The global rise of mobile devices and the increasing development of their capabilities were simply bound to affect the learning scene. Mobile learning, or mLearning, is gaining steam to become a significant addition to our current education market. But is mLearning nothing else than eLearning on mobile? Many people assume so, but they’re making a huge mistake.
Any mobile device user realizes that people don’t use mobile devices in the same ways as desktop or laptop computers. The kind of learning available to mobile learners is different than the learning one experiences while sitting at their workstation. Some industry experts like to point out that there’s a huge difference between mLearning and eLearning – just as between eLearning and traditional instructor-led training. These differences are key to course design elements like instruction, visuals and user experience. Here are 6 ways in which mLearning differs from eLearning to help you understand the difference between the two and make the most from this knowledge when designing your course.
- On-the-job performance support
It’s clear that the ubiquity of mLearning decreases the need for memorization and helps users to both capture and instantly share key information – especially important to on-the-job performance, where every second counts. Learners can access important information and make better informed decision in real-time, consequently improving their productivity. Communication is key to any decision-making process and by having all information on their mobile devices, learners can quickly access key data to support their performance at any given task. Just imagine a professional who arrives early at work and can use their mobile device to quickly check key notes and review the information about something related to their upcoming tasks, for instance a sales contact. This kind of just-in-time experience clearly shows the value of mLearning which, contrary to eLearning, assists learners also after the learning process has been completed.
- Introduction of user-generated content
Traditional eLearning programs are usually unidirectional. A learner sits by their computer and receives pre-programmed information as a part of the course. It’s not often that a learner can share their feedback with other learners. This inability to add value to the learning process affects the motivation and engagement of learners – especially those who thrive in collaborative learning environments.
mLearning is there to help because it adds a social dimension to learning. Mobile apps allow users to share their personal reflections and experiences, providing a platform for creating a meaningful connection among course users and enriching the process by helping them to learn from each other. Remember that mLearning can happen at any time and in any place, and that contextual value of learner information and feedback is what makes mLearning different from eLearning.
- Learning schedules and dynamics
A major difference between eLearning and mLearning is the time when learning takes place. eLearning is generally designed for a learner who will sit still at their computer and follow the course progress to learn a specific amount of material during each session. These learning modules are completed at different durations, but there’s always a specific time assigned to each task – the instruction is, after all, designed to run on a computer.
With mLearning, things are a little different. mLearning is by definition untethered and available at all times and in any place. The small screen sizes add to the generally short duration of individual learning sessions. It’s clear that learners don’t want to spend hours with their eyes glued to miniscule screens to complete a single learning objective. That’s why mobile learning works when learners need to acquire small pieces of information which they can absorb in short time intervals – for instance while waiting for their morning coffee or standing in a line at the supermarket.
- Contextual learning
Today we use mobile devices for many more tasks than talking and texting. Consumer expectations shaped the development of mobile devices which have more capabilities than ever. App designers realize that what impacts user requirements and needs is the context in which they use their devices. Imagine that you’re in a city you don’t know – naturally, you’ll need an app to help you find the best place to eat and relax.
The contextual value of learning available in mLearning is what renders it different from eLearning, where context needs to be established before a learning session to help learners recognize the importance of data which is about to be delivered. In mLearning, the context is already there, surrounding the user and engaging them further into the learning material. mLearning app designers can leverage the context of learners to help them in the learning process which is relevant to their current surroundings.
- Access to key information
Two key learning objectives of any eLearning course are comprehension and retention. Since learners will be applying this information later on, it’s key that they understand and remember the learning materials until they need them. With mLearning, this aspect is completely different. In fact, mLearning is more about making available the information right when it’s needed. Successful mLearning programs will focus on convenient access to information, not about memorization and knowledge retention. This is also why some topics may not be suitable for mLearning formats – especially those which are composed of extensive information and require a certain level of comprehension to deliver their key points.
- Differences in assessment methodology
As mentioned before, in eLearning there’s always a gap of time between when learning occurs and when it’s applied. In mLearning, the learning and practice happen at the same time. That’s why these two delivery methods involve completely different assessment methodology. Assessing an eLearning module is possible with a series of questions which aim to determine the success of the course on different levels of learning, with special focus on learner comprehension and knowledge retention.
Because of the short time span occurring between mobile learning and knowledge application, it’s far easier to assess the immediate impact of mLearning on the learner’s behavior and its consequences. Knowledge retention is not that important here, as long as learner behaviors change accordingly.
What makes mLearning different from other delivery channels?
The distinctive feature of mLearning is the fact that it can happen anytime, anywhere and in ways that are different than in a traditional classroom or eLearning course where single learners interact with computers. mLearning training programs often combine the best aspects of individual and group learning to deliver learning experiences that are powered by technological advantages of eLearning, but not limited to a single user. This is in fact what makes mLearning a unique learning environment.
All in all, eLearning and mLearning are both valuable – they’re simply appropriate in different situations. The capabilities and features of mobile devices allow us to provide learners with completely new forms of learning experiences. As long as we consider learner’s goals and understand their context, we’ll be able to choose the best delivery method to make the learning process both efficient and engaging.
Carol Wiliams works at a fruit shipping company from Florida. She combines her passion for learning and education with her love for sharing her insights through writing and lecturing.