Five M-Learning Calls to Make

Five M-Learning Calls to Make

The Trick for Content Providers and Learning Consumers is to ‘Future-Proof’ Their Mobile Strategy With smartphones becoming commonplace and new mobile devices such as tablets skyrocketing in popularity, the interest in mobile learning has begun to heat up as well. Is now the time to take the plunge into mobile learning or should you wait for a more stable mobile landscape to emerge? Over the past three to four years, there has been a rising drumbeat of interest in mobile learning, or m-learning, from across the corporate landscape. With the advent of exciting new mobile devices, this drumbeat has gotten louder. For instance, the authors of “The 2020 Workplace” see a time in the not-so-distant future when the mobile phone will “become” the office and classroom, providing everything from new hire orientation to on-the-job performance support. But even as the buzz about mobile seems to be growing, actual implementations are still relatively rare. It isn’t that learn ing professionals don’t see the promise in using mobile devices to reach dispersed and on-the-go employees; a number of important challenges have prevented many organizations from jumping into the mobile game — like multiple platforms, shifting standards, speed, security and economics. Certainly, the popularity of smartphones has opened many doors to mobile learning. Last year, Google’s Android operating system gained strength quickly as it became
available on more smartphones, taking market share from both Black berry and iPhone. Android — also expected to play a role in the tablet space — has captured enough interest that many organizations are rethinking their decision to focus on only one or two devices. Meanwhile, the iPhone and other full-screen smartphones changed the way users interact with their phones. The larger displays made the iPhone a more attractive platform for many types of content and were instrumental in moving large numbers of users toward those devices. However, they were still very different from the desktop and far from “roomy” enough for the kinds of content and interactions that are supported there. Tablets change the game completely. With resolutions similar to many laptops, these new devices make it possible to provide much richer content and it is not surprising that the sales of these devices are soaring. Many learning professionals are now looking at tablets as the natural direction for future (and rapid) growth. Here, then, are five questions to consider before fully adopting a mobile learning strategy: 1) WHAT DOES “MOBILE” MEAN? One might assume that mobile learning is learning that is delivered on a mobile phone or tablet. But in discussions with our customers over the years, we
have found that mobility is actually more synonymous with “portability.” Broadening the discussion to overall portability, the devices and approaches are more diverse and often more attainable: >> Laptops: especially those equipped with wireless air cards; combined with the widespread availability of wifi, on-the-go employees are never far from the network. >> Media players: like iPods and other MP3 and MP4 players don’t have the interactivity of smartphones, but they can receive audio and video programs that learners can consume at their convenience. >> E-readers: like Amazon’s Kindle aren’t designed for extensive interactivity, but are perfect for reading and studying primarily text based learning resources. 2) WHAT PROBLEM ARE YOU TRYING TO SOLVE? Mobile is still only a component of an overall learning strategy. Learning profes sionals need to give thought to where it is most appropriately applied. One way to approach this is to think about the audiences that are most dependent on mobile
devices, such as sales people, execu tives and field technicians. The needs of these mobile audiences are unique, and understanding them will help drive the decisions you make about your m-learning direction. 3) WHAT DEVICES WILL YOU SUPPORT? While we have been seeing signs that the mobile space is maturing, we are still not living in a world where standards prevail. Form factors, operating systems and limitations of various phones and tablets make it difficult or impossible to “build once” and then deliver to many devices. Common file formats that a company may be using for their general e-learning (Adobe Flash, Java, Java Applets) simply will not work on one or more popular mobile devices. Once you understand the capabilities and limitations of various devices, you are likely to conclude that your mobile program needs to be focused on limited number of devices or even a single device. 4) DO YOU HAVE THE NECESSARY ORGANIZATIONAL SUPPORT? Your mobile learning strategy needs to be aligned with overall organizational strategy and informed by a thorough understanding of the company’s information technology approach. Most successful programs begin with a strong partnership between the H.R./training group and the I.T. department. You want to make sure
that you understand security and network access guidelines, and you also need to consider the technical support needs your program will create. Your I.T. department may have already arrived at a conclusion about what devices it will and
will not support, and you should understand these choices and why they were made. 5) HOW DOES IT FIT INTO YOUR EXISTING LEARNING STRATEGY AND ECOSYSTEM? Mobile learning presents an opportunity to improve employee performance, productivity and engagement, but it isn’t right for every need. To be successful, you need to have an understanding of how mlearning fits within a broader
framework, and this will be driven by the maturity of your learning program and systems, your goals and your work force. Some issues to consider: >> Does your organization have a strong learning culture? For instance, if you
have only recently introduced online learning or blended learning, it may be confusing to add m-learning to the mix.
>> Do your systems support m-learning?
>> What are the primary goals of your overall learning program? If it has advanced to the stage where you offer a rich mix of learning modalities for a variety of formal and informal needs, then mlearning can become a natural part of the mix.
>> Is your workforce a good fit for mobile? You may want to look specifically at age groups and segments of your work force that are more mobile in their jobs — and their readiness/willingness to accept m-learning. The evolution of the mobile market will play a key role in whether you decide to move forward with building content geared specifically around a single device (such as the iPad) or if you want to take a more flexible approach (which could also require more development time if multiple platforms are to be targeted). Today, the trick for content providers and consumers is to “future-proof” their mlearning strategy — which means including options for new developments and devices in the rapidly changing mobile market. —This article was excerpted from a May, 2011 SkillSoft whitepaper written by Tim
Hildreth, the company’s director of Product Marketing. To access the complete whitepaper, visit the Website www. skillsoft.com/infocenter/white_papers.asp. For more info on SkillSoft products and services, visit www.skillsoft.com.

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