Friday, February 6, 2009

M-Learning vs. M-Support

Mobile “Support”: Is it the next generation of M-Learning?

Con and I have been watching the buzz around what our industry is calling “Mobile Learning”, or M-Learning, for quite some time with some very interesting trends emerging! I thought I’d share a few in this week’s Blog entry. Any and ALL comments are welcome!!

  • M-Learning vs. M-Support: There appears to be two disciplines emerging within this space – M-Learning, which is analogous to e-Learning on a mobile device, and M-Support which is more in line with PS. This is an important distinction to make because it has implications in both design and outcome. It also parallels many of our discussions around the 5 moments of need.M-learning is designed to meet the first two moments of need; when someone is learning for the first time or attempting to learn more. When it comes to handheld devices (more on this later) the jury is still out as to how much content a learner will tolerate on a 2.5 inch screen, BUT the early returns are promising. Many are fairly tolerant and even excited that learning can be distributed in this way. What’s yet be determined is whether or not their tolerance level will decrease once the novelty wears off. Some things to watch on the learning side are:

  • How many of our e-Learning design principles can and should transfer to the handheld environment?

  • How will the smaller footprint of a 2.5 inch screen impact the type and level of content we put on these devices?

  • How will compatibility issues in both software and mobile platform play out?

    M-Support seems best suited for the last three moments of need; when one is trying to remember or apply something, when things change, and when something goes wrong. The itch being scratched here is not one of learning new information, but rather a situation where having ACCESS to the most immediate, helpful, and current information is paramount. This is a perfect application of a mobile device. Often the learner is physically immersed in the problem they are trying to solve or about to enter into. This would be especially helpful for those in sales, field level support, or technicians where the immediate access to information is critical. The “mobile workforce” also seems predisposed to looking to these devices for this type of information, so the adoption and learning curve is reduced. For example, most of these individuals use their Blackberry to read email, to look up a contact, to check their appointments, or to surf the web for information. Extending that experience to include performance support is a natural next step. We have already had some experience in creating content around sales, tech support, and even disaster assistance and the early returns are very powerful. For many of you, this could be the entre into performance support you’ve been looking for!

  • Mobile ain’t just for phones anymore!!: Many of the early efforts around M-Learning/support have been limited to devices such as phones and mp3 players, but with the recent advances in wireless technology and broadband, laptops have become a key player in this discipline as well. We have recently seen solutions where organizations are delivering immediate web-based PS to their technicians and sales team via this level of connectivity. For many, gone are the days of needing to wait until they were back in your hotel room or near a “hot spot” to be on-line. I’m actually posting this week’s blog using my laptop while on the road and browsing via my Verizon broadband account. I know that the laptop has been touted as a mobile computing platform since its inception, BUT never has it had more potential as a performance support device then today. We now have as much access to dynamic and streaming content as we do on our phones, but with MORE screen real estate and processing power! Don’t limit your thinking to a 2.5” screen and multi-platform incompatible devices. The laptop is entering an entirely new era of connectivity and PS functionality.

  • We still need to consider the entire learning eco-system: Con and I have been throwing around a new term – the Learning ecosystem. It implies that learning is a dynamic, interdependent, living thing, and it is! You have heard us talk many times about the fact that our industry needs to see learning from every angle and as an ongoing process. The 5 moments of need reinforces this approach. The danger we see in M-Learning/support is a potential return to a myopic view of the ways in which we support our learners. It’s seen as a “vertical” or just another “add-on” to an already crowded bag of tricks. For mobile to work it needs to be seen as an integral part of the entire learning journey, or ecosystem. If it’s not brought back into the classroom, supported by the helpdesk, reinforced by line managers, and maintained to some degree by the learners themselves, its chances of reaching its full potential are in jeopardy. When considering introducing a mobile strategy (NOT just a device) please take into consideration some of the following issues:

  • How can adding M-Learning/support complement and enhance your existing learning approaches and assets?

  • Is there a single-source strategy or tool you can adopt which will make the reusability and consistency across your learning assets, from classroom to mobile, more of a reality?

  • Are you teaching the most effective use of mobile learning in the context of your other offerings?

  • How does the learner see this new learning option? Do they see it as an “add-on” or as part of a larger learning ecosystem supported and complimented by other assets?

  • What DOESN’T mobile learning provide? Are you overlooking other options, or some of the shortcomings of this modality?

  • Have you involved other stakeholders in the ecosystem in your strategy such as trainers, content developers, helpdesk professionals, and even the line managers of the learners themselves? These individuals play a critical role in the successful adoption and sustained use of these tools.

Mobile learning/Support is becoming a powerful new learning asset, but it will only reach its full potential if we each, as the learning professionals within our organizations, carefully embrace all the areas it can impact.

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