Two recent reports and a couple of presentations I’ve attended in the past few weeks hint that m-learning—mobile learning—may also be defined by a second name—mantra learning—since there is a mantra-like consistency to the message being delivered by mobile-learning advocates.
M-learning, we’re hearing, is all about augmenting, not replacing, the way we currently design and deliver learning opportunities. Which is a fabulously productive way to approach this growing part of workplace learning and performance as well as education in general. It takes us past the unnecessary either-or thinking that so commonly creates artificial walls in what should be a cohesive field of practice: teaching-training-learning.
Writer and learning technology strategist Clark Quinn, in his 30-page Mobile Learning: Landscape and Trends report for the eLearning Guild (available free of charge to anyone registered with the eLearning Guild online), offers an eloquent and helpful approach to m-learning. The use of a mobile device “augments our capabilities, both for formal learning, and for informal and performance-support needs,” he writes (p. 5). “The essence of mobile is, to me, augmenting our mental capabilities wherever and wherever we are.”
“It is clear that mobile learning is not and should not be perceived as a replacement for anything,” the writers of ASTD’s Mobile Learning: Learning in the Palm of Your Hand report (distributed free of charge as PDF download recently to members of the national ASTD organization) concur, adding that “it should be viewed as a complement to other forms of learning. It fills the gaps between formal classroom training and e-learning, formal and informal, local and remote.”
Quinn’s eLearning Guild report, drawing from “the preferences, opinions, likes, dislikes, trials, and triumphs of eLearning Guild members,” does a great job of showing how m-learning is a “nascent” and rapidly spreading presence among trainer-teacher-learners and the organizations they serve. People “are seeing real returns,” he notes (p. 1), and up to 80 percent of Fortune 100 businesses are already supporting the use of the devices that facilitate mobile learning in their workplaces (p. 5). “Mobile benefit advocates will be enthused to learn that there are almost no negative impacts seen…On the positive side, we see modest-to-large improvements for learner access and needs and at least half are finding benefits in the speed of content delivery and, importantly, improving user performance” (p. 16).
In essence, what the eLearning Guild and the ASTD reports are documenting is the small yet growing use of m-learning to expedite just-in-time learning. And, because both reports were released within a couple of weeks of each other, it’s not surprising that both contain a great deal of complementary material.
Which makes it all the more interesting that they end with tremendously different recommendations. Clark sees tremendous growth ahead and encourages his readers to “figure out how to start” (p. 26). The authors of the ASTD report also see a growing mobile market, but suggest
that “for once it really is okay to wait and see” since “standards are still being developed and consumers are still figuring out which devices/platforms work best for them.”
But if accept the broadest possible definition of m-learning and focus on the idea that it’s “any sort of learning thathappens when the learner is not at a fixed, predetermined location,” as the writers of the Wikipedia article on m-learning suggest, we realize there is no reason to hold back.
Regardless of the devices we use (laptops, iPads, smartphones, or anything else that comes our way and travels with us), we can easily take advantage of the magnificent possibilities m-learning provides for just-in-time learning. And our learners and those they help will be the real winners.