m-learningI was doing some consulting with a e-learning company a few years ago when the iPad first came out. We had no idea how it would change the landscape for e-learning. While traditional e-learning programs still have their place, it is not on a mobile device. The constraints and opportunities that come with mobile dictate an entirely new way of looking at how we deliver learning.

Traditional e-learning

This is the way I think of a traditional e-learning program: 30-45 minutes max; linear progression, with branched learning if we want to get fancy; files that can be printed or downloaded for later reference (who want to go back through the course and retake the quizzes just to check up on one concept?), in the best case scenario very little text on screen, with most information delivered through narration with powerful images. A Learning Management System (LMS) tracks the completion of the course and the scores on the quizzes.

A great m-learning course might look like this: small chunks of learning, no more than 10 minutes at most; emphasis on information design rather than instructional design; single training need focus; accessibility of key concepts for later reference; focus on support rather than teaching and testing.

Just because they end in “learning” doesn’t mean they’re the same

What clear is that m-learning is not e-learning slapped into a new device. A 45-minute course dumped into a tablet is a missed opportunity for time-of-need support. While e-learning still has a role, especially for compliance training, m-learning can become a tool that is actively used on a regular basis rather than just a single use.

Think of m-learning as a reference tool. When I buy a new car, I check the owner’s manual to learn how to use all the new systems on my dashboard and get an overview of the maintenance schedule. Then I put it away in the glove compartment and don’t consult it again until an unexpected light warning light appears, and I need to find out what that light means. Out comes the owner’s manual for a moment-of-need use.

M-learning on a mobile app is similar. You’re not teaching a course on car maintenance; you’re presenting reference material with an overview to give it context.

For example, your sales force may need to be informed of a new approach to a current product, or brought up to speed on a new one. But don’t leave it there. That app on their mobile device can do so much more than just train. It can also provide resources for just-in-time brushing up on details prior to a client call, or even house marketing materials to use in a client-facing situation.

To keep the app nimble, don’t load it down with too much instruction. Keep the content basic, with the emphasis on small chunks of content that can be referenced as needed.

Since the emphasis is on information rather than instruction, it is critical to create an effective user experience. Don’t just think about how your audience will interact with the information, but also why—what is the user need? We’re moving out of traditional instructional design into a new skill set, so it may be wise to bring in a mobile development partner to turn your training needs into a snazzy app with excellent user experience and interface.

M-learning app design

Here are some questions to consider when discussing the app design:

  1. Does a mobile solution align well with the mobile infrastructure in our company?
  2. What is the training need?
  3. Is that need better met with a traditional e-learning course or with a mobile app?
  4. How do we break down the information into smaller chunks for mobile?
  5. What will need to be accessed later?
  6. How can we make it easy to access reference information from within the app?
  7. How will we measure success?

M-learning is not just a new breed of e-learning; it is a different species. While it will take more work to back up and start to redesign the way we deliver training, it is worth it when you consider that we will reach people at their time of need, when they are ready to learn and to find information that will support their success in that very moment. Talk about learner-driven discovery! This is what we’ve been waiting for: motivated learners who see the relevance and value of the content to support them in the moment of need.