June 2013

“Mobile learning is in itself not enough”. Interview with Erik Gebers about mLearning

Mobile Learning is a training tool that is still little known by users. Erik Gebers , responsible for the mobile learning project within the CrossKnowledge group, talked to us about this new concept.

Can you remind us what mobile learning is?

Mlearning describes all kinds of training that are carried out on a mobile terminal. In practice, this mainly involves content that can be consulted on a mobile phone, but the use of other devices such as mp3 players, video players and tablet PCs, etc. also go under the mobile learning description.

The constraints of this type of device, mainly linked to its ergonomics, can be overcome through appropiate educational and content engineering designed for the mobile learning environment. Indeed, it is not simply because we can access Wikipedia from our mobile phones that we can make mobile learning significant and efficient.

Is this the new training tool of tomorrow?

No, mobile learning is rather an excellent opportunity to widen the available learning spaces. That is, it allows learners to continue their learning experience in any place and at any time, often in places that are little conducive to training. This kind of usage however means that learners ’concentration is highly variable and is often for very short periods of time. In this context, the needs and expectations of the learners are different from those that they show in respect of an e-learning course. Mobile learning is in itself not enough, but should be seen as an addition to a more complete program that is part of a learning dynamic.

Mobile learning allows initial elements and summarised content to be offered as well as highly interactive revision and practice areas that will add value to the training service offered by an e-learning training platform. A real challenge for mobile learning is to harmonise the mobile experience with the e-learning experience so that the learner is able to benefit from a coherent training course. In other words, ensuring that the learning experience is “natural”.

What type of content can be broadcast for mobile learning?

Mobile learning is often associated with technical constraints. However, if we consider the developments in networks and mobile terminals and if we add to that the pace of renewal of mobile phones, these are very quickly reduced. As an example, the smartphone segment experienced growth of nearly 100% in 2009 according to the latest survey ordered by AFOM.

What must not be lost sight of in embarking on mobile learning is its ergonomic particularities and its usage constraints.

  • Firstly the ergonomic particularities, since mobile devices offer a widely varying display size and a cumbersome method of entering text. But thanks to the widespread use of touch sensitive interfaces and integrated gyroscopes, these devices have succeeded in reintroducing hand movements into interactions with digital resources. Moreover, as they generally include the functions required for broadcasting and capturing audio and video streams, they are true workstations able to implement multimedia interactions (e.g. a learner’s feedback following a practical exercise could be sent to their tutor by video).
  • Secondly usage constraints, since, as we have already said, mobile learning is carried out in environments where the learner does not have maximum concentration. Their experience must be able to be for a short time or be interrupted several times without being penalised. The content must, as a result, be highly attractive and clearly divided up. Content of a quiz or video type will be preferred encouraging simple interaction that uses the touch sensitive interfaces. Not forgetting the ergonomic particularities mentioned in the previous point…

What is the initial feedback on the use of mobile learning?

We can cite the case of mobile learning implemented by Merrill Lynch on Blackberries whose early success is partly linked to the uniformity of the device pool used (the phones were provided by the company). In this pilot project that took place over a 2-month period with 3 packages of adapted content, 99% of the participants stated that the format was in line with the learning goals and 100% of the participants stated that they would do other classes on the same medium. Accenture has already carried out a pilot project on Blackberries that was received in a similar way.

More recently, SKEMA Business School’s Learning Lab, with whom we work, has successfully used Podcasts as part of its training in management and languages. And as we are speaking of podcasts, we can also give the example of iTunes University, Apple’s initiative to make education content available to its customers. The fact that Apple is getting into the mobile learning market says a great deal about its maturity.