Professor Ray Schroeder, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield, predicts that over the coming years, mobile learning will expand and evolve dramatically. Justin Ferriman, a Learning & Collaboration Consultant, reports in his blog ' LearnDash' that in the year 2013, 47% of organizations in US have started using mobile devices to support formal learning. This does not mean however, that a person, thinking of converting eLearning methodology to mobile learning, would find the conversion process necessarily smooth and without glitches.
In an eLearning environment, scores of eLearners, remain chained to their desktops or laptops working with LAN or at the most with WiFi network connections. The same learners, in case of a mLearning environment, could be travelling, shopping or even walking along a city street, offline or with limited data transmission capacities. This simply means that the eLearning web site, of so much importance to eLearners, has no relevance now to the m-learner.
The Hardware and OS challenge
Ever since the first smartphone devices made their appearance in 2007, a whole range of hardware options are now available to the users today, thus creating a new set of challenges. Standardization, interconnection, interfacing of different devices along with battery life, availability of enough memory on devices and the fact that not all smart devices allow external memory drives to be physically connected, have to be considered. Moreover, these devices use disparate operating systems such Android, iOS or Windows. The mLearning system should be designed to work efficiently with all of these devices and operating systems.
Media file formats
Lack of standardization in media file formats and preference of mobile devices for a few particular ones is one of the challenges that a mLearner would face. The mobile learning system must pre-define the file formats and ensure that learner's devices are compatible.
Learning Media, Delivery and Apps
"Podcasting" is a digital broadcasting medium consisting of an episodic series of audio, video, PDF, or ePub files, that can be downloaded and played on a personal portable media player for offline use.
Native mobile apps that deliver content to the learner are also available at no or little cost through app stores. Apps such as YouTube for videos, Soundcloud for audio and What'sapp or WeChat for instant messaging are few other options. Custom apps that play A/V files while integrating instant chat and provide access to additional resources can also be built at a cost. Additionally, mLearning can also be delivered using mobile browsers.
"Generation" of mobile network
For mLearners, the data would be carried to them in most cases by the mobile Telephone networks. The “Generation” of data signal (2G, 3G or 4G) and the bandwidth available seriously limit the data transmission speeds. The mLearning system would have to be designed to work with the weakest link.
mLearning Value Proposition
Organizations can reap several benefits such as improved productivity, demand driven knowledge delivery, reduction in cost of knowledge distribution and reduction in time to learn, by moving to mLearning. In addition, intangible benefits that improve employee morale, higher retention of knowledge, feelings of empowerment are immediately visible.
mLearning Content creation is dictated by the device's smaller screen size, learning environment and user's attention span. Converting all eLearning courses into mLearning programs on a 1:1 basis is a trap that should be avoided. Instead, think outside the box. For example, a game on a mobile device may get the point across more quickly than a traditional course.
It is recommended that the mLearning content should remain centered around product maintenance, repair, troubleshooting, compliance, safety, quick tips and support.
Course design and delivery
For an eLearning session, a 45 minute long session with possibility of instant interactive interruptions is normal. Such a session is of no relevance to mLearning. It should have small chunks of learning, no more than 10 minutes at most and follow an informative structure rather than an instructional one that focuses on training needs and accessibility to key concepts for later reference. More emphasis should be given to support rather than teaching and testing.
Unlike an eLearning environment, where the learner and the trainer can have an instant interactive session with each other, mLearners may not be in contact with the trainer simply because they may be off-line. Interactivity can only be achieved through slower media like instant messages using telephone connections.
Making resource materials available to the mLearners may not be so easy to achieve because of the above limitations. Resources such as e-books or supporting notes that can be downloaded for further reading at the learner's convenience should form an important part of an integrated mLearning system.
Decontrolled teaching environment
In mLearning, the trainers no longer remain in control of the teaching environment like traditional classrooms or eLearning web sites. Many learner behavioral challenges like cheating can arise due to reasons of distraction, disruption of personal life, etc. The mLearning system should take all possible steps to avoid such eventualities to the maximum extent.
Perhaps the most important question that needs to be answered by anyone planning to convert from eLearning to mLearning is - Are we ready for mLearning? A detailed analysis of the top 10 things mentioned above will be helpful in arriving at the right answer.