By Saurabh Pangarkar
M-Learning or Mobile Learning is a current buzzword for every organization. For many people, M-Learning is about making the training content accessible on mobile devices to cater to the learners’ needs on the go. But wait! Is that the complete definition? Not quite so. This article will talk about some incomplete and inaccurate design decisions that typically lead to failure of M-Learning projects. Let’s look at some of these reasons for failure and how they can be averted.
- No plan for learning experience:
Many people think of M-Learning just as an output from a different authoring tool. The content designed earlier for desktop learning is now rendered using mobile authoring tool to make them mobile ready. This thought process may still enable you to create trainings that your learners can access on the go, but it may not win you learner acceptance. Imagine the frustrating wait for the learners when trying to download those nice but heavy animations or struggling with multiple drag-n-drop questions on the touch screen. Every device is different and where you use it may be critical to plan the learner experience. Here are two examples, a Sales professional is about to meet a client and needs access to a new product training her company had developed several weeks ago. At this time, she needs quick access to some of the most important business needs that the new product meets. She keeps stabbing the Next button to wade through the course to reach those particular screens that contain the key questions to be asked. The second example is of a traveler who is at the airport waiting for his flight. There’s too much commotion and distraction and he struggles to watch through an entire animation sequence that others loved when they took the training within the four walls of their office. In both cases, a just-in-time (JIT), just-what-you-need learning nugget is needed. The Sales person and the traveler needed a simple reader with meaningful stats, infographics or scenarios that lend themselves into the most important parts of the training. There are other approaches too, we’ve just tried to highlight what would’ve worked better.
- No idea if the infrastructure supports mobility:
The first and the foremost part of your M-Learning strategy should start with this very important question, “Do we have the right infrastructure?” This includes several components but key among them is your Learning Management System. The LMS runs on something called “run-time environment” or “RTE”. The RTE could be a plugin or a web service that creates the technical interaction layer between the LMS and content. So far so good. In traditional scenarios when the content was being accessed from desktops and laptops the RTE either natively existed on these devices or could be installed separately. These were in the form or JRE aka Java Runtime Environment and Microsoft Runtime Environment, if the LMS was built on Microsoft technologies. However, most tablet devices will not allow you to install any third party plugins (remember Flash player is also a plugin and doesn’t run on iOS). Thankfully most LMS providers are ensuring that they are setup for mobility by leveraging other methods. Therefore, you should check with your LMS provider if this functionality is available for your LMS. Another aspect to consider is where your LMS resides and do learners have access to it when they are on the go. If your LMS is on your Intranet (LAN) your learners may not be able to access the content unless they have VPN installed on their devices. This scenario can be a lot more challenging from a technical architecture perspective. It will require working with your vendor-partner/internal developers/IT teams to assess your infrastructure requirements and if they impact the training architecture in any way. Some authoring tools, like Articulate Storyline, provide an option to access the content on mobile devices using the Articulate Mobile Player. The AMP is an app developed by Articulate and is freely available on Google Play and Apple App stores. However on the flip side, it should be noted that content accessed through the AMP will not be tracked on your LMS unless you have a Tin Can compliant LMS. Is this an acceptable situation?
- Not assessing whether mobile solution is right for the training need:
We’ve seen the era when businesses wanted to replace all classroom training with eLearning modules to leverage the benefits of new technology. The same is likely with businesses going overboard with the mobility bandwagon. What we need to consider is that some trainings do not lend themselves well on the go or need a more formal and dedicated environment to complete. If your training consists of exercises or more in depth reading that the learner needs to complete, it better be in the office than on the bus or train. In general, you need to ask yourself why a specific training should be made mobile ready. You should also learn more about the audience who would take the training and their preferences.
- Lack of a proper communication strategy:
Getting onboard with M-Learning may be exciting to some of your learner population who don’t always have the time to attend other forms of trainings. Having said that, the role of a proper communication strategy can’t really be ruled out. If learners aren’t aware of the availability of the content on their handheld devices, they wouldn’t ever know about the existence of such trainings. Creating posters and placing them in strategic locations would be of good help in building awareness. Promoting the use of BYOD aka Bring Your Own Device will also improve adoption.
- Lack of proper evaluation approaches:
Evaluation plays a big role in ensuring that your learning solutions meet your audience’s needs and in turn the business goals you are trying to accomplish. While some organizations do evaluate learning effectiveness to some levels, there is still lack of clear approach to measure M-learning effectiveness. As M-Learning is still in its nascent stage in most organizations, focused evaluation approach should be developed to measure M-Learning success. For example, tracking usability across devices, soliciting user feedback on strategies that enhance as well as mar the learning experience. Companies are implementing newer learning (read M-Learning) strategies either based on their research or the inputs they receive from creativity workshops. This is all fine and will continue until newer standards are born and existing mature. Evaluations will help you understand what your learners think and make necessary changes.
M-Learning is great way to build a world-class informed workforce. Our goal is to help you avoid the pitfalls by sharing real life experiences of some of the companies and vendors (Exult included) who were the earliest entrants in this area. Speaking of Exult, we are company that practices the development of M-Learning using custom tools like the open source Adapt Community framework, custom HTML 5 frameworks, custom mobile applications, as well as authoring tools like Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate. We help you maximize your investment on Learning Content Development through a highly experienced Learning Consultant team that analyzes your training and audience needs before the design strategy takes shape.