In past, I’ve discussed how many organizations are struggling to see where Mobile Learning or “mLearning” fits into an overall learning strategy. The answer from industry seems to be rolling out utilities that “convert” eLearning into mLearning. So now, modules published for an eLearning course are also ported out to the iPhone, iPad, Droid and other devices. Problem solved? No. Simply converting eLearning content to a mobile platform is not the solution. eLearning and mLearning take place in two drastically different contexts, which are often not compatible, regardless of what the file formats say. What is needed is an integrated approach between the two, where each delivers the right kind of content, based on its learning context and the learner expectation.


A Tale of Two Courses

eLearning into mLearningThe trend in “converting” eLearning into mLearning reminds me of the early days of web-based training. Back in the mid-90s, authoring tools like Macromedia Director and Authorware, which were great tools for producing CD-ROM-based courses, began offering “conversion utilities” to create web-based training. I still recall my first web-based training course, created in Authorware. It was horrible. The original course was great, obviously. Lots of multimedia, interactivity, a very engaging storyline. But it had no business being on the web.

At the time, most of us were accessing the web over very slow dial-up connections. Remember 14.4 KBps modems? So within this context, while the course did convert, it required a huge Authorware player download and suffered from numerous browser compatibility issues during playback. The results were not pretty, because the course was not designed to its context.

Yet, during this time, I did produce some successful web-based training courses. These were HTML-based, primarily simply text and graphics with some animation and lots of hypertexting. The course included less media, but downloaded very quickly, and supported the way people used the internet — fast access to scannable, hyper-linked content.

The key difference between these courses was that the more effective one was designed in context – not converted out of context.


The “Great Expectations”

Designing in context has been the key in traditional publishing, as well. Back in the 19th Century, the Romantics were writing novels to appeal to the tastes of their consumers, so 500 pages of highly descriptive passages were all the rage. Authors like Dicken, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Jane Austin, adapted their writing to these generational tastes. Today, while these novels have been converted to eReaders, the most popular cultural trends are coming from Flash fiction, short films, YouTube videos — all designed in context to high-bandwidth internet connections and a media-driven audience.

These shifts have also come to learning strategy. Anyone involved in training recognizes the generational shift in today’s learner. While a passive “teacher-centric” model may have worked well in the past, today’s learner wants interactive, “learner-centric” delivery. And these expectations are even greater for mLearning.


What We Talk About When We Talk About Context

e-Learning often occurs at the desktop or laptop, usually within a learner’s workspace. In most cases, this context lends itself to focused engagement and learner reflection. There is a greater willingness to invest longer periods of time, as long as there is incremental and meaningful interactivity to keep the learner engaged.

Now look at a highly successful mobile app like “Angry Birds.” It’s completely interactive, player focused and continually engaging.

So what happens when you “convert” a good eLearning course for mobile delivery? The user who recently finished a game of Angry Birds is curious about your new mLearning app, so they open it and find content that has been converted from an eLearning course. Obviously, most learners aren’t expecting “Angry Birds – the eLearning edition,” but there are different expectations. And those same instructional design features that resulted in learner reflection and engagement just don’t “play” on a mobile device. The context brings expectations, and these will not be met by most converted eLearning courses.

In the next few posts, I’ll offer some design suggestions and case studies to continue exploring how to create effective mLearning in the context of this new world.

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