Corporate Training & e-Learning Blog


Mobile Learning's Slow Birth

Imagine a birth taking 10 years. Can't imagine it? Neither can I, but that is how long it has taken mobile learning (m-learning) to finally begin to make a visible appearance. M-learning has been discussed for amost 10 years, yet is only now approaching actual deployment.

Why now? Simply because the portable devices needed to deploy m-learning are finally here. They include smart phones, ultra-portable computers, and iPods/iPhones. And the number of learners who have them grows every day. In fact, there are more people with two mobile devices than there are people with just one (i.e., a Blackberry + an iPod).

Increasing numbers of handhelds offer internet access (the "mobile web"), further unleashing learners from their desktop or laptop computers. Today, over half a billion mobile phones connect to the internet each day, bringing information to where it's needed or wanted - anytime, anywhere. In addition to text, this information is in the form of images, animations, games, movies, videos, music, even maps and location services. IBM's Institute for Business Value predicts that a billion people will be accessing the mobile internet by 2011 - only 3 years away! At that time, our mobile transactions and interactions will generate $80 billion for the web services industry.

OK, so how quickly can the training industry accept, adopt, and truly implement m-learning?

Very soon, I hope. First, we must begin with enterprise acceptance, including executives and IT professionals willing to support a mobile infrastructure. These individuals have already seen the value of being "unplugged" as desktop computers have converted to laptops and notebook computers. Mobility has already become a focus for IT departments. Adoption of enterprise mobility is all about increasing workforce productivity - certainly not a hard sell.

As learning professionals, the more we can demonstrate productivity gains from m-learning, the more likely companies will be to support m-learning implementations. And to do so sooner instead of later.

What technologies do the IT folks need in order to support enterprise mobility and m-learning? Wireless networks, mobile applications, middleware, devices, and security and management software. They are confused, however, over which wireless networks need to support specific kinds of enterprise mobility needs, especially where new technologies are involved. Plus executives want to know the pros, cons, and deployment issues associated with the many wireless network options. Organizations must also decide who should have access to them (the entire workforce, or just select groups) and how best to cost-effectively deploy and maintain these systems. Finally, what should they do when new mobile devices come to market (such as the iPhone)? Do they support those as well?

As a newborn, m-learning has been focusing on providing performance support and information to mobile workers. Unfortunately, there are those who believe that is not the same thing as "learning". In fact, it is learning - it is a learning intervention that is accessible at the exact time and place it is needed.

Time will tell how readily accepted and integrated m-learning will become in our careers and our lives. I am quite hopeful and excited about it. I believe we need to see the introduction of more mainstream tools that produce mobile output. As Ellen Wagner said in a recent eLearning Guild article, "We all acknowledge that mobile learning is a many-splendored thing that has the potential to truly rock our professional practice."


  • right, we imagined that 10 years ago. above the continued development of essential technologies such as 3G, Wi-Fi, we’ve got infrastructure ready for building the future of mobile learning, why don’t we actually implement it?

    as one mobile content provider ever requested me about the Flash presentations in mobile devices, the Flash Lite technology could be the point to the future of mobile e-learning. i just think so.

    By Anonymous William Peterson, at 10:45 PM EDT  

  • Good points raised, with reference to the latest mobile devices, 3G networks and rise of the mobile workers driving m-learning adoption. I would also add that the Gen-Y worker will have a major impact on the adoption of this technology, as their learning culture fits well with m-learning - bite sized and with plenty of reinforcement.
    The lack of mobile solutions from the major e-learning and HCM vendors has also been puzzling, and I wonder if this is also a major factor for the slow birth of this very exciting technology.
    In regards to flash-lite, it's lack of availability on many mobile devices, particularly on Blackberry and iPhone means we cannot widely leverage the benefits that are seen in eLearning content. But when it does ... well, the tide most certainly will turn.

    By Anonymous Martin Brown, at 7:01 PM EDT  

  • I think the main reason why mobile learning has not progressed much is the screen size. People like to learn using bigger screens rather than smaller. Witness the progression towards larger LCD monitors, bigger TVs, etc. Unless a way is found (I think some technologies are already in the beta stage) for projecting the small mobile phone screen on a bigger surface, we will find user resistance to m-learning.
    We also had launched an m-learning product (actually a small quiz on rfid) but it has not been as popular as it could have been.

    By Anonymous Sam, at 1:16 PM EDT  

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