Is it mLearning when you Learn from doing a Google Search on a Mobile Device?

My post on whether “eLearning on Tablets is really Mobile Learning” generated quite a bit of interest, with lots of ReTweets and replies on Twitter, many Blog comments, at least 71 people casted their votes, and at least two other bloggers posted their own thoughts based on my post.

All in all, I’m very happy with the engagement the post generated. Thank You!

My goal with this post was to start a conversation around what should be considered mobile learning and propose some questions we can use to judge whether a learning experience on is indeed “uniquely mobile.”

I must admit I was a bit surprised that from the 71 votes I received, 59% (42 votes) said Yes.

Somehow I had expected that most people would vote No, especially after reading some of the questions I proposed in that post.

However I understand why some people may consider the answer to be yes, after all an iPad (and every other Tablet) is a mobile device, and thus any learning experience consumed on it should be considered mobile learning, right?

What happened next on Twitter was interesting, I started getting questions asking me whether a certain experience, that yielded in learning via mobile, and which seemingly didn’t fit the criteria proposed in my questions, was mLearning.

Here’s one tweet in particular that got me thinking and eventually inspired this follow-up post:


Excellent question.

Reuben then left a comment on my Blog, where he elaborated further. I was especially interested in what he said below regarding how doing a mobile search on Google does not take advantage of any unique mobile features, and this is where I disagree a bit.

Here’s his question, followed by my answer:

Here is what I just asked u on twitter so that I can get some more characters in 🙂 If you google something on your mobile device while trying to solve a problem and get the answer. Is that Mobile learning? Because your not taking advantage of any unique mobile features, but I would say that experience is mobile learning without a doubt.

My response:

Hi Reuben, thanks for your comment and for proposing a very interesting question. The short answer to your questions on whether looking something up on google that help us find an answer and learn something along the way is Yes. The longer answer (still Yes) is where I respectfully disagree with you, where you say that this experience does not take advantage of any uniquely mobile feature. I actually think it absolutely does. Let’s take the Google App for iPhone as an example, clearly Google has thought a lot about what makes a uniquely mobile experience, you can use your current location (GPS) to find information relevant to where you are. You can type your question or better yet, click the microphone for a voice search (another mobile feature). The app also has ‘Goggles’ built in, so that you can use your camera, point at any object and do a search based on a phone taken via the camera built into your phone. Then, once you get the search results, you can switch over to ‘images’ which you can then navigate by swiping left and right (another uniquely mobile feature). So while this whole process may seem fairly passive, I actually think it’s a brilliant display of how Google harnesses everything that makes mobile great to make our lives better while on-the-go. In my opinion there’s much for us to learn from this and other mobile experiences and start thinking about how we can do the same in our own industry. thanks.

Again, my point with this post is that indeed anything our mobile devices can help us with in the way of learning should be considered mobile learning.

The lesson here is that Mobile devices gives an opportunity to re-imagine Learning beyond simply retrofitting old desktop learning into the this new and amazing mobile paradigm.

Let me know your thoughts!

  • I guess I’m missing the point. I thought mlearning meant learning by moving around: getting students’ butts out of seats and doing activities, going places, asking critical questions. Where technology (mobile or otherwise) comes into play is connecting the learner/explorer into the network of like-minded learners/explorers. Anyway, that’s what I base my designs on.

  • So to expand on my tweet back to you, mlearning has been around a lot longer than what we think of as mobile devices. Couldn’t a car radio be considered a mobile device? Or remember the old transistor handheld radios…I would carry one around to listen to the baseball game. Perhaps during the game the commentator explained a rule that I didn’t know…thus, a learning moment. To me, it is less about defining something than providing the right content via the right context. That’s why I am looking forward to your webinar.

  • Hello RJ!

    Thanks for your wonderful posts on the subject. The discussions are very much inspiring.

    To add my own note on this I would say that when I do a Google search (regardless of he search being done one mobile or desktop), I almost always learn something, or at least, I get an information I did not have before.

    So my question is. Can such a Google search be called eLearning when done on a desktop? And consequently, can it be called mLearning if done on a mobile device?

    My answer is NO. To me a learning experience (any kind of learning experience) requires a pedagogical involvement from a teacher and the building of some kind of communication between a teacher and a learner. A Google search does NOT qualify!

    What are your thoughts about it?

  • Hello RJ
    Thanks for your wonderful posts on the topic. Really inspiring discussions indeed!

    To add my own voice, i would say that when i do a google search (regardless of the search being done on a desktop or on a mobile device) i almost always learn something new, or at least, i do get an info i did not have before.
    Now my question is: can a google search on a desktop be called eLearning and, consequently, can the same search on mobile be called mLearning.
    To me, the answer is NO. I think that a eLearning or a mLearning experience must include a pedagogical work from a teacher and the building of sole kind of relationship between a teacher and a student. A google search does not qualify.
    What are your thoughts about it?
    Thanks and good WE to you….

  • Damien Bruyndonckx

    Hi RJ,
    Thanks for your great posts on the subjects and for the inspiring discussions.
    To add y own voice on this one, i would say that when I do a Google search (regardless of the search being done on mobile or desktop) I almost always learn something, or at least, I get an info I did not have before.
    So my question is, can a google search on a desktop be considered as eLearning, and, consequently, can the same search on mobile (via a mobile-optimized nativa app) be considered mLearning?
    To me, the answer is NO, because I thing that an eLearning or mLearning experience requires a pedagogical approach created by a teacher, and the building of some kind of relationship between a the student and a teacher. A google search does NOT qualify!
    What are your thoughts about it?

    • Hi Damien,

      I am interested in this line “because I thing that an eLearning or mLearning experience requires a pedagogical approach created by a teacher, and the building of some kind of relationship between a the student and a teacher.”

      In my view, we as in the global we, have done an excellent job of learning despite ‘pedagogical approaches’. How many times have you had a ‘learning experience’ without there having been any intentionality in the design of the experience? How many times have you read a book and ‘learned’? Have you never learned through a casual conversation with somebody? Have you never learned through a Google search?

      Your brain is in constant ‘learning’ mode. You couldn’t shut it off if you wanted to.

      I completely agree with RJ on how the mobile experience of Google does take advantage of the unique mobile features on the phone. Good catch RJ!

    • It really depends on how you or your organization define “mLearning” and there are many definitions floating around out there. Immediately comparing mLearning to eLearning is where we sometimes make the first mistake.

      Here’s how I like to think of mobile learning and how I would describe it. Using google (or any other search engine) on your mobile device to learn something on-the-fly or to get support for something that you might have already learned previously is “mobile performance support” and mobile performance support is just one type of mobile learning!

      My perception of mLearning is based on our philosophy and approach at ADL:

      Thanks to Judy Brown and the major influencers in the performance support arena (Allison Rossett, Conrad Gottfredson, Bob Mosher) we look at it more broadly than just a mobile version of eLearning.

  • Great post RJ! I love how you socialized the question.

  • TechCommGeekMom

    Based on Gary Woodill’s point on Twitter answering this question, I think his point is that m-learning shouldn’t be based on technology, because a pad and pencil always with you could be considered mobile learning, technically speaking. However, I will agree with you, RJ–and this is where I tend to lean as well–that without technology, we would have been left with only that pad and pencil, maybe with a single book as well. First, the portable calculator, and eventually, over time, to the smartphones and tablets we have now. The thing is, in so many respects, we can do more learning with these devices on the go. I’m not talking about just being able to do Google searches on the go, but also recording things through video and audio instead of sketching things out (and oh, we can still do that too). We can also share information gathered in real-time to others who are remote, such as having video conversations or sharing photos on social media.We can access whole libraries anywhere, anytime! M-learning is a WHOLE lot more than what it started out, and we are just on the cusp of truly understanding what capabilities technology can afford us in bringing learning to our fingertips wherever we are. Only through the evolution of technology–even over the centuries–can our learning abilities advance. (Think about how the invention of the printed book made a big explosion on global education! Talk about a huge leap in technology!)

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