Skillsoft Blog

Learning at the Point of Need

We are pleased to bring you a guest blog post today from Gary Woodill, a Books24x7 BusinessPro Collection author. He is an independent emerging technologies analyst, who works for a variety of clients in researching and planning for their use of new tools for learning. Woodill is coauthor of Training and Collaboration with Virtual Worlds (McGraw-Hill, 2010) and is the author of numerous articles and research reports on emerging learning technologies.

Gary Woodill, Ed.D., CEO and Senior Analyst, i5 Research

The development of computer hardware over the past 30 years from desk-size minicomputers to luggable and portable suitcase-size computers, and then to smaller and smaller laptops, tablets, and smartphones, has allowed us to build a new approach to corporate training called “mobile learning.” Starting in the mid-1990s, mobile learning was first developed in universities, but by the early 2000s, was being advocated for use in training departments of large corporations. However, like many new technologies, the first attempts to develop mobile learning were to try to stuff presentations and lectures onto very small screens. But, as mobile learning developed, we learned that there are many new ways of using smart phones and tablets as sites for personal learning.

As I discuss in my book, The Mobile Learning Edge, our newfound understanding of mobile learning has shifted its definition away from an emphasis on the technologies that underlie mobile learning to the person who is learning while on the move. The critical difference between mobile learning and classroom learning (or even learning from a computer at a desktop) is that mobile learners can be anywhere, immersed in real situations, which can then help generate relevant questions and the need for immediate information. Learning in a classroom or sitting at a desk is to be immobilized and taken out of a real world context.

There are many benefits to learning about something at the point of need. For more than 200 years, education and training have been built on a model of the learner as an empty container or sponge that is filled up by the teacher/trainer. In this view, the material that is “stuffed” into or “absorbed” by a learner is, for the most part, decided upon and presented by an expert instructor. This is been described as the “just in case” model of learning – content is delivered to students “just in case” they might have a need for it in the future. But, much of what the learner takes in using this approach is soon forgotten unless it is relevant to his or her life, or is useful in helping with an important task.

Mobile learning, when properly designed, can be described as “just-in-time, just enough, and just for me.” It is learning that is usually “situated” in a particular context that is relevant to the learner. The result is improved retention, efficient use of time, cost savings, increase collaboration and community, up-to-date information, and personalization of learning materials. As well, as the use of mobile learning grows, this new way of learning will start to show various network effects. As more people use mobile learning and more information is provided to be accessed by learners, the more likely it is for the provision and use of mobile learning to grow quickly. Much of the content for mobile learning can be supplied by learners themselves, as databases of “user-generated content” becomes increasingly available. Eventually mobile learning will become “ubiquitous learning,” supplied by pervasive and omnipresent networks that can be accessed from anywhere at any time. Because the same devices and networks can be also used for social learning, network effects can be even stronger based on the intersection of social media and mobile devices.

In The Mobile Learning Edge, I identify over 30 new kinds of applications for mobile learning in corporate settings. These range from customer education, location-based information, and first-person documentation, to mobile games, simulations and virtual worlds. As well, learning and development staff can use mobile technologies to manage learners on the move, using new mobile learning management systems (mLMSs).

But, in the mobile world, using learning management systems are indicative of the old way of thinking about training. To have mobile learning work well, power has to shift from instructors and managers to the learners themselves. This means that employees will need to be more self-directed and learn because they need to know something, not because they’re being forced to learn. This change of focus from instructor-led to self-directed or do-it-yourself (DIY) learning works best in organizations where the management structure is collegial and participatory, and where the structure of power is somewhat flattened. Organizations that are not prepared for such changes will find the implementation of mobile learning much more difficult.

Anyone who has tried to pioneer the use of mobile learning in their organization knows that it is not an easy task. First, implementing mobile learning means that it’s necessary to understand the “mobile learning ecosystem” and to navigate its complexities. There are thousands of different mobile devices available for learning, at least a dozen operating systems that must be taken into account, various carriers who use different protocols to receive and transmit mobile communications, and dozens of new tools for mobile software development coming into the market. There are few standards for the creation of mobile learning, and those that exist are rapidly changing. Mobile computing is not the same as using the World Wide Web; new skills and tools are needed.

The place to start is with the development of a mobile learning strategy. What are your business objectives for implementing mobile learning? Is your company going to buy standard mobile devices for all employees, or are you going to use the mobile phones that are already owned by those who work at your firm? What budget is available for mobile learning? To help with these and many more questions, I have developed a mobile learning strategy roadmap which can be downloaded from the support website for my book,  The journey to implementation of mobile learning may be long and somewhat difficult, but we can do it together.

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