What is Mobile Learning (mLearning)?

Mobile Learning, or mLearning, is a form of distance education that is instantly accessible by means of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. Learning content is presented to students through interactive and social platforms at their time and convenience.

The core idea behind m-Learning is that the learner has the ability to access material from virtually anywhere. This can be anything from learning at home, school, plane, café, or on the road. Below is a breakdown of various mLearning strategies, methods, investment tips and more.

4 Factors for a Solid Mobile Learning Strategy

The verdict is in: mLearning is the ideal way to capitalize on your learners’ time away from the classroom. Knowing that you want to implement a mobile learning strategy is one thing; figuring out your strategy for implementation is another thing entirely. By creating a loose outline of what you want to accomplish, it’s easier to identify the most effective methods. Use these four indicators of solid strategy to see your mobile learning come to life.

1. Overall mLearning Vision

Ask yourself two questions to begin defining your strategy: First, why does mLearning tie into your learning strategy and second, how can it? By reducing your brainstorming to these two simple denominators, you can decide whether or not mLearning works for your purposes and how best to deliver that information and content to your learners.

2. Mobile Devices and Platforms

Before you begin creating content, you’ll first need to strategize based upon the devices and platforms you’ll create content for. Obviously, you want as many learners as possible to be able to access the mobile learning curriculum, but adding more platforms will cost more money – something you’ll need to consider before proceeding.

3. Your Delivery Method is as Important as your Content

Mobile learning is only as effective as its delivery method. Whether it’s daily flash card reminders, games or a custom app, you’ll need to analyze budget, learner motivation and available devices to choose the most appropriate one. In many cases, a combination of delivery methods works best.

4. Content Development needs Proper Formatting

Finally, no strategy is complete without a basic outline of the content. From the topics you’ll cover to the way they’ll be presented to learners, content makes up the meat of your mLearning strategy. A good rule of thumb? Condense information down to the size of an index card. Conveniently, it’s the size of most smartphone screens.

3 Great Ways to mLearn

1. mLearning Gives Learners Freedom to Review

It’s no secret that one of the biggest benefits of mobile learning is the fact that your learner probably has their phone with them at all times. That also means that they have a learning tool in their pocket for continuous learning, which is ideal for information review. After all, a phone is about the size of an index card. If you can fit it on a smartphone screen, your learner can review information while checking their email, waiting for a plane or even kicking back before bed.

2. mLearning Gives the Unique Option of Constant Feedback

One way to motivate learners is to offer instant feedback on their progress. Without it, they’re liable to lose interest without a way to gauge progress and get that fuzzy feeling that comes from being right. With mLearning, you have the unique capacity to offer feedback through messaging, quizzes and even gameplay to keep learners glued to the subject matter and constantly checking progress.

3. mLearning Gives a Tailor Made Experience

No two learners are the same, something that’s immediately apparent in a more traditional class setting. But mobile learning applications allow you to gather up-to-the-minute feedback about your learners to tailor the ideal curriculum to their likes, dislikes, progress and level of learning. A quick quiz delivered via email or a web-based survey – with results sent to your device – can help you create a course that works with learners’ schedules, tastes and talents.

Grow Your mLearning Strategy Using a Decision Tree

If you’re realizing that you need an mLearning strategy – like, yesterday – you have a lot of decisions to make. Mobile learning is about much more than simply making your learning modules available on other devices: mLearning can be supplemental to existing efforts. Not sure where to start? Utilizing a decision tree can help you see the direction in which your mLearning strategy needs to grow. (Hint: It’s up.)

If you’re ready to get started with an mLearning project, tell us about it here

The mLearning Tree

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all mLearning strategy is the same, when in fact, your needs will determine your overall strategy. When looking over your options, consider what you really want your mLearning strategy to achieve. Which of the following goals are you trying to reach?

  • You want a scaled-down version of your current module so it would be viewable on mobile devices like smartphones and tablet. No changes are made to your existing efforts but for the size of screen on which it will be viewed, bandwidth used, etc.
  • You want a mobile version that will respond to whatever device your learner is using, so it’s full-size on a desktop, but mobile optimized for tablets. Your module will detect the type of device being used and automatically change automatically.
  • You want a mobile version of your module that adapts to your learners’ specifications, including language, geographical locations and even personal settings. The module adapts to the learner’s environment and reduces the need for learner toggling (and faster access to the right material at the right time).
  • You want a fully-optimized mobile module that supplements current efforts, but can also act as a standalone module that utilizes on-board tools like the microphone, video and even GPS features. It’s less a mobile version of the same course – it’s a completely different product entirely.
  • Some combination of the above.

Each goal constitutes a branch of the overall mobile strategy tree. By deciding what you want to get out of your mobile strategy, you can cultivate that branch with a more focused effort (and budget).

Branching Out

Your decision tree should have helped you decide what type of mobile learning strategy works best for your specific needs. As you branch out and focus your efforts on that particular strain of mLearning, you’ll be poised to create compelling, accessible content for your learners.

Whether you’ve decided to simply make your current module optimized for mobile access or you’re interested in building a standalone mobile module, principles of good mLearning design matter. Bite-size pieces of information, smaller screens, considering learner preferences and ensuring that buttons and other interactions are optimized for tablets and smartphone help you go from strategic seed to a mighty mobile pedigree.

Investment Strategy: mLearning on a Budget

Not every organization has a multi-million dollar budget to spend on learning and development. But just because you have a shoestring training budget doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the stuff that really matters. In fact, by getting rid of some of the dead weight you might be carrying, and switching to a leaner, meaner method of learning, you could actually save some money.

At first glance, mobile learning might seem like an expensive addition to your strategy, but when compared to the results, it’s a downright bargain. Consider allocating some funds to mLearning and the switch could pay you back big time.

mLearning Investing

The idea of developing custom apps and mobile learning might have you looking anxiously at your calculator, but when compared to traditional training, it’s pretty cheap. Consider this: A one-off course that requires learners to be in their seats and an instructor at the front of the class. While it might not require much of an initial investment, one-off training sessions cost your organization resources. From taking employees away from their workload to paying travel for an instructor, it’s a pricey way to train – and that’s not even taking poor retention into consideration.

While mobile learning may require investment to start, it could save your organization money in the long run. From better retention to a constant connection to resources and virtually zero travel time, the investment pays off.

Beyond Smartphones

Ericsson Mobile predicts that smartphone subscriptions will reach 5.6 billion by 2019, so if you’re not harnessing that growth, you’re missing out. Adding mLearning to your current training strategy means taking advantage of perhaps a learner’s most prized – if not most constant – possession: Their smartphone.

Think about it: If a learner already has a smartphone glued to his hand, it’s simply a case of making courses and modules available for that device. The sheer convenience of mLearning increases both access and finish rates, working as an ideal supplement to more traditional eLearning efforts.

Making modules available for mobile delivery means learners can access training from anywhere there’s a data or WiFi connection. Whether it’s a native app or simply making a mobile version of a current module, mLearning respects the fast-moving, ever-consuming nature of a smartphone user.

While smartphones are definitely the most common of mLearning devices, they’re not alone. Any device that allows a user to access learning on the go could be considered an implement for mLearning. Think about the possibilities for these mobile devices:

  • Tablets
  • Laptops
  • MP3 players
  • Smart watches
  • Wearable tech, such as Google Glass

Each of these mobile devices offers a unique opportunity for the instructional designer to build interactivity and engagement directly into the module. Whether it’s a touch-based feature, access to video clips or even mini flash cards, mLearning has you thinking outside the classroom.


mLearning in the NFL

In one of the more unlikely eLearning success stories, the Baltimore Ravens are actually leading the charge when it comes to mLearning in the NFL. The Ravens did away with their past training methods (huge binders and constant classes) and replaced staff materials with iPads. Those iPads were then loaded with everything from rosters to playback videos and even nutritional information for players.

So, with the relatively small startup cost of the actual hardware, the Ravens are able to create an integrated learning experience for every staff member, without all of the paper shuffling and time.

Affordable mLearning Implementation

You don’t need to be a professional football team to start using mLearning. In fact, it can be done on the cheap by taking a BYOD – Bring Your Own Device – approach. By creating apps that are compatible across several smartphone and tablet platforms, you can instruct employees to use their own devices to access fact cards, a resource library, reminders, videos and even games.

You can also cut costs by combining mLearning with other types of training. Blended learning, which uses several different methods, allows learners to customize the experience that’s right for them. Perhaps you keep the face-to-face class time, but learners are instructed to prep by watching a video on their phones. Or, you create an eLearning module that can be viewed on smartphones so learners can check it out anytime, anywhere.

While the idea of implementing mLearning can have you seeing dollar signs, it’s a surprisingly accessible method of eLearning. Use what you have and – if you’re willing to invest a little – your innovative approach to L&D can really pay off.

Please see our eLearning Resources section for more eLearning articles. Below are additional mLearning topics for you to peruse:

mLearning to Streamline Onboarding
How ILVT Can Sweeten mLearning
Why mLearning is the Future of Workplace Learning
mLearning Propels Gen X to the Top of their Careers
The Difference Between eLearning & mLearning
BYOD: Bring Your Own Device for mLearning
Informal mLearning: Case Studies & Applications
Our CEO Talks mLearning on OpenSesame.com