Do Learners on Mobile really know what they want in mLearning?

While I was tracking the #mLearnCon hashtag on Twitter last week, I saw this tweet from Jay, whom I believe was attending Lasher’s session. I really liked the tweet and immediately ReTweeted it:

I thought about it for some time and decided to write this blog post.

The thing is, most people are asking the wrong questions regarding what people really want out of mobile learning, including eLearning tools vendors.

I think the reason why eLearning tools vendors are rushing to market with a “one size fits all” solution for eLearning and mLearning, where the tools are simply converting existing desktop eLearning to HTML5, is because when they asked their customers what they wanted next in their software, for the most part what they heard was “I just want to have my learners access my stuff on the iPad.”

There are many flaws with this approach, for one thing having an iPad-only strategy isn’t really having a mobile strategy, what about smaller screens such as the iPhone where invariably mobile users will end up doing a lot of pinching and zooming to find their way around the content, that is of course if they can even render the learning at all on the smallers screens.

In fact, I’m not even sure the customer even articulated the answer correctly when asked, and thus the way the so called “mLearning feature” is being implemented in the latest version of eLearning applications. Perhaps what the customer really meant to say was that yes, they want their learners on mobile to be able to access the learning, but in a way that makes sense on the iPad, and also in a way that makes sense on the iPhone, and on the Kindle Fire, and on the Motorola Xoom, Droid, etc.

In other words, One Size does Not Fit All.

My point is that all of us in Learning Design, who are starting to design for multiple screens, need to be asking the right questions and the one question in the tweet above is a great question to ask.

Other questions like what are you favorite mobile apps and why, are important too, because the answers will reveal so much about how mobile is different from desktop, and will provide us with lots of great information we can use in order to design for mobile.

Of course there’s nothing like being a mobile user yourself, and see what you like and dislike about the whole experience.

When asked what is the first thing I recommend eLearning Pros do, who are starting to look at mLearning, I always say get immersed in mobile yourself. Get a Tablet if you don’t have one, download apps and see what you like and dislike about them; don’t stop there, the Tablet is just one mobile device, get a smartphone, I say, and see what the experience is like on the much smaller screen.

Only by becoming a mobile user yourself can you truly understand what the experience is like and begin thinking about how to deliver powerful mobile learning experiences.

Oh and don’t forget to surprise your mobile learners, too.

One of my favorite lessons from Steve Jobs was that Apple didn’t do much in the way of Focus Groups in order to figure out what their next products would be.

Steve believed that most people didn’t even know they needed something until Apple invented it and then wondered how they ever got along without it.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. What are your thoughts? Chime in and ReTweet it so other can do the same.

  • Good article RJ. It was too bad you missed my session at #mLearnCon about Mobile Interface design and improving the UX. One of the tips I had was watch how the users use your app – especially if it’s being delivered on a phone. It makes a huge difference if they are right handed vs. left handed. You can download the presentation from the mLearnCon site for all the tips.

    • rjacquez

      I will do that and yes too bad I missed your preso. It was on my list of must-attend sessions at mLearnCon. I will go and download the slides. Thanks.

  • Lori Meyer

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, RJ. The world of mobile learning presents both breathtaking opportunities and huge challenges. Whenever I use my iPhone, I marvel at the flexibility it offers me — I can send email, buy a plane ticket, pay a bill, capture ideas for my next project at work, apply for a job, find out when I’ll see the next new moon, enjoy photos of my beautiful cats, and listen to songs in a music library — in almost any place I choose, indoors or out, and with a device that fits in the palm of my hand. On the other hand, like any new delivery outlet, mobile devices can end up being seen as just another place to dump information, without regard for the uniqueness and flexibility they offer, and without considering how to make that information work best on these small, lightweight tools . I’ve sometimes seen smartphones and other mobile devices described as electronic tethers — yet for me, having a mobile device is incredibly liberating. I feel safer and more creative for having a lightweight tool that can help me communicate and be creative without being bound to a desk. I see potential for great learning opportunities through mobile technology, if we keep the spirit of freedom and flexibility in mind as we develop mobile learning.

  • Do we need elearning courses on our mobile devices? How many people will be away from their desks and decide to do an elearning module?

    Would more people use mobile devices to ask questions, look for information on the Intranet, message an expert, or watch a video tutorial? If so, you might not need a custom app necessarily, just and Internet connection and a place where you can access resources and connect with experts. Like Yammer for example.

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