Create mobile learning, not art for art’s sake

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Smartphones and tablet computers such as the iPad provide a dynamic and innovative way to deliver just-in-time learning content for staff on-the-move.

As the balance of training tilts away from the classroom and moves towards 24/7 access to learning assets, the ability to offer bite-sized chunks of practical learning via handheld devices has made mobile learning a very exciting proposition for organisations. However achieving success takes a lot more than simply 'porting' across e-learning content to a smaller screen or dumping text from a website into an app.

Too many people seem to be forgetting that mobile learning - like classrooms and e-learning portals before it - is simply a conduit for effective learning content. Yes, it can provide instant on-the-job support or refresher training at the point of need. For example, for managers who are dreading a difficult appraisal session, nervous about a presentation or who are about to interview a job applicant.

The point is that mobile learning is most effective for short and snappy learning interventions. This means that your content has to be considered with great care.

Professional content designers will usually know the objectives they're trying to achieve and the training need they're trying to address. However when it comes to designing e-learning or m-learning, many feel tempted to utilise high-tech gimmicks in order to get their points across. Some get so caught up with the possibilities provided by technology that they lose their way and end up creating art for art's sake. Just because technology enables you to add global satellite positioning features or a 3D dynamic interface doesn't mean you need to incorporate these things into your design to create effective learning.

The main reason why designers overcomplicate their programmes by adding 'all singing and dancing' features is because they're terrified of creating something dull.

The fear is that a dreary course will always lead to learner indifference. However, in our experience, it is certainly possible to create effective learning content - using video, audio and imagery - that stimulates, engages and entertains people, addresses the appropriate training needs and appeals to different learning styles. We recently won a multinational commission to design a bespoke e-learning course because we hadn't overdone the gimmickry but had focused on effective content that entertained the learners and kept them interested.

Video is one specific format that works particularly well for mobile delivery. As is evident on any train journey, people are accustomed to watching video clips on their phones/tablets. Video-rich m-learning is therefore the 'killer application' to use to engage your learners. Put it in the context of an intuitive user interface and you are a good way towards holding people's attention.

M-learning programmes have to be easy to use and the learning has to relate to the challenges and issues that matter in the organisation, particularly if you want people to work through the learning at their own convenience - and refer back to it when needed, for a just-in-time refresher.

The fact that you don't have to spend a fortune to get good m-learning should be welcome news. Remember, over-designing can lead to overkill - a good learning designer won't let you put form before function. Also, bear in mind that some very good content is available off-the-shelf. Rather than creating bespoke learning from scratch, you may be better off using - or customising - an existing resource.

By thinking through your requirements and insisting upon content that is fit for purpose - rather than ready to be shortlisted for the Turner Prize - you can make m-learning an exciting and effective addition to your learning portfolio.

Martin Addison (pictured) is CEO of Video Arts, the video training, m-learning and e-learning company

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