Mobile Learning: the state of play (part 2)


This is the second piece of a 2-part post. Part 1 can be found here.

In my M-Learning post from August 2014, I wrote that:

…providers of content, courses, and programmes of study, both free and paid-for, will increasingly customise and configure their products for the mobile learning market – many are already doing so, of course, but the volume of this will surge hugely over the next couple of years and beyond. Content and course providers, particularly those trying to monetize their products, will be seeking to grab whatever segments of the market they can, and we can be sure that providers will spring up in every part of the world, some looking to build international markets, others happy to focus on regions, on language-communities, on individual countries and even on specific disciplines that will cut across all such geographical fault lines . The effect will be to extend massively the educational choices available to learners all over the world.

This is a critical step to be taken by content providers in particular, since it would be a mistake to imagine that M-Learning is simply E-Learning on a smartphone. There is, of course, a large area of crossover, but there are crucial differences too, and it is the recognition and validation (or not) of those differences that, I believe, will make or break those who attempt to succeed in the market and who want to be there for the long haul.

In one sense, high quality content is high quality content, whatever the device it is accessed through. That is perfectly true for any self-directed learner in particular who is attempting to push their own educational boundaries, to seek new knowledge, to teach themselves (as we all do, in truth, most of the time, even when we are being ‘taught’). In this context, the best quality content will win through over time, so long as it is accessible, cheap (or free) and available in file sizes and resolutions to suit the smaller screens and the exigencies of mobile wireless networks.

However, for those looking to create and sell ‘packaged learning’ in all its various guises, the design of learning, and in a sense even the basic pedagogy, differs in important aspects from the kinds of E-Learning intended for users of laptops, desktops (and even larger tablets).

Some of these factors might include:

  • M-Learning ‘lessons’ will need to be delivered mostly in short, modularized, bite-sized chunks rather than longer structured segments
  • Using the likes of a smartphone for learning is not likely to happen in any particular setting, but will often be done on the move, and will therefore happen in a much more informal way than will be the case with E-Learning
  • It is unlikely also, that M-Learners will always be content to follow a structured ‘live’ course of learning – they will be more likely to seek their learning on demand, to want to dive into succeeding ‘lessons’ or learning episodes when it suits them to do so, not when decreed by those doing the ‘teaching’
  • Invoking instructional design that recognises the navigational differences between a phone and any larger device – scrolling is the norm on the phone, where navigating between tabs or screens is more normal on, say, a laptop
  • The particular affordances of the smartphone can offer content providers with possibilities of using such techniques as motion sensing, GPS and others, such features as the camera(s) on the device, as well as the success of the smartphone in providing a valid gaming platform
  • In time, using the smartphone for learning might also be able to incorporate the benefits of Big Data, Analytics and the Internet of Things into learning design.

The marriage of Instructional Design and M-Learning is only at the ‘courting’ stage. It is a relationship that needs to grow and develop into something that might look and feel a lot like other kinds of E-Learning, but that will be really quite different too in ways that are, as yet, not a simple matter to predict completely.