Five Ways to Get Started in Mobile Learning

If you ask me if mobile learning has arrived, and you ask me this week, I’ll say “yes.” Though, I am jaded because last week I popped in on the ELearning Guild’s Mobile Learning Conference in San Jose, and have been following the conference back channel with great intent — so mobile learning is on the top of my mind. My organization is dipping its toe in the water of mobile learning, and we are experimenting with a few development tools to figure out how to design for mlearning. From what I can gather so far, there are a few things to be aware of when undertaking the project of designing mobile learning objects.

E-learning is not M-learning

For starters, from what I have learned so far, leading experts are telling us not to just conference our existing elearning content to mlearning. Learning professionals have been using this model over the past decade to convert classroom content to elearning. However, in the case of mobile, an instructional designer must think differently; performance support, communications, product updates, refreshers, and quick bites of information that mobile employees need on the go.

The Best Way to Start is to Start

It is easy and difficult to get started. The easy part is that most mobile learning vendors have free trials. So you can just sign up and start creating a mobile learning module. In at least two cases, the free trial allows you to keep the files you create, so you can create a learning object and put it on your servers and use it any way you like (demo, part of business case, pilot, etc). The difficult part is actually learning how to design something useful for a mobile environment.

Ready, Fire, Aim!

Don’t start by doing too much analysis. Sign up for at least one free trial, and get some stuff out there and see how it looks. In a way, I am suggesting that you purposefully make mistakes, fail fast, learn from those mistakes, and then correct them. It is said that we learn from our mistakes, so why not plan to make mistakes early. Don’t worry, you will design a detailed plan, but after you have made some mistakes and learned some important lessons (You should see screen shots of our early mlearning designs. Not pretty. Lesson learned).

Read Up

While you are trying to figure out what and how to design for mobile learning, read up on how best to do it. Both the ELearning Guild and ASTD have reports on mobile learning now. And there are two very good books (The Mobile Learning Edge and Designing mLearning) on the subject. Also, call some vendors, get demos, and learn about the features of their products work. You do not want to miss this collection of resources from #mlearncon, either. In other words, once you have begun your preliminary designs, it is time to start your analysis.

Design Last

I know it seems counter intuitive, but after you have tried to create your first m-learning object, made it look terrible, and wondered how it could ever look good or be usefiul, then take the time to design really well. Your design plan will be more effective, if you have some experience making mistakes under your belt. Once you get a good design in place, developing the content for mobile learning becomes easier. And by early 2012, you will be servcing  your mobile audience with gripping content while everyone else is waiting to get to the office before they can take their training.

Attending training at the office is so 2009.

(Image courtesy of Flickr user Andi SidwellCC 2.0)

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Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.