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Barriers to Implementing Mobile Learning

Oh, those fateful words. The ones that you wish you could call back and place deep in the confines of your brain, as far away from consciousness as possible:

“In my next blog I’ll discuss some of the challenges related to mobile learning development, and suggest some solutions.”

What a blithe, naïve promise. Woe is me!

OnlineColleges.net came to the rescue with their post The 10 Biggest Downsides to Mobile Learning. Although this article is directed at leveraging mobile learning in a school environment, some of the concerns they raise are transferable to the world of business. I’d like to point out a few of these:

3 Barriers to Implementing Mobile Learning

Cost.
Says OnlineCollegest.net:  “districts these days aren’t exactly enjoying the budgets needed to incorporate smartphones, MP3 players, laptops, and other mobile devices into the hands of every student.” Same thing for business: M-Learning lends itself better to corporate environments where mobile devices are fairly ubiquitous throughout the business. If not, mobile solutions might still be useful to target those who receive those devices, for example, managers who are issued smartphones or tablets as one of the perks of the job. Given that smartphones are becoming increasingly normative, you might be able to reach many of those in your target audience by developing apps for mobile. But this raises some other issues, discussed below.

Compatibility.
To my mind this is the single biggest impediment to developing workable mobile learning. As OnlineColleges.net puts it: “No universal platform between mobile gadgets exist[s], proving quite a challenge when it comes to synching projects…Try and confine mobile learning to spaces where compatibility problems will not emerge.”

Easier said than done. In most companies employees are using a panoply of devices. In my small office we are using Mac and PC laptops, iPhones, Androids, and Windows phones, with a couple of tablets thrown in for good measure. The challenge of creating device-agnostic training content has not fully been addressed, especially not for “the rest of us.” (i.e. those of us without a degree in I.T.). I recently tried to take a course on app development at a community college, which was canceled before it began, and so far hasn’t been returned to the curriculum. So the quest continues to find the right products and make them user-friendly enough to maintain cost-efficiency.

Obsolescence.
“Old people are right: technology does progress at a frequently dizzying rate, and keeping up with it often proves a most costly venture. Introducing the kidlets (or adults) to digital literacy projects might wind up futile, as a shiny new option might emerge mere months after they master one particular device. Rolling lo-fi often proves just as effective as the latest gadget trends, costing less and requiring fewer upgrades in the long run.”

This, too, is a big risk for business. Part of finding the sweet spot between creating engaging training, using new media, and containing costs is evaluating the solution (to the extent possible) in terms of life-cycle. When scoping an mLearning project it’s helpful to consider how long you expect the training to be used. Content that is meant to be “evergreen,” such as new hire training, might be costly to deliver in a mobile format, especially over time. Consider future spending on maintaining your training after launch.

But don’t take it from me. ASTD provided an article in their newsletter entitled Barriers to Mobile Learning. According to their study, the chart below displays several constraints that respondents considered the most important barriers to mobile learning adoption in their companies:

Barriers to Mobile Learning Chart

All of the above being said, I think the biggest barrier to implementing mobile learning is simply this: What kind of content is appropriate for mobile learning? Next time, I’ll suggest some types of content that might be delivered in a mobile format.

Share what you learned:
Claire joined Dashe & Thomson in 2011 after working as a training and documentation consultant for five years. She has developed and delivered training both nationally and internationally, for a range of industries and systems, from large-scale ERP implementations to specialized, in-house software applications.

6 Comments

  • Ara Ohanian

    September 25, 2012, 7:39 am

    Interesting article, and thanks for the ASTD research. While budget and integration concerns are a real and understandable barrier to mobile learning, the other side of the coin is that people are simply doing it for themselves anyway. Whether it’s young adults in college or employees in the workplace, people are naturally turning to their tablets and smart-phones both to learn and for performance support. In the corporate space we can provide infrastructure that helps people learn well with these devices and at college it may be less a matter of creating systems and content that can rapidly become obsolete and more a matter of pointing students to the abundant resources that already exist online.

  • Michelle

    September 26, 2012, 8:40 am

    I am not sure I agree that there are no standard formats for most/multiple devices. ePUB is one example. Due to the reflow of ePub textbooks, they can be read on most digital devices (even Kindle if a free online converter is used).

  • Claire

    September 28, 2012, 10:12 am

    @Ara Ohanian: You’re right – People are so resilient and do reach out to find the information they need. That can be both good and bad: good because, as you mention, the abundance of material “out there” can be leveraged; bad because some of that material may or may not be accurate, and from the educator’s point of view it may or may not be accurate. From a corporate perspective, it’s sometimes challenging for users to get what they need outside of a curated information repository. For example, if I’m trying to do something on our company’s new ERP system, I may have difficulties if I reach out to the software companies standard user documentation. It’s sometimes hard to find what you’re looking for, especially if the company has modified the application to suit their internal processes. Thanks for the comment!

    @ Michelle: I wasn’t thinking in terms of eBook publication, so thanks for bringing that up! That’s a huge facet of mLearning that I’ve overlooked. Operating as I do from a corporate perspective, ePUB is not the first thought I have when thinking of training development; however, it would be interesting to find ways to leverage tools like this to create content. I tend to get fixated on the tools we’ve used up until now: elearning applications, electronic performance support systems like Robohelp, Wikis, and so on. Thanks for bringing up a new idea!

  • Tiffany Crosby

    October 5, 2012, 8:46 am

    I still think there is a huge question that has to be answered and that’s whether people are truly learning in this do-it-yourself environment. From what I’ve observed, I would have to say that the results are very mixed. And, not every skill lends itself to either eLearning or mLearning. We have to stop thinking of these as exclusive solutions and recognize that a portfolio of learning across a variety of mediums is going to be the best option.

  • Claire

    October 5, 2012, 12:15 pm

    Hi Tiffany – thanks for the comment! I agree with you; the results of eLearning are very dependent on a variety of factors, including the learner’s motivation. I remember taking an eLearning course on company security and just trying to get through it as quickly as possible. I then promptly forgot all of the content and relied on common sense to get me through my tenure at the company.

    We at Dashe often work on large-scale software implementations, and our approach often is (at least on my projects) to use eLearning as a level-setting device before the learner arrives in the classroom.

    To your point, there are lots of subjects for which eLearning is probably not appropriate. Soft skills like sales or leadership come to mind – while you can teach principles via eLearning, I don’t think it would make a good substitute for practice with real live people.

  • Shalini Talluri

    March 25, 2013, 11:22 am

    Good report on Mobile Learning. Here is a presentation on Mobile Learning and its Scope in Organizational Training Program. This you may find helpful. Have a look on it.

    http://bit.ly/Jt7aIg

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