mLearning: The Way of Learning Tomorrow

Mobility The Future of Learning
Summary: Mobile devices have become deeply engrained in our everyday lives. From reading to schedule management to entertainment to GPS, it is The Multi-Purpose Gadget in our lives and some have even said to suffer from the “phantom limb” syndrome without it! Mobile Learning, or mLearning for short, lets learners learn and get performance support via their mobile devices. This article introduces to you the unique features of mLearning, what it can be used for and the difference between mLearning and traditional eLearning.

Imagine going about your daily life for a week without access to your mobile devices. Yes, I'm referring to your smartphones, tablets and e-book readers. Sounds horrific right? What are you going to do to fill your lull time now?! You would probably feel panicked or even some sort of a separation anxiety. In fact, for some people, going without their mobile devices is akin to losing a limb! (A phenomenon also known as 'phantom limb' syndrome where, in this case, we identify the mobile phone as being part of our body and experience pain in their absence.)

Mobility: The Future of Learning?

Mobile devices have become deeply ingrained in our daily lives. As it is, we use Google Maps to check how to get to our next meeting, play Candy Crush while waiting for the next train, and use Flipboard to keep up to date with the latest happenings. So it shouldn't come as a surprise to you that the next wave of learning is going mobile! Mobile Learning is primed to address the 21st century challenges of an increasingly global, mobile and technologically savvy workforce and is touted to be the future of workplace learning.

Now, mLearning is not eLearning on a smart phone!

So what exactly is Mobile Learning? You are probably thinking eLearning on the Mobile Phone screen right? Well, not quite, Mobile Learning, or mLearning for short, is much more dynamic than just eLearning. Realistically, no one is going to spend an hour in front of their smartphones trying to swipe through the slidedeck and digest knowledge. We access our phones on the go - during our commute, in between meetings or during lunch - and with all the potential distractions, we can only spare a short period of time to browse through content. This means that mLearning needs to be concise and to the point. Transferring eLearning content to mLearning simply will not work.

mLearning Key Features

These are some key features of what mLearning entails:

  1. Short bite-sized micro-lessons
    Given learners' short attention span on mobile and the small screen size of mobile devices, good mLearning content is often chunked up into a series of short 3-10 minutes micro-lessons. When possible, interactive elements such as good typography, images, charts and short 2-3 minutes videos are used as these are most memorable and easily absorbed. Even items like file size matters as long videos or high resolution graphics mean a longer loading time and expensive data charges.
  2. Transcends the formal learning space and brings structured learning into an informal learning space (Flexible, Self-paced, Self-directed)
    Informal Learning is like breathing. It happens naturally, always, mostly embedded in other tasks, contextually, often subconsciously, and is always self-initiated. Compared to formal learning andorganized structured learning, informal learning is proven to be more effective (70 - 90% of our job-related skills is learnt through informal learning).mLearning creates an informal learning space by enabling access to learning outside the classroom, empowering learners to take charge of their own learning. Good mLearning platforms often include social elements so that learners are encouraged to share their experiences and learn from each other.
  3. A Form of Performance Support (Just-in-time / On-demand learning)
    In a world of fast knowledge development, none of us will have the capability to know much of anything at all. The most important skill we will have will be the ability to go out to get the right knowledge for the right purpose at the right time.- Jim Carroll, Innovation Expert, Consultant and Author. We are living in an age where creativity, knowledge and innovation are powering the world at an ever increasing pace. A typical salesperson who sold a finite array of products a few years ago now has a more daunting sales portfolio under his domain. In order to compete effectively, we need to be able to quickly unlearn and relearn key competencies. Given the speed of business today, simply waiting around for the next training session will no longer do. This is why the traditional training paradigm is shifting from comprehension and retention to just-in-time learning (JIT learning) to boost employee performance. mLearning acts as a form of performance support by allowing content to be consumed anytime, anywhere, when in need; enabling learners to make better decisions and satisfy customers. Performance support materials such as checklist, flashcards and guides are often used as reference for mLearning.

The table below illustrates the key differences between mLearning and eLearning:

mLearning eLearning
Main Objective Knowledge distributionApplication of knowledge"Just-in-Time"Personalized: "Just-for-Me" Knowledge presentationRetention"Just-in-Case"
Approach Flexible, more informal than eLearningCan be both structured & unstructured FormalStructured
Content Type Concise and situatedBroken up into micro-lessonsSearch-enabled, allowing user access for appropriate information when needed Comprehensive, typically covering:Topic concepts, principles, processes, procedures and factsUsually follows a liner process which does not allow users to skip chapters/modules
Typical Content ImagesVideosFlashcardsChecklistsGuides

Discussion forums

Animated slidesVoiceoversVideosQuizzesCase studies
Grading Performance & Improvement-based Benchmarking
Devices Mobile Devices (iPhone, Android devices and tablet) Laptop/Computer
User Access Anywhere, anytime at the point of need At your desk or in static environment
Time Spent 3 - 10 minutes 20 minutes - 1 hour


So have you tried mLearning yet? What's your take on mLearning? What do you think makes a good mobile learning content?