Mobile Learning: The “people don’t want to take a 2-hour course on their phone” half-truth
In Chicago there is a 5:04pm express train that goes directly from the train station at Canal & Madison to the western suburbs about 30 miles away. It arrives at 5:38, which given the traffic in the Chicago-land area, seems like something out of the Jetsons. This train is highly coveted and at 5:01pm, the intersection of Canal & Madison is a dangerous place as hordes of briefcase toting commuters vie for a spot on that train.
Miss the 5:04 and you will be a) stuck on an hour long ride that seems to stop every 4 minutes, b) probably be late for dinner, c) likely to miss your child’s practice or game, and d) almost assuredly have to answer your “significant other.”
This post is dedicated to those “5:04 Warriors” who, while not wanting to finish a continuing education course on their phone, will do so in a heartbeat to make that train.
There is a difference between wanting to take a course and needing to take a course. The mobile device makes the need more accessible and convenient.
The end justifies the means
The “people don’t want to take a 2-hour course on their phone” statement, or something like this, circulates in many discussions around mLearning. When reading or discussing it, there is usually a nodding of heads and a “…yeah, who would want to be forced to do that!”
This truism is then followed by a list of alternative solutions, such as “chunk your content into mobile-sized pieces” and “have an instructional design that fits this new mobile reality.”
This statement is formed as a negative. It says what people don’t is the dictating concern. It leads down a number of dark alleys of how to avoid giving people what they don’t want instead of focusing on what they do desire.
As an analogy, it is like saying “…people don’t want to spend 11 hours on an airplane.” You say that and there will generally be nodding of heads while people conjure up an image of sitting on a runway, for hours, getting de-iced…again.
What’s obviously missing is stating what people DO want. Following the airplane analogy, what people DO want is to leave frigid cold, noise, and congestion for a beach on a lush tropical island. Oh, by the way, the flight time from New York to Maui is 11 hours.
Applying this to mLearning, people DO want access to the 2-hour course from wherever they want to be, from whatever device they have handy. In other words, don’t force me to take the 2-hour course on my phone. Instead, let me decide what parts I can/want to take on my desktop, on my tablet, or on my phone.
What we DO want: a choice
An observation: My 20-year-old son just read the entire Hunger Games trilogy – on his iPhone. I watched the 2-minute movie trailer on my phone – that was enough for me. When I asked him why he was reading it on his phone, he said, “It’s handy.”
The point is this…trying to determine what pieces of a course should be accessible and where they should be accessed is a losing proposition. What a 20-something may deem appropriate content for his phone is vastly different than what a 40-something does.
So how is following this “what people don’t want” philosophy holding back mLearning? For one, it introduces an entire level of complexity to instructional design. The reality is that many topics take more than 8 minutes to explain (the estimated size of a “chunk” of a course). How then does one divide up the learning into bite-sized pieces that might be accessed at completely different times? What about addressing learners that don’t have a mobile device? Do you build 1-hour course for everyone, then a chunked-up version for those with mobile devices? How does this get represented in a transcript or in the LMS?
Another lingering question still stands: What is the learning impact of taking an hour of content and dividing it into different pieces running in different platforms? Put another way, how will the learner receive/remember the context of the 8-minute mobile piece of an hour-long piece of content?
The answer, of course, is to focus on providing all of the content on every device, letting instructional designers to focus on a cohesive, sound design, be it a 15-minute refresher or a 2-hour module. This allows the learner to decide what content and how much content is right for them.
The answer to giving people what they want is found in the technology that enables cross-device access. This is where CourseAvenue comes in.