Mobile Learning: What It Is, and Why You Should Care
People love their smartphones and tablets—typical users are on their mobile device three hours each day, and 40% feel lost without it, according to research.
This sense of connection reveals a special, even intimate relationship—mobile devices have become extensions of our bodies and minds, and a primary interface by which we come to know, and touch, the world. They are our eyes, ears, voice, and increasingly the place we gather the items, essential or simply curious, that mark us as workers, family, community members, and unique individuals.
For learning professionals, mobile devices present an unprecedented opportunity. Whether we planned for it or not, mobile devices are now an essential technology by which people already are learning about the world, in a manner engrained to habit. However, mobile learning is also a conundrum: how can we engage in a manner that brings value? Do we need to evolve our tried and tested strategies for new platforms? Or is mobile learning an unexpected invitation to remake the industry and impact the learning and development industry in an unprecedented way?
Let’s begin by attempting to define what, in the case of mobile learning, we have on (and in) our hands.
In the learning professions, many of us are familiar with the 70:20:10 learning model. The bulk of learning, 70%, is said to occur in the flow of work, “on the job,” and especially when confronting challenges; 20% is informal learning. This leaves only 10% for formal learning, through instructor-led courses, seminars, computer-based trainings—all the “big numbers” that have been the focus of the learning industry. We have concentrated nearly all of our energy and expertise on 10% of learning, as this has been the portion of the spectrum that our practices, strategies, and technologies have most easily reached.
Think of doctors treating patients in the early days of medicine, when so much of the body’s magic, and complexity, was still in the shadows. The larger share of workplace learning is still there for us to discover, through methods we may only now be beginning to grasp.
Mobile learning may allow us to reach deeper into the space that has eluded us, by making learning less formal and more responsive to, and dynamically within, the flow of work. Through it, we can move the arrow to the left, as shown in the Learning Formality Meter, into the frontiers of informal learning.
Imagine planned, well-executed training, for instance, that parallels to the reflective times when we make meaning from the chaos of experience, or provides another way of structuring the conversations, reminders, or questions and answers that characterize conversations between workers and supervisors.
This brings us to an unconventional, but apt, definition of mobile learning. While it may be linked to, and enabled by, mobile technologies and devices such as smartphones or tablets, mobile learning is above all a way of entering the fluid nature of work and learning.
Put another way: mlearning is an interactive artifact within the flux of work and life.
It is, at once, a made thing, and a way of relating to events as they develop. It is a wave within the field that may directly impact the everyday. Imagine learning that changes the job and the people who do it, just by being at hand, useful, and (above all) used—think learning as integrated into work itself.