For the past few years, mobile learning has been the “next big thing,” but no more. As Rob Caul wrote recently for TrainingZone, “With smartphones and tablets more affordable and accessible than ever, mobile learning is fast establishing itself as a mainstream learning technology.” Mobile learning represents a new phase in modern workforce education because it represents an ideal meeting point between providing employee training and achieving real business value. MOOCs, which can provide a technological and learning framework for this intersection, are just starting to go mobile. But with the general shift toward mobile devices and more organizations moving their training programs online, mobile will be the next big phase in MOOC development.
Why mobile learning?
The biggest reason for companies to switch to mobile learning for at least part of their training programs is because that’s where the learners are. The current shift from laptops to mobile devices is palpable: in 2013 U.S. adults spent more “media time” on their phones and tablets than they did on their computers, and by next year sales of tablets are expected to overtake sales of computers and laptops.
Here are some mobile learning facts and stats that, according to SHIFT’s eLearning Blog, “will make you rethink your training strategy”:
- 91% of U.S. adults own a cellphone, and 63% of cellphone owners use their phones to go online.
- In a survey of 500 L&D staff, 70% of respondents are either using or planning to use mobile learning.
- Mobile users are more likely to engage in collaboration and peer learning, and more likely to use online learning resources.
- Mobile learning leads to increased motivation to learn. This trend is particularly true for Millennials, who now make up more than one-third of the workforce.
As a flexible, just-in-time form of training, mobile learning is also uniquely able to address business challenges in today’s rapidly changing environment. First, mobile learning is flexible—it can include everything from a quick training video or performance aid relevant to a specific situation to a searchable knowledge base, to a forum where users can connect with one another to ask and answer questions or even to collaborate on a project. Second, mobile learning is just-in-time—learners can access what they need, when they need it, so the learning content and experience are immediately applicable to the job at hand.
Mobile learning and MOOCs
Currently, most MOOCs are not designed for mobile, but they are starting to have some mobile elements. Both Coursera and Udemy have mobile apps that can be used for certain aspects of the courses, like browsing course titles, enrolling, and downloading content for later consumption. Many learning management systems now support more mobile functions, and some are starting to take a mobile-first perspective.
The key to designing a MOOC for mobile learning is to ensure that all of the applications and resources being used are mobile friendly and accessible via different types of devices (i.e., they are responsive). Here are some strategies for mobile-friendly MOOC design:
- Don’t use large files and huge graphics. Learning should be broken up into even smaller chunks than for a computer-based MOOC, both for efficiency and to save bandwidth.
- Don’t use Flash ever, or other multimedia or interactive media when text and images will do. Your learners will likely be using their own mobile devices, and they may not all have the most recent iPhone. Choose your resources carefully so that they will be accessible even for learners whose phones may be a couple of years old.
- Use mobile-friendly social media tools. Virtual classrooms are not always mobile friendly, and large pages, including wikis, can be frustrating to navigate on a small screen.
- Provide a short training on how to use the mobile resources in the course, and test your course thoroughly before launching.
Challenges to mobile MOOCs
Challenges to mobile learning MOOCs exist on both sides of the equation: learners and companies. On the learner side, a 2013 Educause survey on undergraduate students and information technology found that the top four barriers to using smartphones as learning tools were:
- Inadequate battery life
- Slow network connections
- Device usability issues
- The cost of data service
On the company side, a 2013 report by Towards Maturity found that the top four barriers to implementing mobile learning were:
- Availability and diversity of devices
- Lack of management buy-in or a clear strategy
- L&D reluctance
Clearly, the technology issues will need to be dealt with, both for learners and for companies, but in organizations there are also some attitudes that are getting in the way. This reluctance will likely become less of an issue as mobile devices continue to make their way into our lives and our work, and especially as more Millennials enter the workforce (and L&D departments).
Of all of the trends we have investigated so far, mobile MOOCs are probably the furthest from becoming a widespread reality. But, as with everything else in training and technology today, the future will be here faster than you think. If Rob Caul is right about 2014 being the year of mobile learning, perhaps 2015 will be the breakout year for mobile MOOCs.
Copyright 2014 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.
Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– offers 25+ years of training and talent management helping executives, business owners, and top performing sales executives in taking the leap from the ordinary to extraordinary. Being a big believer in Technology Enabled Learning, Bryant seeks to create awareness, motivate adoption and engage organizations and people in the changing business of education. Bryant is a entrepreneur, trainer, and strategic training adviser for many organizations. Bryant’s business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering the individual.
Learn more about Bryant at LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/bryantnielson