mLearning: a made up term in search of a problem

mLearning – There’s no such thing

eLearning Definition: “learning conducted via electronic media, typically on the Internet.” By definition, mLearning is eLearning. OK – so maybe there really is such a thing as “mLearning.” However; today mLearning really just boils down to:

  • How do you best design eLearning content for use on smart phones?
  • What are the  compelling advantages to both the learner and the training organization when eLearning is consumed on a smart phone as opposed to tablets and desktops?
  • Are these advantages worth the time, money, effort, and/or trade offs when compared with simply designing eLearning for tablets and desktops

I am often asked by clients, “Should we implement mLearning?” I usually start by rephrasing the question to “Is it appropriate for you to invest time and money designing eLearning specifically so that your learners can access the training on smart phones at this time and for this specific project?” Why the focus on smart phones only? Because…

  1. Most modern eLearning authoring tools like Storyline and Captivate output to both Flash and HTML5 now, so “mobile devices” like tablets and phones are supported out of the box.
  2. The only real “mLearning” challenge left that distinguishes smart phones from other kinds of devices is that smart phones are small and comparatively more difficult to use as an input device when compared to tablets and computers with mice and keyboards.

In most cases eLearning should be designed to fit desktops and tablet devices. Why? Because employees should be encouraged to:

  • complete training while on the job, in a safe and comfortable environment that is conducive to learning,
  • Use a device large enough to easily read and interact with the content (computer, laptop, tablet, etc.)
  • Not take corporate training on their own time using their own small mobile phones for which they may be personally paying for bandwidth, using while in setting with other distractions, etc.

Consider this – how many times have you been totally frustrated by cell phone issues including connectivity drops, sound quality, unexpected application shut downs,  battery life issues, interruptions from text messages and cell phone calls, and more, all while simply trying to look up information for your own personal edification? Now consider adding to this scenario your trying to master important training REQUIRED by your employer. You’ll likely prefer to just fire up the desktop and launch your eLearning course from there.

On the other hand, training support materials (technical specifications, glossary, short surveys/assessments, and other job aids) that need to be accessed “in the field” are best designed in such a way as to accommodate smart phone users.

So design eLearning for standard tablet or larger screens unless a significant portion of your learners cannot access training any other way than via a smart phone or you specifically want learners to use smart phones as the primary means of accessing the training.

A caveat: Most modern eLearning authoring tools include the ability to include roll-overs (e.g. using a mouse). If your learners may also be using touch devices then be aware that some features (like hover/mouse over) need to be implemented in such a way as not to leave out touch device users for whom mouse over does not apply.

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