From eLearning to mLearning: The Top 5 Challenges beyond Technology

Let’s get one thing out of the way, the future of eLearning isn’t about adding more ‘animations‘ to our existing eLearning (in the name of making courses more engaging), neither is it about an eLearning 2.0 or 3.0 vision. No, the future of eLearning and Learning in general is Mobile Learning or better yet Multiscreen Learning, either way we can abbreviate it as mLearning.

Mobile Challenges

Every new computing paradigm has challenges and the new mobile revolution is no different. However 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.

You see, time will take care of technology, processors in mobile devices will get faster, connections will become more ubiquitous, in fact, it’s likely most cities will have the right infrastructure to provide us with WiFi-everywhere in the near future. As for the batteries in our smartphones, they will last longer or better yet, will be replaced all together by solar power technology.

So if technology isn’t the real challenge for us in transitioning from eLearning to mLearning, then what are the real challenges?

Here are 5 things I think are more difficult to overcome than technology, on our way to the promise mLearning land:

1. Having The Right Mindset

Again, it’s not about Technology, time will take care of advancing technology forward, it always has and always will, but even if innovation in mobile suddenly halted today (not likely), we would still have a lot to work with in mLearning (i.e. with all the sensor superpowers) in order to create amazing learning experiences on mobile.

The reality is that we don’t like change and mobile is a new way of thinking. Mark Twain said it best:

“The Only person who likes change is a wet baby”

But we need to embrace change in order to make the most of this new opportunity mobile presents tu us, and reinvent our Learning Industry in the process. What we need in eLearning is not an evolution, it’s a revolution and mLearning is just the kind of paradigm shift we need to make this happen.

2. Embracing Simplicity

In my opinion, this is a big challenge for Instructional Designers everywhere. 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 in 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. Again, mobile learning is about thinking different, almost unlearning everything we know and starting over and reimagining the entire learning experience. I will be talking more about this next week in a webinar I’m doing with the eLearning Guild.

3. Lack of mLearning Tools

I’m not convinced that existing eLearning tools will evolve into great tools for true mLearning design.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think that existing eLearning tools do exactly what they were designed to do, namely help us rapidly develop eLearning courses for the desktop.

The problem I see, is that for a little while now, we have entered a “post-eLearning” era and new tools are needed to help us meet today’s connected and mobile learners’ expectations. I strongly 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 and on every screen.

4. Thinking Desktop-First and Mobile-Second

Most people today think desktop-first and mobile-second, if at all, and that’s a big problem. One of the quickest ways to immediately improve our desktop eLearning is to start thinking mobile-first and then go back to our desktops and apply the simplicity that is derived from embracing mobile constraints that come with smaller screens. For more information, check out this post I did on the advantages of thinking mobile-first in mLearning.

5. The Tempation to simply convert desktop eLearning to HTML5

And last but not least is the temptation to hit the new HTML5 publish button in the latest versions of some tools, that allows us to take our existing desktop courses exactly as they are and make them available in HTML5 with the promise that this will check off the mLearning box. Not so fast however.

One of the biggest technical differences between eLearning and mLearning is that eLearning was created for that very tiny mouse pointer, while mLearning requires a much bigger touch target for our fingers. This minor, seemingly insignificant difference changes everything in terms of design, and it’s yet another reason why ‘one size does NOT fill all‘ in eLearning and mLearning. Take Microsoft’s design guidelines for their Windows Phone 7 platforms for example, which recommends that each touch target be at least 9mm in size and that there be at least a 2mm space between actions.

There you go, these are the top 5 challenges I believe we need to overcome as we transition from eLearning to mLearning.

Please share your challenges by leaving a comment below, and thanks in advance for sharing this article with your Twitter follower.

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  • alex

    First of all, thanks for writing this article. It might be the first step to understand the quite slow shift from e to mLearning.
    What do you think could be more important? – The free choice of platform with html 5 or thinking mobile first in order not to build ‘one for all’?

    • rjacquez

      Hi Alex, first of all, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Great question. I think HTML5 has some catching up to do as compared to what we can do today with native apps, but as I said above, time will take care of that. I would have to say that our priority should be to let go of the PC paradigm, and embrace mobile as soon as possible. So to answer your question, I would definitely say that we should start thinking different, and thinking mobile-first is an excellent first step. Thanks again!

  • Rosalie

    Hi RJ,
    I totally agree with you. M-Learning and eLearning are different approaches and understand their differences are the clue to step ahead of the complete mLearning revolution.
    Professionals related to the eLearning field, such as instructional designers need to understand the new way people learn when using a smartphone, how they use it in order to design successful experiences through mobile.

    Regards 🙂

  • Divya Bhasin

    I like the term “multiscreen learning” which can provide a seamless experience as a learner moves from one screen to another depending on the availability at a particular time. While doing a course, some parts may not lend themselves very well to a mobile screen, but some parts certainly do. And it is this kind of flexibility that can be provided to the learners who are constrained for time or place when taking courses. We are trying some of these things and will have some results over the next few months on the uptake and usage.

  • Hi RJ,

    First time I hear of mLearning…. You say there is a lack of
    mLearning tools, but as most software providers struggle to reach on the top,
    they will definitely come up with proper tools for mLearning. It’s a matter of
    time and I am confident they will provide various possibilities.

    Best Regards

  • Jessica R. Marone

    M-learning is an updated version of e-learning.Learning about multiple contexts by using the personal devices is called m-learning. Though e-learning is popular m-learning is not popular to all.Nowadays, e-learning is very popular to the people. Even it gets more popularity to the schools’ students. Because at present, they found many online home tutor, research assistances, homework helper, lab report writer on the internet. But here you have shared another great idea called mobile learning. I think it will bring about a revolutionary change in the sector of e-learning. Thank you for sharing.

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