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Mobile eLearning

Guest post by Marie S. Lewandowski. Marie is a Sr. Instructional Designer, eLearning Consultant, Feature & Technical Writer.

“Spurred by the threat of the Civil War and the need for faster communication with the West. The Pony Express consisted of relays of men on horseback carrying saddlebags of mail across a 2000-mile trail. Though the famous mail service only lasted from April 1860 to October 1861,”  it was a reflection of early communication methods. Distance education programs did get their start relying on mail correspondence and still do today, for example, in rural Alaska and Australia.

The flexibility of accessing an entire course from a small and lightweight wireless device makes mobile learning the current education frontier. It is a very exciting time for online course developers as upgrades, new devices, new software, apps, and WiFi hotspots can now break course design out the legacy learning management system box. Starting with a solid, well thought out course design process, can bring the freedom and creativity to integrate many tools that combine the traditional distance learning environment with social networking, interactivity, multimedia, gamification and skill based learning for all learners.

In many current training scenarios, mobile eLearning typically supplements a traditional online or partially online course, or it may completely replace these standard learning delivery options. Regardless, it provides endless opportunities for creative ways to reinforce learning outcomes, objectives and improve return on investments.  Mobile eLearning opens a treasure chest of capturing micro learning reinforcement opportunities. The traditional learning theories of Dick & Carey, Blooms Taxonomy and the ADDIE model fit into mobile eLearning. However, universal design principles provide the most effective way to reach diverse learner demographics and needs.  Best practices for Universal Design include:

  • Flexible and equitable use
  • Simple and intuitive
  • Perceptible information
  • Tolerance for error
  • Low physical and technical effort
  • Builds a community of learners with support
  • Builds a climate of instruction and learning

Design of mobile pedagogy requires guidelines for a thorough audience analysis, and knowledge of the device delivery and its shortcomings.  The mobile retail market is currently outpacing mLearning. Offerings are currently available, however in many ways this new learning modality mirrors the distance learning evolution of the mid 90s. The retail market can provide implementation guidance, as learners will expect offerings in a mobile format, either as a compliment to existing training or as the main delivery format.

Getting started in mobile design with products such as Adobe Captivate 8 and Articulate Storyline 2 provides a starting point for responsive ready project design.  Many current enterprise learning management systems can be viewed on a mobile device, however learners are not accessing courses this way. This delivery is not serving learner needs, except for viewing content, on a very small screen.

Going forward, mLearning has to be placed in future eLearning strategic course development planning, because of learner expectations going forward, and to have a stake in the market. If you are already in mobile eLearning development, it is important to revisit and closely identify if best practices are being met for students, especially in the areas of equitable use.

Many education and training practitioners are creating new mobile content without consideration of:

  • Supporting alternative learning methods (e.g augmented reality, spaced learning, performance support
  • Leveraging the capability of the mobile platform (e.g. cameras, sensors, GPS)

“The absence of books, whether in developed or developing countries, is an impediment to literacy.Despite advances in publishing, books remain out of reach for large numbers of people. Although many parts the world are book-poor, these same places are increasingly mobile-phone rich. Today the United Nations estimates that 6 billion people have access to a working mobile phone and over 90 percent of the population is blanketed by a mobile network.”

Application of traditional instructional design theories do apply to mLearning, however modifications to them for the technology integration have to be implemented, in addition to accessible universal design   The ADDIE analysis strongly applies to mobile eLearning, beginning with a thorough audience needs assessment analytic of learners. The consumer data from the retail industry reveals that “60 percent of online time is spent on a smart phone, and 4 out of 5 people use their mobile devices to shop.” Freud. Another fact 65% of US Smartphone users check their phones on average every 15 minutes, and 64% before going to bed.” This valuable business data can be harnessed to reach mobile learners and increase business training and academic programs. The power of this data could target custom high school education programs to meet the needs of at-risk student’s to improve retention and decrease the high school dropout rate.

Mobile Instructional Design “is the largest differentiator of success or failure.  It is the link between learning and performance support that tie formal and informal learning.” ADL Mobile Learning Handbook.

Design of mobile eLearning has to be planned from the user experience learning on that device. Tablets and smartphones are touchscreens, as opposed to keyboards and a mouse.  Smartphones have the least amount of screen real estate and require careful strategic content planning of the user navigation.

The main parts

  1. Succinct content
  2. Instructional learning with model integration
  3. Device limitations and strengths

Research and Planning

  • Review instructional design models, specifically ADDIE, Constructivism and Backwards design
  • Analyze and research how users actually use the device
  • Look at how retails, news outlets, libraries and other educational institutions use mobile
  • Download mobile apps from Blackboard, UDEMY and Mobile Learning Manager
  • Gather a thorough audience analysis  – Skills, current and prior knowledge
  • Gather as much information from the Subject Matter expert including:
    • Prior course assessments and evaluations
    • Identify course content roadblocks and learning gaps

Storyboard and Course Design

  • Simple and clear, intuitive navigation, clearly guide the student though the modules.
  • Design context-independent content
  • Design navigation into the user interface, and use a common format users recognize
  • Chunk out learning modules with multiple access points
  • Space out learning, deploy learning when needed
  • Weave universal accessibility throughout
  • Create short quiz knowledge checks for review
  • Create mobile job aids and performance support tools
  • Add games with do it yourself templates
  • Send messages to smartphones users with reminders, build in discussions and feedback
  • Create short module evaluations, valuable for revisions
  • Narrate videos with transcripts
  • Use HTML 5 and for enlarging text and images
  • Build your course as a deployable app, for easy streamlined access
  • Remember the first course is a prototype begin small and build upon

Ron Yaros, assistant professor of new media and mobile journalism at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, has been testing Mobile in his classroom.  He coined his model “MEEC”: Manageable Educational Environment for Collaboration. “Only the tablet (typically an iPad) is ideal in the classroom, because students can open only one screen at a time.” said Yaros. “I believe the single-window device — the phone or tablet — will get you closer to success in the classroom.”

Healthcare has been testing the iPhone app called iStethescope – developed by Peter Bentley, a researcher from University College London – that allows you to use the iPhone to measure heartbeat. Surgeons have also been using iPads during complex procedures.

A 2013 survey of mobile learners showed that 99% believed the mobile format and presentation enhanced their learning. Even better, 100% said they would complete more training in a mobile eLearning environment. Mobile eLearning helps workers offline to increase productivity and give employees more control of their own learning, and can be used across all fields, from construction safety to restaurant worker training.

Get started by downloading the free mobile apps for Udemy, Blackboard, Oppia, Float Mobile or Mobile Learning Academy. Mobile devices are now a part of our all day, everyday lives. Knowledge is power, and mobile eLearning is powerful tool with far reaching benefits for universal accessibility, improving literacy, skills, budgets, and inspiring learners.


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