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Andrew Jackson

Pacific Blue Solutions


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Getting started with mobile learning


Smartphones aren't just about Angry Birds and Shazam, you know. Andrew Jackson introduces us to mobile learning.
There's no question about it, mobile learning (or m-learning) is a hot topic at the moment. But what is it exactly and how does it work? This article answers both questions and helps you consider if mobile learning is suitable for your organisation.

What is mobile learning?

Most experts agree, it's almost any kind of learning interaction that is delivered by mobile technology and accessed by learners at a time and in a location of their choosing. It supports, enhances and extends the reach of existing teaching and learning. Finally, it's always available - battery life and signal strength permitting, of course.
So what does mobile learning look like in action? Consider this example: you attend a one-day course on health and safety. To help reinforce what you have just learnt, each day for two weeks after the course, you receive a text message.
Each message contains a link to a short piece of video or audio content you can view or listen to at anytime on your mobile handset. These pieces of content help you review or extend your understanding of key learning points covered during the course.
"Ease of access and availability make [mobile learning] perfect for supporting and connecting the learning happening in other more formal channels such as face-to-face or elearning"
This example also illustrate another aspect of mobile learning - Its function as a 'glue'. Ease of access and availability make it perfect for supporting and connecting the learning happening in other more formal channels (such as face-to-face or elearning). Used as 'glue', mobile helps create a more cohesive whole, an improved experience for learners and better learning outcomes overall.

How does mobile learning work?

Central to using mobile learning successfully is a learning management system optimised for mobile (mLMS). It is intelligent enough to scale content up or down to fit the screen size of a specific mobile device it’s connecting with. 
With an mLMS in place, you can do all the things you are familiar with in a typical learning management system: setting up user accounts, allocating access to specific content for specific users and storing all your mobile content in one place. And yes, you can usually connect and synchronise your mLMS with your existing LMS, so your users are not juggling access details for two different systems.
You will almost certainly be able to create quizzes, tests and surveys from within your mLMS, as well as sending scheduled and ad-hoc text messages and emails to everyone or defined groups of users. Messages can, as our example shows, contain links to content stored in other parts of the system.
Short snippets of audio, video, text and graphics can be created using third party software packages and then easily imported into the mLMS.
When it comes to accessing mobile content, 'push or pull?' is a frequently asked question. For administrators it's 'push', for users it can be both. As previously noted, an administrator has complete control over who gets what content and when.
However, it is also possible to allow users to push content up into the system from their mobile devices and allow other specified users to have access to it. In this way, your mLMS starts to resemble social learning.

Is mobile suitable for my organisation?

Should you consider mobile learning? The good news – thinking about introducing mobile is not so different from thinking about introducing other kinds of learning.
You should start, as always, by focusing on your audience, objectives and learning needs.
"There's no point in replacing perfectly good, existing job aids just for the sake of introducing new technology, but if you have low-tech solutions that are creaking around the edges, mobile can make an excellent alternative."
Is your audience ready and willing to engage with this technology? Will they see learning with a mobile device as a help or a hindrance? Do they have up-to-date handsets? Are there issues around who owns or pays for the phone?
Assuming your audience is broadly on side, any number of objectives or needs could lead you to mobile, but below we suggest three scenarios where mobile deserves very serious consideration:
  1. Improving the effectiveness and retention of learning
    Once a course or programme finishes, learners are beyond your reach and on their own. Will their learning convert to new behaviour and improved performance? In an ideal world, you build bridges with colleagues who help monitor, support and evaluate learners once back on the job. Unfortunately, back in the real world this doesn't always happen. If this is your reality, then mobile is an effective alternative to reach out to learners after their training has finished, helping them to embed learning. 
  2. Increasing measurement and evaluation to improve performance
    Follow-up after a course or programme becomes even more effective if it contains elements of measurement and/or evaluation. Mobile makes it easier to survey and test users than through traditional channels. Surveys and evaluations give real insight into progress and motivation during and after learning. Short quizzes and longer tests enable formative and summative assessment. The surprise with all this? How willingly learners complete quizzes, tests and surveys on a mobile device compared with over the web or on paper.
  3. Providing more on the job support
    Sometimes, it's not about embedding learning and changing behaviour, it's about giving instant help at the point of need. Job aids of all shapes and sizes already help solve this requirement; but in some cases, mobile can take the job aid to another level – especially when a paper-based solution is cumbersome or not very robust. There's no point in replacing perfectly good, existing job aids just for the sake of introducing new technology, but if you have low-tech solutions that are creaking around the edges, mobile can make an excellent alternative.
To sum up then, mobile isn't suitable for everyone or every situation. It does, however, offer interesting and innovative ways to deal with a range issues we continually grapple with as we work towards building expertise and improving organisational performance.
Andrew Jackson is co-founder of Pacific Blue, specialists in developing innovative learning solutions for clients. To find out more about how to use mobile learning in your organisation click here 

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Andrew Jackson


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