiles in circumstances when they won’t get a book out or a laptop.

2. Mobile learning is at the cusp: it still has novelty value, but it is practical and doable now. Most of your staff will love you for providing it.

3. You are competing with an activity (games) so offering hundreds of mobile screen size pages of text will not cut it for most people.

4. This is valuable ‘dead time’ which can be exploited.

5. The level of concentration available far exceeds the level of concentration in the office.

6. Unless you have strict ownership policies, you will have to build your mobile apps for at least iPhone, Blackberry and Google Android. Maybe for Windows Mobile 7 if that takes off.

7. This has to be bite-size and when you switch off and back on, the app has to remember where you are.

8. If it is available on line as well, you will need to have wireless synching between phone and laptop/desk top so that when you go to one after having worked on the other, your precise location will be noted. One of the reasons why the Kindle iPhone app and the windows desktop app work so well with the Kindle eReader is that each updates the other about where you are up to, so there is no manual electronic page-turning on the part of the user trying to remember where she is.

9. You don’t have to learn all the different SDKs (software development kit). There are plenty of specialists out there who can take the material in what ever format and turn it into and iPhone or a Google Android app for you.

10. You need to make this as exciting looking as possible. It is important to use some of the tips and tricks from the games makers. They are your main competition. If they can get monopoly working on that small screen...

The upgrade cost of the handset equipment to carry these new applications will be repaid very quickly when downtime is used up and more immediate learning is delivered, and the payback cycle absorbed.
This will be the first time in a long time that the user is willing to have a go without cajoling. What reason could possibly keep you back from moving in this direction? So I look forward to hearing your experiences with m-learning. Once you have got your head round the concept that the only screen real estate available to you is about 3” by 2” the possibilities are endless (horizontally or vertically)! Good luck.
Nigel Paine is a coach, mentor, writer, broadcaster and keynote speaker of international acclaim. He is currently working in Europe, Brazil,  the US and Australia on a variety of assignments, that hinge around making work more creative, innovative and aspirational and making workplaces more conversational, team-based and knowledge sharing. You can read his blog at or follow him on Twitter:

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