Is Mobile Learning a Flash in the Pan?

If 2013 was the year when mobile learning appeared to be one of the next best things in L&D, will 2014 be the year when mobile learning truly comes into its own, or is it yet another L&D flash in the pan? 

Only a very unkind person would say that if you haven’t heard someone mention “mobile learning” at least once last year, then you must have been living in an alternative universe! However, the fact is that mobile learning was the hot topic of 2013, with so many people world-wide talking about it. For many it appeared from all this hype, often hiding what was really the substance, that mobile learning was truly going to be the next best thing in Learning and Development (L&D); but how often have we heard this type of thing before, with the next best thing soon disappearing into the mists of time?

What is mobile learning?

Is mobile learning, well “mobile”, in other words learning on the go, away from the workplace? Yes, it can definitely be claimed that it is, but not necessarily because you have your laptop with you, you are away from the workplace and you decide to do some learning. Mobile learning, or mLearning, has become associated far more with the devices that you can use in order to do some learning, and laptops are not in the mix.

The devices that are in the mix are smartphones and tablets. It is the increasing dominance of both that has led to the idea of mobile learning becoming a reality. Some have argued that it is the device that has to be ‘mobile’, something that fits into your pocket or (hand)bag. Others have gone even further by saying because tablets aren’t exactly pocket-size they don’t count, so all that is left are smartphones.  However, the consensus now is that both smartphones (which are increasing in screen size) and tablets (which are decreasing in screen size) count as devices for mobile learning.

Why mobile learning?

People need to learn at different times and in different places – “Twenty-first century learning is not confined to a geographical location, or a particular space designated for learning purposes.” (Colley & Stead, 2009). Today, across the globe, there are more than seven billion mobile devices (this exceeds the world’s current population!), which means that mobile technology provides organisations with the very real opportunity to reach employees in new and effective ways.

Smartphones and tablets allow organisations to distribute learning quickly whilst travelling or working on the move – “Mobile learning’s power comes from its ability to connect employees to the knowledge and expertise they need when and where they need it, making it useful for potentially almost any learning need.” (Bersin & Associates, 2011). Mobile learning can deliver key information at the point of need and it can save time by reducing the number of instructor-led training or lengthy eLearning courses.

Learning on the go

Beware though, because mobile learning isn’t the be all or end all. As with all learning delivery media, it has to be used to its best effect. This means:

  • deciding what learning can be effectively undertaken via a mobile device
  • designing mobile learning must take into account both the device and the learning need (using a smartphone for learning is totally different to using a laptop)
  • providing learners with what they need, in a format they need and when they need it.

Remember, this is still a relatively new way of delivering learning to people, so there is still quite a way to go before it is perfected.

Is mLearning here to stay?

In a word, “Yes” it is, simply because it affords learning anywhere, anytime and on any device. There is no doubt that mLearning will enhance people’s learning experiences, improve learning engagement, help to solve real workplace problems and enhance workplace performance.

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