Is Mobile Learning Too Shallow?

Diver from a high distance

Conversations about mobile learning are happening all over. One community asking questions about mLearning is the community of instructional designers who are wrestling with how to approach mobile learning. As ISD’s, our tendency is to provide the learner with the most information we can as long as we can find it to be relevant to the learning need. However, the prevailing knowledge we have about mLearning suggests that we provide less content, not more. But is that really the right way to approach it? Is the reality that we have to provide less content, or is it more a matter of structuring and access to the information that should drive our design decisions?

We make a lot of assumptions about mobile learners and their behaviors (i.e. they are traveling on a bus/train, they don’t have any time, and they’re not looking for a vast body of information just an answer to a simple question), but are those assumptions right? And even if they are right, do we know that users will always be in those situations and unable or unwilling to access more content and add to their depth of knowledge about the subject.

I don’t know all the answers to those questions, but I am of the mind that we can provide deeper knowledge to meet the needs of our “typical” mobile learner, AND support their possible desire to learn more about a topic.

I do think we should focus most on addressing the learner’s perceived immediate need. But I also think that we can provide more knowledge to deepen the experience if we think critically about the navigation and media we provide.

One example I can think of is a simple mobile learning application about driving a car. You could structure your navigation to make the basic, most immediately necessary content about steering, speed and how to use the turn signals available as the storefront to the application. You could also provide a set of short videos demonstrating how to do each of those activities.  However, beyond that you could provide additional links and navigational components on each video page to give the learner an opportunity to see the inner workings of a steering mechanism or a link demonstrating how speed ratios effect braking.

My example is very basic and we know that a lot of complex content will have to be covered in mobile format. But I don’t think we should hold back on content that can provide depth, we simply need to think of how to allow the user to get to it without bogging them down with too many distracting choices that will inhibit the effectiveness of your learning product.

Any ideas about how you could structure your content for easy access to the most necessary information, while maintaining the learner’s ability to dive deeper?


3 comments so far

  1. Rebecker on

    Hey, I’m leading up a mobile initiative at DAU and we’ve been pondering a few of these questions.

    What I’m realizing is that I’ve got to constantly remember what other information (besides learning) that I’m willing to access on mobile.

    For example, I don’t like having to do a lot of navigating on the mobile device, yet I’m willing to listen for 1-2 hours straight to a variety of music, audio books, etc. It’s let me know that I do actually enjoy learning a lot through mobile, but I don’t want to constantly have to make decisions on the device.

    With the onslaught of tablet type devices, I’m realizing that I am more willing to click around a little more on the device because of the larger screen.

    So, lots of implications. Audio and video remain key elements, but so do performance support web apps.

    Will have to start tracking this once we get more products out to see what the actual learners like/dislike, etc.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Chad Udell on

    “the prevailing knowledge we have about mLearning suggests that we provide less content, not more” –

    I would like to clarify that… It’s not about providing less information, it’s about providing the right information.

    From our site:
    “mLearning is the use of mobile technology to aid in the learning of, reference of or exploration of information useful to the user at that moment or in a specific use context.”

    The actual ‘well’ of the information may be deep, it may even be a ‘lake’… but the information architecture, the user experience design and the clever understanding and leveraging of the user’s context makes finding the right pebble in the lake easy.

    Thanks for the post and keep thinking and writing on this!

  3. Denise Cook on

    I’ve been debating on whether or not I wanted to get involved with this latest phase of elearning. I’m still a bit on the sidelines because I don’t think the field has developed enough to effect change in the way we currently design our training. As much as I obsess over technology, the mobile learning arena doesn’t pique my interest as much. Nevertheless, you have to respond to the need, and if mLearning is the direction in which we are moving, I’ll have to start developing for it. We’ve already added mobile access to the wish list for one of my initiatives at work, so I’m browsing the information available right now. What I’m seeing are mostly apps that serve the college student population by providing mobile access to tools and resources on campus. I haven’t seen the integration of Blackboard with either an Android or Web OS, but I can’t imagine the display or speed being sufficient enough to make the experience satisfactory. Many of the other classrooms are more text-based, linear, or use a tree structure, so that might work well in a small viewer, but I would become overwhelmed by all of the scrolling required!

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