Mobile in San Jose

Stuart Jones reports on his visit to mLearnCon 2012 in Silicon Valley

Recently my colleague Matt Wynn and I attended the mLearnConmobile learning conference in San Jose, California – the heart of Silicon Valley.

The main conference took place over three days and we were able to attend a number of seminars and key note speeches. In this post we will look at some of the highlights and key messages we took home.

Mobile is here

The overall theme was very much that mobile is here and it is not going away. Mobile penetration has now reach saturation levels in Western countries with a number of people owning multiple mobile devices and the rest of the world continues to rise exponentially.

Even more important is the number of people in countries that only access the internet via mobile devices – in Egypt this is 70%, India is 59% and South Africa is 57% of all internet users. To further support this, a recent BBC News article said that 42% of UK smartphone owners say their mobile device is the most important way in which they access the internet. This is also reflected by Facebook who also confirm more than 50% of all usage is now via mobile devices.

Learning is not eLearning on a phone

The first important thing to understand about mobile learning is there are two fairly different common form factors: smart phones and tablet PCs. The former is an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy style phone which fits into your pocket but typically has a fairly small screen, and the latter relates to the touch-screen slabs like the iPad and Galaxy Tab. The key difference in screen size can mean quite different navigation and interactions from each other and to their big screen PC cousin.

Mobile phones offer an opportunity to learn anytime, anywhere using “stolen moments” such as waiting in a queue and sitting on the tube. However, they usually have small screens so lots of detail on the page and fiddly interactions are not going to work. In addition, because the nature of smart phone use is short bursts of activity, a 30 minute course is not going to work as well as six mini modules of 5 minutes in length.

The always in your pocket nature of a mobile phone also lends itself very well to just in time performance support or knowledge. The ability to pull out your phone to settle a pub debate via Wikipedia or IMDB is a fun example of this but this can be leveraged in professional environments as well.

Tablet devices are more forgiving than phones for converting traditional eLearning courses but even so care should be taken when delivering learning. Common interactions on the PC will simply not work as expected on touch devices such as rollovers. In addition you need to take hand positioning for navigation into consideration – putting buttons in the top half of the screen will make the bottom of the screen obscured by the user’s hands.
We now have evidence that mobile works

Mobile learning has long been touted as the next big thing in the eLearning world. Vendors have been showcasing tools for quite long time but it is now clear that a number of organisations have been successfully deploying mobile learning and demand is growing.
There are some interesting reasons for why mobile learning is starting to be quite successful.

 A lot of mobile learning is being delivered via people’s own devices. This creates a much more personal relationship with the learning and is one of the reasons explained for increased popularity amongst learners.

Another key lesson is the completion rates of mLearning has been higher than typical traditional eLearning. This has also been attributed to the fact the learning is available anytime, anywhere which is particularly important for busy managers and executives.

Video also works surprisingly well on mobile phones when done in small bite-size chunks.

What next

There is a growing momentum in the software industry that we should start designing for mobile first and then adapting for PCs rather than the other way round. This sentiment was echoed at the conference by number of speakers who recommended techniques such as responsive design to make content adapt for different devices. Ensure content is kept small and bite size and take any limitations of mobile devices into consideration when designing learning.

Over time there is an expectation that a growing percentage of learning will be consumed on mobile devices and this will grow in importance. In the meantime being able to support mobile and PC learning across different devices will lead to the greatest coverage of users