Cautions for Mobile Learning Tools

Posted on Posted in Learning Strategies, Science of Learning, Trends

Much of our love of mobile is the ability to access data that we need immediately. We place this data in our short or near-term memory and then discard it. For example, once you arrive at a restaurant its address is no longer required. Conversely, corporate learning demands that we recall skills used on a continual basis. Creating strong, long-term memories is a complex process when done effectively.

Adobe recently commissioned Forrester[1] to conduct a survey/study to look at “Mobile Learning”. In my view, the report and its recommendations missed a few important tips about learning.  It accurately projects the wide spread use of smartphones (who doesn't have one) implying they are a primary source for learning. The authors may have overlooked a small point. Mobile is a delivery vehicle separate from proven learning science.

Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, once made a clear distinction about how and when we use computing devices. To paraphrase, we use the right device for the right purpose: I create on a desktop, I write on a notebook, I read or review on a tablet and I catch-up on a smartphone. While it is possible to crossover devices with functions, it is not particularity efficient.

As the report centred on smartphones (aka mobile), the researchers didn’t receive input from education experts or psychologists. While we can appreciate the methodology Forrester used, they should have interviewed a few neuroscience, cognitive or teaching experts to provide more emphasis on learning outcomes vs. a use for smartphones.

The report focused on mobile technology as a path forward to better learning and business agility. This is partially true but should not be seen as the only tool to deliver learning. Learning can be categorized in 3 principle domains: 1) knowledge transfer, 2) problem solving and 3) motor neurone conditioning. Online videos, webinars, classrooms, smartphones and simulators are tools. Always consider using the right tool or combination of tools for the right job. Remember, learning is a process while training is an event within the process. [2]

Regardless of delivery technologies, upgrading your content to video can improve learning outcomes. The low cost of video creation tools, ease-of-use and network bandwidth makes video both affordable and accessible. Video is very immersive. First, it can concurrently activate 3 key brain receptor areas (visual, audible and text comprehension) to “amplify” inputs. Secondly, smart control of screen movement and frame change frequency makes attention span wandering less likely helping the learner focus.

The Forrester survey offers good feedback about people’s feelings but may not be the best foundation for strategy changes and significant investments. Using sources from credible research studies provide far better empirical evidence upon which to make a decision. Admittedly, research on corporate learning effectiveness is limited as compared to academic learning research. Similarly, gamification research in corporate environments is limited but incredibly insightful for those going down that road.

Investing significant money to rework existing content for smartphone formats may not be the wisest investment. Making content more brain friendly would be a smart move forward. Leveraging smartphones to deliver follow-up retention quizzes to learners is a perfect way to offset memory decay[3]. Secondly, enabling learners instant access to instructions (a form of quick guides) via mobile while they are building their tactile skill is also a great way to encourage user adoption.

My final point: Leveraging mobile computing to expand the reach of corporate training to an anywhere/anytime paradigm is incredibly valuable.  When heading down that path you should keep in mind the fundamentals of how people learn and retain new skills.  In doing so you can architect your mobile strategy to include retention and in-the-moment access, thereby producing a far better user adoption outcome.

[1] http://wwwimages.adobe.com/content/dam/acom/en/products/captivate/pdfs/forrester-tlp.pdf

[2] http://fivel.ca/dont-risk-confusing-retain-with-train/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decay_theory