I am still very much a novice in mobile learning. I’ve known for quite a while that mobile was a topic I’d have to learn more about eventually, but to be honest, it isn’t something most of my clients are talking about yet. I suspect I am one of the only instructional designers left in the world who doesn’t own a smartphone. I believe my current phone is what is called a “feature phone”; I can download some games and I am able to access the web (although I don’t have a data plan, so I don’t use it that way). I plan to upgrade within a few months, but my “retro” phone is one of the reasons I haven’t really invested much time in m-learning yet. However, when I was offered a copy of Chad Udell’s new book Learning Everywhere, I decided it was an opportunity to catch up with the rest of the world.
Even with my minimal background in mobile learning, Udell’s book was very helpful. There are parts of it that are more technical than I really need right now. However, when I have an actual mobile project to complete, I think I’ll be glad that information is there. The book covers the whole process of mobile content, from finding opportunities and initial strategy through development, prototypes and pilots, and deployment.
Udell categorizes mobile learning into four different types of content:
- Converted Content: This is your existing content converted for mobile. That doesn’t mean entire e-learning courses simply delivered on a smaller screen, but it may be parts of courses, job aids, or other existing performance support materials.
- Business Processes: This is the content for line of business and productivity, like SCM (supply chain management), contact lists, or specific applications for a company.
- Social and User-Generated: “Mobile is intrinsically social.” This category includes informal social learning with tools like Twitter, Yammer, and Jive, as well as user-generated content in wikis and knowledge bases.
- Uniquely Mobile: To be honest, this was the hardest category for me to really connect with and see uses for, mostly due to my lack of experience with the tools. This includes content that is only possible because of mobile tools–GPS, augmented reality, and using other sensors on phones.
The “converted content” category is what I’ve usually been thinking about as mobile learning. Udell explains that we shouldn’t just move all our whole course library to a small screen format; it should be reinvented. The book includes a number of practical tips about how exactly to do that reinventing, like including an easy search or query function. Mobile tools are used at the point of need, when learners often have a very specific task or problem in mind. They need to get right to the information they need, not go through a linear progression of 15 screens of prior information before they get there.
Throughout the book, Udell includes “before” and “after” images of interfaces. Even if you are like me and don’t have a smartphone, you can clearly see the problems with standard web, e-learning, and performance support interfaces once they are moved to a phone. There’s lots of concrete tips about how to reformat content for a smaller screen, like restructuring multiple columns into a single column for easier reading and hiding the navigation behind a single menu button rather than showing it all the time and taking up valuable screen real estate.
Overall, I think the book probably would have been more useful for me if I had an actual project to work on, rather than just reading this for my own knowledge. Udell does assume that you have specific organizational issues and resources in mind throughout the book, which isn’t the case for me with my freelance work right now. However, even with that caveat, I feel better prepared now. I know I have this resource available to guide me through the process if I need more of the specifics. I also have a much better idea what kinds of questions to ask if a client asks me about mobile learning. I won’t be blindsided when this comes up in conversations—and I know it will, even if it hasn’t yet. Mobile is an opportunity to expand the reach of what we do as learning professionals outside of the traditional formal training environment, and Learning Everywhere is a good place to start learning about those opportunities if you’re like me and don’t have much experience with mobile learning.