Defining mLearning

In the previous article, I opined on the definition of eLearning. What better to follow-up with than a definition of mLearning?

The term ‘mLearning’ is a bit narrower than ‘eLearning’, of course, due to its specific focus on mobile devices and access. Wikipedia reveals this definition,

“m-learning or mobile learning is defined as ‘learning across multiple contexts, through social and content interactions, using personal electronic devices.’ A form of e-learning distance education, m-learners can use mobile device educational technology in many locations at their time convenience.”

The article includes a solid number of references, history, and details and is a good read in itself. Now I’d like to add a bit of my perspective…

Really, the primary difference between ‘m’ and ‘e’ learning is accessing material from a hand-held device, whether or not you are actually ‘mobile’ or not. There are two significant components of this difference:

  1. The ability to access material offline via an App.
  2. The differences in screen size and connectivity.

Apps themselves aren’t that different from ‘.exe’ applications on a typical workstation, they’re just generally easier to find, obtain, and install. And where Apps tend to be more geared toward games and information (i.e. social media) and workstation applications lean toward productivity, there are certainly Apps and applications available for all the various purposes on both platforms.

One distinct advantage of mobile Apps is the ability to tie those programs to the device’s features, making use of things such the camera and GPS. While this integration offer s a lot of promise to eLearning (as a broad term), there does not yet seem to be as much use of such features in the eLearning space as there is for other types of Apps.

Here at the home office, I have two large monitors connected to my workstation, and I’d like a third. I can never have enough ‘real estate’. Similarly, I’m often frustrated with the small size (relatively) of my tablet and phone when accessing information online – having to zoom-in to the information, or flipping between tabbed windows. Effective information delivery, regardless of the purpose, requires an absolute consideration and design for the device’s screen size. Fortunately we’ve seen significant growth in ‘responsive design’ over the past year and can reasonably expect more in the future.

Connectivity may provide a significant challenge. How often is your workstation disconnected from the net? Rarely, I’d venture. My phone’s cellular signal, however, is influenced by a number of factors due to the nature of mobility. Then there are bandwidth allocations to consider; can a given user really financially afford to download several megabytes of information daily? How’s that going to affect their plan’s cap and pricing? Is the connection fast enough to offer a good experience?

There are certainly advantages to ‘mLearning’ or, as I prefer, ‘eLearning accessed via mobile’:

  • Forget a critical process while out in the field? Use your phone to quickly access the company’s online reference material.
  • Remember almost all the procedure but forget just that one complicated piece? Call up a small ‘byte-sized’ animation that illustrates how to activate the widget.
  • Know that the process is the same in most areas, but there’s some critically different procedure when you’re at higher altitudes? Maybe the product’s online manual can serve up the process based on your current GPS location.

A lot of folks like to talk up mLearning as additionally unique in the ability to combine social media with training. I don’t see why that can’t be done in eLearning in general. Sure, it’s easy to text somebody via your phone, but it’s possible via workstation as well…and there’s certainly no difference between accessing web forums or other social media sites from one’s tablet vs one’s home computer.
Ok, yes, it is easier to post a picture to a social site from your phone than it is from a workstation. Cool. There are lots of lists on the interwebs about the benefits of mLearning but I find few of them to be truly unique to mobile access.

Podcasting is classically associated with mobile, originally targeted for the iPod and related music players…but know what, they can be subscribed-to, accessed, and listened to from a workstation too!

In sum, I’d prefer not to have a different term for ‘learning on a mobile device’ at all. eLearning should be a broad enough term to cover any type of internet-based education, regardless of the device access. We don’t used ‘dLearning’ (desktop learning) or ‘wLearning’ (workstation learning)… The design and use of eLearning already entailed a variety of design and access considerations before the rise of mobile devices, so why worry about yet another term? Let’s focus on appropriate design and usage within the umbrella of eLearning, as we always have, based on demographics, objectives, content, and access.

Any particular opinions or contradictions out there?

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