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The Ultimate Guide to Mobile eLearning

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“Mobile learning” is fast becoming another eLearning buzzword. It’s got its own esoteric terminology (“BYOD,” “Augmented learning,” “geo-aware”), its own abbreviations (“mlearning,” “ARGs”), and its own wildly inflated predictions about future usefulness. Ultimate guide mobile elearning

While mobile is undeniably important – 472 million smartphones shipped in 2012, beating out PCs for the first time ever – it’s hard to cut through the hype to get to the core of just what mobile learning is, let alone how, or whether, to pursue it within your own organization.

The following guide on mobile learning is the result of hours of research, discussions with experts, and sifting through a lot (a lot) of fluff on the subject. It is intended to be a clear, no-nonsense resource to break down mobile learning and then provide you with the best sources on the subject if you want to do a more in-depth investigation.

The guide is divided into sections on what mobile learning is, why/why not to do it, how to do it, what it will cost, and who has already done it so you can get an idea of what it actually looks like.

Part 1: What is mobile learning?

For training professionals in a corporate or non-profit environment, there are essentially two types of mobile learning and two different ways to deploy it.

The types:

  1. eLearning courses adapted to mobile platforms.
  2. Performance support content that provides training resources at the “point of need.”

Two ways to deploy it:

  1. Mobile optimized website: Mobile access to training resources, typically through a web-browser using HTML5.
  2. Native mobile app: Training courses and resources designed specifically for a mobile platform, often as an app (though sometimes as an ePub manual).

These are the big guys, and they encompass most of the other types of mobile learning, like videos vs. static lessons, as well as the more offbeat offerings like “augmented reality games” and “social learning” that are catching on in the hype-sphere. mlearning guide

Part 2: Why should (or shouldn’t) you implement mobile learning?

Why you should implement mobile learning at your organization:

  1. Instant Access to Material: Mobile learning gives your employees access to training resources at the “point of need” (especially if they work in the field, for instance, repairing machinery).
  2. Retain More Material: Mobile learning allows for easy, instant, repeatable use of training material to counteract the Forgetting Curve.
  3. Increase Total Quantity of Learning: Mobile learning lets employees learn anywhere, anytime (stuck in traffic, waiting for an airplane, 3am Tuesday after accidentally being served non-decaf coffee at dinner) so they will (in theory) learn more.

Why you should not implement mobile learning at your organization:

  1. It won’t get used: Maybe your employees aren’t technically savvy enough to navigate a mobile environment, maybe spotty 4G coverage means they can’t connect, maybe they don’t want to do training when they’re away from the office or maybe they don’t have time to.
  2. It will cost a lot: It can be expensive in both time and money to implement. Development across multiple devices adds to this cost, as does the purchase of mobile devices to support it, and the creation of mobile-exclusive content will take even more time and money.
  3. It will breach your security: It is easier to lose a mobile device with sensitive training information on it than it is to lose a laptop.

I left out “it won’t be effective,” because research shows that, if used, mobile learning increases learners’ application of the training material.

Part 3: How do you implement mobile learning?

If you’ve considered the above and think mobile is a good move for your organization, you now need to actually do it. Here’s how:

1. Create a mobile training strategy

A mobile training strategy has three parts:

  1. Audience
  2. Content
  3. Platform

Audience: You need to determine your audience for mobile learning content and whether they really need it. When creating your mobile training strategy, ask yourself: do we have a remote/mobile workforce that could benefit from point of need training? Do we have a technically savvy workforce that will actually use mobile training? Would our workforce benefit from performance support functionality that could help them retain training information better or access it more often, even if the workforce is not remote?

If you have a large enough organization, you should develop individual audience profiles just as you would develop customer profiles, to better understand what your target audience will need.

Content: For the content component of your strategy, decide between the two types of mobile learning described above (eLearning courses vs. performance support). Don’t do a combination of both for your first outing; pick one, or you’ll get overwhelmed and do neither of them well.

During this stage, you’ll also have to make decisions on what you want to achieve with content, how you plan to measure that, and what success actually looks like. For instance, Home Depot (profiled in Part 5) wanted to reduce the number of customers comparison shopping in the store and then purchasing from competitors, so they gave store associates iPad minis with data on prices/products and the ability to do real-time price matching in-the-aisle. So far they have seen a 400% return.

Platform: Your platform decision should be pretty straightforward, but it’s important nonetheless. Determine which platform would work best based on what your audience has access to and what type(s) of content you want to deliver. Do you want people to access the content via smartphones or tablets? iPhones or Androids? Keep in mind that the more platforms you need to support, the more costly development will be.

You also need to decide between delivery options to the platform(s) of your choice: native app or web app? A native app will limit your platform options but can provide a deeper experience, while a web app is accessible from many devices but optimized for none.

2. Create content/courses

After your grand strategy is complete, it’s time to buckle down to create content, or to convert your existing content to mobile.

At this early stage there are very few off-the-shelf products dedicated to mobile learning, so companies doing these initiatives are using custom development (see Part 5, below). Luckily there are authoring tools that make developing content for mobile easier.

Here are some of them:

Tools for Developing Web Apps

iUI: Bank of America built their mobile web app on the iUI framework. It supports both iOS and Android devices. It includes a JavaScript library, CSS, and images, as well as support for external themes and extensions.

jQT: A “Zepto/jQuery plugin for mobile web development on the iPhone, Android, iPod Touch, and other forward-thinking devices.” jQT includes themes, extensions, and snazzy animations.

iWebkit: Exclusive for iOS devices, iWebkit is a simple HTML editor that includes plenty of templates, as well as plugins for Drupal and WordPress.

Adobe Captivate 7: A well-known course-authoring tool, this program allows you to publish courses using HTML5 as web apps that are accessible through mobile browsers. Adobe Captivate 7 includes a library of HTML5 animations.

Claro: Another course authoring tool that allows you to publish courses online using mobile-compliant HTML5. Includes pre-made mobile themes, as well as the whole range of assessment functionality you would get in a desktop course.

Lectora Inspire: Another of the big course authoring tools, Lectora allows you to publish courses and content as HTML5 web apps accessible through mobile browsers. It also comes with pre-made mobile templates and themes.

Tools for Developing Native Apps

Articulate Storyline: A popular course authoring tool that can publish content as a native iOS app for iPads as well as a (more limited) web app through HTML5. Ideal for converting existing content to mobile.

GoMo Learning: An elearning course authoring tool that can publish either as an HTML5 web app, or as a native app to many of the mobile environments out there (Apple and Android smartphones and tablets, as well as select BlackBerry devices).

Phonegap: A development platform that allows you to build native apps for each major mobile platform (iOS, Android, Windows Phone etc.). The key draw is that you don’t need to develop seven different apps in each different, proprietary coding language, but instead can develop one app in HTML5, CSS and Javascript, and Phonegap can then “wrap” it so it works on all major mobile devices. You can also use Phonegap to develop web apps.

Rhodes by Motorola: Similar to Phonegap, Rhodes allows you to build “platform agnostic” native mobile apps that can take advantage of device capabilities like GPS, camera, etc.

Titanium: Much like Rhodes and Phonegap, this tool is a development environment to help you build native apps across devices and mobile OSs. Titanium can also create “hybrid” native and web apps using HTML5.

Upside2Go: Offers “hybrid” apps made up of HTML courses, as well as an asynchronous mode that can store learning content and tracking information on the phone and tablet.

3. Deploy content/courses through mobile

Deployment is fairly straightforward. For educational course content that’s purely intended to boost performance (as opposed to course content that you need to track and score), publish your web app to your website and make sure your trainees are aware of the URL. Likewise, if it’s a native app, submit it to one of the app stores, or use a service to distribute it yourself in-house.

If your course content requires you to track completion, scores, etc., you can deploy it through your LMS of choice. Many LMSs have their own native apps/web app functionality that will accept mobile course content, for example, Moodle and Blackboard. While an in-depth comparison of the best mobile LMSs is the subject for a future post, in the meantime, you can use Don McIntosh’s excellent list to find mobile-enabled LMSs (just Ctrl+F “mobile”).

A final consideration in deployment is testing to make sure your app is accessible and functional across a wide array of devices. Each platform and mobile OS has extensive guides they’ve built to show you how to do this.

Part 4: What does mobile training cost? 

Costs for creating mobile content vary widely.

Sarah Gilbert, a mobile consultant with meLearning Solutions, says, “It can cost anything from virtually nothing (using your existing tools if you have people that have the skills to do it), to a quarter of a million dollars or more.”

However, you can use some basic rules of thumb to estimate what it might cost you:

  • According to a Propelics whitepaper, one screen of a mobile enterprise app will take about one week to complete (assuming 1 FTE). So, for instance, an eight page app will take eight weeks to complete, including two weeks of prototyping/planning, four weeks of development, and two weeks of final testing and approvals. Multiply that time out by the hourly salary of your FTE and you have a rough estimate of development cost (not including license fees for development tools).
  • Developing for two different mobile OSs (e.g. iOS and Android) will cost you 160% more than just developing for one platform, estimates Deloitte.
  • Deployment will range anywhere from $100 for a developer license to a few hundred dollars per month per license for a mobile LMS module.
  • A middle of the road app can cost $8,000 to $50,000 to develop, not including content.

Remember to factor in every conceivable cost when planning your mobile training effort. For instance, Michelle Lentz, Senior Learning Technologist at Oracle, cautions, when converting existing content to mobile, “You really have to think about your graphics. We had this huge timeline that didn’t work on mobile phones, so the graphic had to be completely redone for the mobile site, and graphics cost money!”

Part 5: What are some examples of mobile learning?

Here are 3 examples of companies that have already successfully implemented some aspect of mobile training.

Dominoes

The pizza company has piloted mobile learning for its thousands of franchisees worldwide. Sarah Gilbert of meLearning Solutions says, “I saw a really cool implementation that they did at DevLearnCon last year…I was really impressed. A lot of people are doing different social and mobile platforms, but theirs was just very simple; they had a mobile LMS site for all of their different franchisees. They could go out and access those on any device; it was web responsive, and they could see POs, and they could take little mini modules that would show them different things.”

Oracle

Michelle Lentz, Oracle’s Senior Learning Technologist, describes the mobile training app she and her team built for new hires, “You want to give that new hire, especially in a company as big as Oracle, easy and quick access to their most commonly asked questions. In that case, performance support is a great use for mobile. We can instantly tell them where to learn more about their paycheck, or we can tell them how to set up their phone really fast, or we can direct them to our internal social network from the app (because that is actually a separate mobile app that they can download).” She noted that two unexpected obstacles her team ran into included the additional cost of redoing graphics to fit a mobile screen, and resistance to a game within the app that forced users to use landscape mode on their phones to play it.

Home Depot of Canada

Steven Beggs, Senior Manager of Learning Innovation, explains in this video how Home Depot is piloting a new iPad mini app for its store associates to use to answer frequently asked customer questions and do real-time, in the aisle, competitor price matching. Steven is hoping for at least a 400% return on this performance support mLearning application.

Bonus: Where can you learn more about mobile learning?

Not tired of mobile training just yet? Here are some of the best resources I found to learn even more:

Magazines

Associations

Conferences

  • mLearnCon: Put on by The eLearning Guild, this conference explores the intersection of mobile and eLearning/training.
  • Mobile Learning: An international conference focused on peer reviewed studies that advance mobile learning.

Blogs, etc.

What else should people know about mLearning? What other tools or resources have you found to be helpful? Add them in below!

Looking for Training software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Training software solutions.

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About the Author

JP Medved

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J.P. currently works as a Content Editor at Capterra, a privately held technology and online media company focused on bringing together buyers and sellers of business software. He is a graduate of Georgetown University where he founded The Georgetown Federalist. Follow him on Twitter at @rizzleJPizzle.

Comments

Extremely valuable article!

Thank you JP Medved for this article and Jordan Barrish for letting us know.

Guys, I highly encourage you to submit it at http://elearningtags.com/ and http://elearning-weekly.com/ to included at our free elearning weekly newsletter.

Again, than you for this amazing mLearning guide.

Christopher Pappas
Founder of the eLearning industry’s network
http://elearningindustry.com/bloggers/christopher-pappas

Chris, thank you! I’ve gone ahead and added this there as well.

Thanks, Chris! And thank you for sharing in the eLearning Weekly!

Best,
Jordan

[…] said, it’s daunting to figure out just how to do mobile eLearning right, and building mobile training apps is not necessarily the easiest thing in the […]

Hi JP, i like to use the photo you have at the begining on the artical into one of our elearning. Just wonder if i can get the copy rights for that photo. Or if it’s a stock photo where i can get?

BTW, thanks for the great info!

Salman

Hi Salman,

We purchased that photo on http://www.bigstockphoto.com/

If you’d like to use it I recommend going there to buy it.

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