Posted by Caveo Learning ● March 17, 2016

mLearning Recasts Old Learning Media in New Roles

record_player.jpgNew media seldom replace others; more often, the new refines the old, revealing an essence we hadn’t previously realized.

Consider vinyl records—the antiseptic sound of newfangled CDs was to send them to landfills, but they're back, with their soft, opaque sound coveted by aficionados. This very quality of sound was once hardly noticed, when vinyl was the only audio delivery system around. It took the CD to make the vinyl we know today, granting new value to an old medium.

In learning & development, the new media on the block—mobile learning on phones, tablets, and other handheld devices—presents a similar opportunity to refine its predecessors. While mobile learning is compelling on its own, it casts earlier learning technologies in a new light, gives us an opportunity to reconsider learning technologies at the strategic level and optimize their deployment across the organization.

Mobile learning has already found a niche in organizational strategies—supporting performance improvement by delivering just-in-time microlearning and job aids—its ripple effects have yet to be felt. The question becomes, as mobile learning grows more robust, how will other media be recast in response?

The answers may be surprising. As the table below suggests, each medium has limits, often set by the technology itself, but within these there is an opportunity to thrive within the boundaries while letting other media have their own distinct learning lanes.


With mLearning keyed to supporting performance in the flow of work, eLearning and ILT are freed to find their best uses in a framework for broad and deep learning. eLearning has often been deployed at the awareness level for efficient employee onboarding; the five-minute module within a course of about 20 minutes has become the hidden convention that governs development and audience expectations of training, perfectly designed for rapid scanning.

This restraint, however, belies the nature of the media. eLearning is self-paced, with an ability to link to copious resources that provides for detailed training, with room for fertile asides. With other media providing learning that is “just in time” or delivered in discrete units, eLearning has an altered relationship with time. It can be an interactive compendium, to be returned to and mulled over, making learning both expansive and recursive.

Adding rows to the table below shows how relationships to time and space distill media to their essence. Note, for example, how webinars slide in as a convenient, efficient type of synchronous presence that brings people together for onboarding in a welcoming spirit, typically within strict restraints of duration.


Mobile learning potentially builds upon a scene that has often gone untracked—the daily work of learning by doing, where 70% of learning is said to occur. Some organizations have introduced programs for on-the-job training or Guided Experience, but this generally remains a place where “training” occurs as a result of the instinct to survive and the goodwill of coworkers.

mLearning enables people to more consciously and clearly perform their part as professionals and representatives of the organization, putting policies and values into action. It's the team’s voice in the minds of its members, reminding them of who they are and how to go about their daily functions. If practice on the job creates a work-related ego, mLearning is the alter ego that keeps us on the right path.

learning_media_spectrum.pngLet's consider learning media along a spectrum:

The path leads from the daily buzz of learning on the go to the targeted, chunked deliveries of mLearning, to webinars at the awareness level, and into the technical detail afforded by eLearning. An endpoint of the spectrum is reserved for transformative ILT. With eLearning absorbing more of the details of training, ILT can converge around the type of open questions that lead an organization to change in positive ways. Such ILT questions inspire shared reflection and innovation, with participants potentially emerging as thought leaders prepared to recreate their roles and help guide the organization.

As the spectrum suggests, this far side of training circles into alignment with the (re)starting point of learning in the flow of work, the perpetual experience that continues to shape us and where we apply changes. At its best, the spectrum is richly interconnected, driving perception, judgment, innovation, and performance. It's as if we're on the other side of an open window, studying ourselves in the mind’s eye, as we turn again to our daily tasks with a renewed sense of purpose and wonder.

Capitalizing on this sense of connection by building through-lines across the spectrum is part of the work of learning professionals.

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Topics: Learning Trends, Learning Technologies, eLearning