Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What does an mLearning participant look like?

by Dean Hawkinson

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz around Mobile Learning, or mLearning for short, and how it is changing the face of learning in organizations. You can read more about this exciting trend in Jay Lambert’s post, More on Mobile Learning Trends.

Being a telecommunications guy, I like to keep up on the latest mobile devices available to consumers. It is really fun to watch all the latest smartphones, tablets and other devices try to out-do each other with new technologies to provide convenience to consumers and businesses alike. The possibilities for learning are endless, given the right environment.

My paradigm in regard to mLearning, however, was shifted recently as I attended an eLearning Guild event that challenged my thinking about this new trend. I had always understood the word “mobile” in this context to refer to the device on which the learning was delivered. The speaker, however, changed our thinking to look at “mobile” to mean the learner, not the device.

I began to think about mLearning in a different way. Just because there is a device available that can support this method of training delivery, does that mean that the learner is a good candidate for this type of learning? Remember, we need to consider our audience and our instructional goals before we consider the technology for delivery. You can read more about this in my post on how technology supports learning.

Here are some thoughts about what an mLearning participant might look like:

  • Traveling Sales Force - Mobile learners are, well, mobile! This may seem like it is simplifying the issue, but consider individuals that are part of a national sales force that are never in an office. How do you communicate updates with them when they don’t always have access to wi-fi networks or convenient locations to set up their laptop? As mentioned in Jay’s post on mLearning trends, short, nugget-sized modules with something like video are the best candidates for this method of delivery. A sales force that travels and has the tools to receive the training “on the go” are great candidates for mLearning.

  • Sales staff in a retail store environment – This is another great opportunity for mLearning. These sales associates and managers are in a fast-paced environment and don’t always have the luxury of sitting down at a computer terminal to receive training or communication. If they are in a retail environment that uses mobile technology such as smartphones or tablets, why not provide them with these quick learning nuggets between customer interactions on their company -issued devices? This would allow them to remain on the sales floor and receive the training “on demand.”

  • Telecommuters – Research shows that more and more employers are allowing employees to work from a location other than the office. There are always technology challenges with this when trying to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or accessing a closed firewall from outside the office. Using a smartphone or tablet device to deliver the content via a downloadable application or via a web-enabled device would alleviate a lot of these firewall issues.

Obviously, there is a lot to consider when evaluating mLearning as an alternative delivery method for your organization. This can include tracking, communication with an internal Learning Management System (LMS) and other technology-related issues. However, before we tackle any of those, we need to first consider if mLearning is the right fit for our audiences.

Do you have any other ideas as to what types of learners would benefit from mLearning, or do you have any experience using mLearning in your organization? Feel free to share your experiences!


  1. As an instructional designer and a Navy reservist, I can tell you that this would be ideal for the military to take advantage of.

    However, there are so many logistical roadblocks right now that it doesn't make sense. Such as logging into the secure network from outside is an undaunting task, especially if you don't have a doctorate in computer science.

    I am waiting for the day that option becomes available, but by that time I will have probably already retired. :\

  2. There was a survey done at the CSU-Northridge campus where about 65% of students want and are requesting that their college classes be delivered via mLearning. I would say that a college student looks like an mLearner!

  3. Thanks for a great post!

    You are describing a lot of the work we do here at Allogy. We recently finished an app for training a sales team that takes them a on a virtual scavenger hunt, where each way point is a learning module. We've also worked with the government and military on similar projects. But i think the learners that stand to gain the most from mLearning are much like the folks were working with in Kenya. They are taking classes towards advanced degrees on mobile devices. It makes the courses much more affordable (a huge concern in developing markets).

    Here's a reference:


Thank you for your comments.