8 Things we MUST do in 2013 to seize the potential of mLearning

2012 has been an amazing year for mobile!

This year we have seen technology companies introduce a myriad of mobile devices of all sizes, prices and operating systems. In 2012 Apple announced the iPhone 5, two new iPads and the new iPad mini; Google unveiled their first tablet, the nexus 7 and later the 10″ version; Amazon gave us three Kindle Fire HD tablets. Not to be outdone, Samsung announced the Galaxy Note II and the Tab Tablet, and of course Microsoft announced the Surface Tablet.

Earlier this year Comscore reported that 2014 will be the year in which the number of mobile users will surpass desktop users for the first time. Here’s another statistic that bodes well for mobile, Apple sold more iPads in Q4 2011 than any individual PC manufacturer sold PCs. And what can we say about the acquisition of Instagram by Facebook for a cool 1 Billion dollars earlier this year? Instagram was not only a mobile-first success story, but until recently it was a mobile-only photo sharing service.

One final statistic I would like to include here is the fact that as of September 2012, Android alone accounted for 1.3 million activations a day, that’s roughly 39 million activations a month. Wow!

In 2012 tech giants like Google, Yahoo, Adobe, Microsoft, Intel and HP posted disappointing earning results. What’s amazing about this is that these are companies that prior to the modern mobile revolution appeared to be invincible in their own fields. The rise of mobile is forcing companies like these everywhere to rethink their strategies and business models in order to compete and stay relevant in this new mobile world we live in.

Clearly there’s a strong technology shift happening now. This is a shift that affects us all and one that comes with lots of opportunities, as well as challenges.

I am very encouraged by the progress I have seen this year from learning professionals embracing the idea of mobile learning. However we need more from our Industry and it’s my hope that 2013 will be the year we fully immerse ourselves into what I call the ‘Post-eLearning era‘ and seize the potential of mLearning.

With that said, here are 8 things I believe we must do in 2013 to leverage mobile and advance mobile learning:

1. Embrace Change and Adopt a new Mindset

Mobile changes everything from the way we learn new things by interacting with information on our mobile devices, to the way we design the next generation of learning experiences for the mobile learner. To fully realize the potential of mLearning, though, we need to think outside the eLearning box and question many of our traditional practices. We need to realize that we are no longer developing learning for the stationary learner, sitting in a stationary chair, in front of a stationary PC. Unlike some people who think that things like the price tag of a mobile device or its battery are holding mobile learning back from full adoption, I’m convinced technology has little to do with what’s holding us back from crossing the chasm.

In order to seize the potential of mLearning we need to embrace the change this new paradigm brings. More than anything else the mobile revolution is about adopting a new mindset, a new way of looking at things and being open to the new world around us. eLearning had its day but now we have a new blank canvas in front of us and we need to step up to the plate and make the most of this new paradigm shift.

Charles Darwin said it best:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

2. Become an Active, Observant Mobile user

This one is an obvious one but it’s worth repeating. The bottom line is that it’s tough (if not impossible) to develop for mobile users if you are not an active mobile user yourself. If you don’t yet have a smartphone (and you don’t think you are getting one for Christmas) go out and get one yourself, if you can afford it, get two or three. The more devices you have for testing, the better. The two most popular mobile OSes are iOS (e.g. iPhone) and Android (e.g. Samsung S3). Surf the web on these devices, it’s quite different from the desktop but get used to it because this is your next development frontier. Download as many apps as you can and ask yourself what you like and dislike about each of them. This is important because you can then implement a lot of the things you like about the app experience into your own mobile learning projects. Get yourself a Tablet or two as well for the same reasons I listed above.

3. Think Mobile-First and Desktop-Second

LinkedIn’s head of mobile, Joff Redfern, speaking at the 2012 Mobile Business Summit, said the following about what mobile-first thinking means to LinkedIn:

“Mobile First is not about doing something first on mobile and then on the desktop. It’s a way of life”

I couldn’t agree more, thinking mobile-first should be something all of us embrace as a new way of life going forward.

One of the biggest realizations in the mobile era is that the traditional PC has now been reduced to just one of many screens in today’s new multiscreen world. We need to design for this truth.

One of the many advantages of thinking mobile first and desktop second, is that it forces you to focus and prioritize because of the limited canvas size you are working with on mobile, as compared to the PC. You can read more about the advantages of thinking mobile first here.

4. Resist the temptation to simply convert your eLearning desktop to HTML5

Conversely, the opposite of thinking mobile first, is to develop for the desktop first and treat mobile as an afterthought. Sadly companies like Adobe with tools like Captivate 6 are promising that you simply have to take exactly what you have on the desktop and simply pass it through their new feature called Publish to HTML5, and your mLearning problems are solved. No so fast though, not only do features like this not work as advertised, but even if they did, it would still just be a poor attempt to retrofit an old course into a new medium. My advice is to resist the temptation and instead try and reimagine what your existing courses need to look like on mobile, considering the context in which people use mobile devices, plus all the sensor superpowers built into mobile devices, and then go out and look for the right tools and technologies that will help you bring your ideas to life.

5. Embrace Simplicity

As an industry, we have been conditioned to think that the more animations we have in our courses, the more engaging they are for the learner. Tools vendors focus their entire marketing strategies (I know I was one of them) on selling “more interactive” features. Every new version comes with more interactions, more widgets, more timelines, more triggers, more ways of animating text, and more support for all those animations in PowerPoint. As users of these tools, we feel that unless we use all of these cool features in a Project (or on a single slide), we are likely behind the trend, and so we end up burying the real course objectives in a sea of animations.

However the mobile experience is about simplicity, it’s about sharing one big idea per screen and nothing more, it’s about looking at what’s really important and then getting rid of everything else, the fluff.

Our new mantra in 2013 should be simplify, simplify, simplify!

6. Don’t put limits on Mobile Learning

I completely understand why it’s convenient to look at mLearning today and want to assign specific learning tasks to it, such as performance support and job aids for example, but I think it’s too early to start limiting mLearning to just these obvious applications.

I am fully convinced that when you couple the mobility and physicality of mobile, with all the other sensor superpowers inherent in mobile devices (i.e. digital compass, gyroscope, audio, dual cameras, bluetooth, proximity, etc), we will actually create better learning experiences on mobile, as compared to what we have today through desktop eLearning. I recommend you hold weekly brainstorming sessions with your teams, where you start to reimagine your learning on mobile devices.

7. Explore other Tools beyond the Usual Suspects

Existing eLearning development tools do exactly what they were designed to do, namely help us rapidly develop eLearning courses for the desktop. However developing mLearning is very different from designing traditional eLearning and I believe we need new tools that are built from the ground up and that embody everything that is great about mobile, including a new mindset, new templates, simple, yet powerful and beautiful experiences and most of all, tools that can display these learning experiences in a personalized way on every screen. It is for this reason I recommend you to think outside the eLearning box and explore other tools out there for inspiration. If you are not following my colleague @MayraAixaVillar, you should be, she is always discovering new tools and blogging about the pros and cons about them, as she shares her personal take as to the applicability of these tools in learning design. Mayra has done several reviews on her blog HERE.

8. Learn everything you can about mLearning

Finally, make 2013 the year you really sink your teeth into all things mobile and mobile learning. Read and subscribe to as many blogs, newsletters and Podcasts on mLearning as possible, attend conferences, webinars and workshops whenever you can. Also learn everything you can about new technologies like HTML5, responsive design, CSS3 and begin to let go of some of the older technologies like Flash.

Here’s to having an amazing 2013!


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