Incredibly loud and extremely close: Mobile Learning is on the horizon

Adriann Haney | 01/24/2012

No development in the world of learning technologies can have been heralded quite so loudly for quite so long as mobile learning.

“So, what is the current state of mLearning? We’re just on the cusp of achieving the potential.” Not my words. The words of Dr Clark Quinn. In 2000.

But now? Well we’re just on the cusp of achieving the potential, of course! Actually, this time I think we are.

Why the long wait? Really, when you think about it with the luxury of hindsight, mobile learning was never really a compelling solution when the offer was of pitiful courses presented on the small, low resolution screens of mobile phones and Palm Pilots. Even modern iPhones and their ilk tout screens that’ll make you squint if you’'re faced with a 20 minute course on money laundering.

The iPad was, of course, the real game-changer. It was the obvious appeal of this tablet’s form factor, along with the far more natural touch UI, that made the dream of mobile learning seem, at last, appealing to users. However, there was a snag.

The iPad, as we all now know, resolutely refused to entertain Flash. And nearly all courses were (and are) published to Flash. HTML5 was quickly anointed the technology of choice for the iPad, and so the industry pointed its collective browsers at Amazon, snapped up every Dummies book on HTML5 on the virtual shelves, closed the door and started coding.

Now, almost two years after the launch of the iPad, robust HTML5 authoring tools are now emerging blinking into the light. Articulate Storyline, expected to be released early in the new year, is one such tool. Some of these tools (including Storyline) allow existing courses to be simply republished to HTML5, but that can be an unwise choice. A course developed to be navigated with a mouse will struggle to respond appropriately to a stubby finger prodding at the screen. So buttons must be made larger. And any mouse hovers, (what mouse?), must be discarded to suit the new environment. For effective mobile courses, the target device needs to be considered when the course is being designed; it certainly not simply a matter of publishing to HTML5.

So these new authoring tools will produce the best results on newly authored content, designed from the start with the mobile platform in mind. Better still, the LMS used to deliver the course to your learners will also be mobile friendly. Again, this requires not only a system that doesn'’t rely on Flash, but also a user interface developed for touch, not keyboard and mouse.

Only when all components are designed with the specific goal of delivering engaging learning experiences on mobile devices will the promise of mobile learning be fulfilled. And then your mLearning courses can truly be something to behold.