mLearning’s about content – not devices, platforms or tools

Jim Farrell HeadshotPosted by Jim Farrell

mLearnCon is a relatively new conference (about 3 years old) produced by the eLearning Guild. I attended it recently in San Jose, California, and had a great time there. If you are wondering if this conference would benefit your organization, consider these questions from the Guild’s website:

  1. Is mLearning right for our organization?
  2. What tools are best for developing engaging learning?
  3. Should we build a platform-specific application or a mobile optimized website?

While the importance of these questions may be case-by-case specific, I’ll share my thoughts about each of them in a moment. The one thing I took away from this conference is that the most important thing is not the device, platform or development tool. It is the content. I think our friend Jason Haag (@mobilejson) from the ADL said it best: “We need to start thinking about being “learning designers” and not just instructional designers, because we now have an opportunity to design for more than just formal courses in the cognitive domain. “ So yes, indeed, it’s all about content!

Here are my own responses to the Guild’s questions:

1. Is mLearning right for your organization?

I think there are two key questions behind this one: Are people in your organization using mobile to access internal content? Are people in your organization taking assessments or filling our surveys on mobile devices? (If you don’t know how to respond, adding Google Analytics can help you figure this out quickly.) Given the fact that mobile devices are everywhere these days, your answer to both of my questions is probably yes. But you need to understand WHY people are accessing your content via mobile, then develop your content in digestible chunks or in ways that solve business problems. Learning via mobile is most often pull learning done at a moment of need to support performance. So, yes! It is the content that matters.

2. What tools are best for developing engaging learning?

I love the word “engaging” in this question, but I think it is the wrong word. I would replace it with efficient, productive or correct. As a manager I am not worried about being engaging, I am worried that people do their jobs correctly and efficiently. There are lots and lots of rapid development tools out there, and mLearnCon was ripe with them. There is no be-all end-all tool for developing learning. Never was, never will be. You have to find the tools that best fit each situation and medium you are producing for. Ask the question, “How will people be consuming my content?” — then pick your tool accordingly.

3. Should we build a platform specific application or a mobile optimized website?

It seems to me this question has already been answered. Responsive design allows people visiting your content to get appropriate views. Apps are not the answer. Are you ready to support all of the growing list of mobile operating systems?

Jason Haag shared a terrific quote during a presentation he gave at the conference: “Not every mobile device will have your app on it, but every mobile device will have a browser.” Although HTML5 is not an official standard until the end of 2014, there are techniques available to detect the features for the browser and display the best possible presentation to the user. At Questionmark we like to say Author once, Schedule once, and Deliver to any device. That is truly due to using responsive design to give participants the best experience possible.

The great thing about conferences is about meeting people you admire or follow virtually via Twitter. This conference was no different. I got the chance to meet the famous Sarah Gilbert @melsgilbert. Read her cover article this month in Training and Development magazine if you are truly a beginner in the mobile learning world.

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