Mobile learning (mLearning) is no longer new or on the horizon. It is already here. However, there is still much debate over the best use of mobile devices to support learning in the workplace.
Battle lines have been drawn and developers are finding themselves on one of two sides: those in support of responsive design and those in support of customised mobile solutions.
So which is better and do you know where you stand? And why should you already be developing for mobile devices?
Phone use review
In 2012, the research firm Aberdeen Group conducted a review of more than 400 major organisations. They scored these organisations according to how likely they were to achieve key performance indicators, such as employee learning and employee engagement.
They then classified the top 20 per cent of these organisations as ‘best-in-class’.
According to Aberdeen Group, “mobile is no longer just a nice-to-have add-on for learning programs, but a strategic part of the formal learning plan.
Among the best-in-class organisations in 2012, 40 per cent indicated that they use mobile technology for learning as compared with only 11 per cent for all others. Mobile tools appear to be aligned with an organisation’s ability to achieve its goals efficiently and effectively.”
ELearning developers have traditionally developed multiple versions of a program to work across various devices. With the new web standard HTML5, it is now possible to create just one program that works seamlessly across all devices.
However, this still requires instructional designers to work with developers to determine the best structure of the content for individual devices, taking into account screen resolution and user experience.
Proponents of responsive design argue that users should be able to access learning no matter where they are located or what device they might be using.
However, there are some significant drawbacks to responsive eLearning design, not least of which is the general assumption that learners actually want to access your eLearning content on their phones or tablet devices.
Combining the findings of a number of mobile usage studies, we know that the average phone user accesses their phone anywhere up to 150 times a day for a total duration of around one to two hours.
Conservatively, this means the average time spent per use is less than one and a half minutes.
Straight away we start to realise how unlikely it is that a user will be accessing and completing your 10 to 60 minute eLearning program on their phone.
So where does this leave us on the mLearning battlefield? Customised mobile learning solutions are another potential contender.
The fundamental difference in approach between responsive eLearning design and customised mobile is the involvement of the target audience in developing the solution.
Where responsive eLearning seeks to take a product and make it accessible across all devices, customised solutions require the developer to work with the end user to determine what they actually want to access on their mobile device.
On-the job support
In September 2012, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, now the Department of Education and the Department of Employment, developed a relatively inexpensive Building Warden mobile learning application to work in conjunction with a formal eLearning program.
The application was designed as an on-the-job support tool that included the key points from the eLearning program, assembly point locations synched with Google Maps, emergency contacts, a video demonstration of an evacuation, an interactive scenario, a quiz and an evaluation.
The department conducted a pilot to determine the effectiveness of the customised mobile solution.
The results of the evaluation surpassed expectations, with 87.5 per cent of the pilot group agreeing that the application had changed the way they would respond in emergency situations.
Customised mobile solutions can be extremely effective as an on-the-job learning tool to reinforce key learning and provide access to just–in-time learning.
Take a risk – it’s worth it.