So all of a sudden, mobile learning feels like a gold rush. New (rapid) tools are on the stocks from many of the established suppliers and some new ones, there’s rarely a brief from a major client that doesn’t mention mobile learning, and most of the large e-learning production houses have new senior staff in place with titles like “Head of Mobile Learning”, or “Mobile technology lead”. I was at Epic’s health-related event on Wednesday and, impressive as the health content was - and it was very good - my view is that mobile stole the show. Their GoMo authoring package looks like a pretty nifty way of getting your learning app up and about and I suspect it may make quite a splash.
But in general the e-learning industry has a poor record of dashing headlong after new fashions - led by technologists and salesmen – without considering learning or business benefits. I’m really hoping that we don’t drag mobile learning through another e-learning hype cycle although I fear we might. What concerns me is that once again we may be transferring the characteristics and methods of one medium, in this case “static” e-learning, to another: mobile learning. We’re probably also repeating the error of confusing information delivery, whether presented interactively or not, with learning.
Much of the discussion around mobile learning concerns “delivering information at the point of need”. This is great and can have real value. If I want to show a customer around a new car, or consult with a sick patient, or find out the financial needs of a new client, there’s a lot to remember and having information at my finger-tips can be crucial. But if that’s all we use mobile learning for, we’re missing a lot of the potential value creation. Andy Clark, in “Natural Born Cyborgs” talks about how, as humans, we’re innately well-suited to extending our cognitive functions through the use of tools; of integrating these tools into what we are, and how we think and act. This seems to me where mobile learning can really work. So rather than regarding mobile devices as means of delivering or accessing information, and of the information as a prompt for learning, we can think of these devices as extended parts of ourselves; as cognitive tools to help us think and behave differently. Academics like David Jonassen have written a lot about this kind of thing, but in the real world at least some of their recommendations have been constrained because the kinds of tools they talk about have often been tied down to static locations. This is no longer the case.
So what would mobile cognitive tools be like? They'd probably be open-ended, user-controlled, obviously highly interactive; possibly light on information - because learners/users will provider that - and loosely structured. They'll resemble the many tool-like apps we have on our smartphones and tablets, rather than mimic typical e-learning courses. Like our smartphone apps, they'll integrate into how we live and work, rather than remove us from our work in order to “learn”. And they'll probably be created by product designers, not instructional designers.