mLearning: Trends in Mobile-based learning (and how it’s different)

eLearn Magazine has an interesting event overview of the mLearnCon 2014, eLearning Guild’s annual conference on mobile learning.

The main takeaway of the author is that mobile learning is here to stay, and it is different, so educators and technologists need to start thinking about it seriously.

First the bad news – regarding the products being demonstrated there:

despite continual efforts for improvement, much of what’s available as tools and shown as demos are still mobile eLearning (or courses on a mobile device) not real mLearning.

That’s not surprising. Lots of people are under the impression that mLearning is simply making eLearning courses available on the mobile in a format more suited for the small screen.

But, here is the good news:

[In the first keynote, Larry Irving,] began by pointing out the growth of mobile, particularly in the developing world where it serves as the major internet channel as opposed to the desktop. He then moved on to how initiatives were underway to bring unprecedented learning opportunities to disadvantaged groups around the world using mobile devices.


The second keynote of the conference was clearly the highlight for many. Karen McGrane presented a witty and compelling case for moving beyond blobs of content, and start talking about chunks of content. The distinction is important. Moving from content written for delivery to content written that is assembled differently depending on device, need, and more, is a much needed discussion. The separation of form from content has been well demonstrated, but hasn’t really been seen yet, particularly in eLearning. The argument here for structuring content, tagging with meta-data (a lovely quote from Twitter user @studip101 was “metadata is the new art direction”), and scaffolding the author experience was delivered with style and humor. Karen presented a message whose time has come.

Learning in small chunks, via mobile, is a fascinating idea that merits attention, as can be seen by the popularity of even simplistic tools like flashcard apps on mobile phones.

The products being demonstrated had more:

Some of the top examples included performance apps that not only augmented face-to-face learning with refreshers, but provided performance support as well. Another technically sophisticated system had physical cards for a learning game linked to a mobile app that leveraged them by extending the information via a scannable QR code on the back of the card.

But the broader themes emerging from the talks are of more interest:

Two themes that appeared several times, often linked together, were gamification and social learning. Apparently the casual gaming phenomena seen with mobile entertainment has opportunities for mLearning as well, though one would hope that intrinsic motivation opportunities would be exhausted before extrinsic motivation mechanisms are tried. Gamification of course is inherently social when competition is leveraged with leaderboards, or voting on good submissions. Social obviously holds more opportunities as well, connecting people for cooperation and collaboration, to the benefit of the organization.

And there is a third, futuristic theme that is also worth pondering:

One theme that recurred in several ways, including sessions and demos, was that of augmented reality. Layering information on the environment (typically visually) is an opportunity that now can be capitalized on. Sessions not only discussed the possibilities, but provided hands on experience using tools to make real solutions. While the processes are still somewhat effort intensive, real value is being seen.

With the rise of Google glass, smart watches, and Facebook’s Oculus Rift, augmented reality and virtual reality as the ultimate disruptions in education cannot be far behind.

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