Is this another fine mess we’ve got ourselves into?

Posted on Jun 1, 2012

Laurel & Hardy

It’s probably worth me expanding upon the deliberately vague title of this blog post before I go any further.

By ‘this‘ I mean ‘mobile’ learning.

By ‘another‘ I mean as we did all those years ago in the early days of ‘e’ learning. (admittedly I have no personal experience of those days, only anecdotal examples)

By ‘we’ve‘ I mean us in the L&D community. Both within the vendor community and the client community.

So what do I mean by all this?

During a recent meeting with some colleagues, I reflected upon the conversations that I have had with potential clients over the past 6 months with regards to the use of mobile technologies. With a very small exception (probably 2-3 out of approx 60 conversations) those conversations have revolved around the creation of ‘mobile learning’, which actually translated as the “shrinking down of desktop content to allow it to be viewed and interacted with on a mobile device“.

Very little, if any mention, of creating performance support resources…

No consideration of using the devices native functions I.e. camera, keyboard, GPS, voice recorder, to enhance the experience….

A heavy focus on the learner ‘learning‘ something from it, as opposed to the worker ‘enhancing‘ their performance from it (Hell, who needs to learn the London Underground routes if you’ve got the app in your pocket?)

And this is where I think we have got it wrong again!

We have used the blanket phrase ‘m-learning’ to describe the use of mobile devices to facilitate learning. Now to *us*, we acknowledge (at least I hope you do) that this can include using the device to (amongst other things)

  • Consume traditional self paced click next eLearning (yes of course there is a place for this)
  • Listen to podcasts
  • Take pictures of things to help us remember something in the future
  • Engage in online dialogue conversations with others
  • Record audio
  • Determine your proximity
  • The creation of User Generated Content for others
  • Call for help!

Of course, with some degree of thought and design the above functions can (and probably should) be incorporated into many (I may even dare to say ‘all’) learning programmes, but in my opinion (based as I said on my conversations with many people on this subject) this simply isn’t the case.


Well I think the fact that we have used the term ‘m-learning’ which is not a million miles away from the term ‘e-learning’ (which let’s be honest, most people see as being click-next, self-paced stuff) hasn’t helped matters, I think we’ve inadvertently given the impression that it’s traditional eLearning on a mobile device has a part to play in it.

I also think that the recent hysteria over some eLearning authoring products and their ‘mobile readiness’ (which translates as traditional eLearning but outputted to HTML5 or a native app) hasn’t helped matters either

Ooooo look! I can recreate my traditional self-paced, click-next stuff to work on a mobile device – I must be creating m-learning

Well technically I have to concede

Yes. Yes, you are

but I feel that unless we start to make more noise about the fact that m-learning is more than shrinking down content and actually the ‘learning‘ part of it could well be redundant, we will miss another opportunity to really harness these technologies just as I guess we have done in the past……

Image source


  1. Too many of my client conversations go the same way but I’m optimistic that over time we can begin to get forward thinking clients to recognise the real benefits of facilitation of learning on mobile devices. Is that m-learning? Probably not as we currently recognise it.

  2. Hi designedlearnin Thanks for dropping by and commenting John. I agree that ‘over time’ the utilisation of mobile devices will evolve and mature beyond ‘shrunken’ desktop learning – HOWEVER – my fear is that in that ensuing period ‘m’learning (shudder) will become synonymous with scaled down desktop, traditional, click-next learning.
    I think you only have to look at the amount of people who view ‘e’learning (another shudder) as ‘*just* self-paced, click-next stuff and fail to recognise aaaaaaaaaaaall the other learning technologies to see that mlearning is highly likely to be associated with a miniature version of that. All the hoo-haa over Storyline and the new Adobe release only seem to be perpetuating that.

    •  @CraigTaylor74 Craig…yes I largely agree with you but of course Storyline doesn’t actually support proper mobile devices (I mean smartphones) rather than tablets). Love the term ‘shrunken desktop learning’ by the way…it nicely sums up the problem!

  3. Craig, You’re right! We’ve got ourselves in another fine mess.
    I would prefer calling it ‘mobile everything’ but that might get lost as well or be equally misunderstood.
    ‘Over time’ it will settle down and L&D staff will get a better sense of where and how to use mobile ‘learning’


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