Any organization that is considering the possibility of introducing mobile learning (mLearning) in its training programs would have to make choice between a home brewed and an outsourced solution. The decision however is not simple or straight forward, as a number of challenges need to be addressed. Those are:
- Selection of appropriate mobile Apps for the purposes of the mLearning program.
- Methodology of mobilizing learning and teaching.
- Ways of connecting trainers and learners using mobile Apps
Let’s look at each of these challenges in a bit more detail.
1. Selection and/or development of appropriate mobile Apps.
Creating a mobile App needs certain technical expertise and not all organizations are capable of creating Apps. As such, this issue needs to be considered carefully. An organization could choose to select from one of the thousands of Apps available for free downloads through App Stores that cover all types of operating systems and almost all levels of education from primary to post graduate studies. Moreover, these apps support a wide range of subjects such as Academic Support Services, Arts, Business, Education, Humanities, Mathematics and Statistics, Science and Technology, Social Sciences and Workforce Development. Finding Apps that suit the purpose of a specific training program therefore may not prove to be a difficult task.
However, organizational needs often trump easy availability. Requirements such as content security, encrypted communications, branding, custom rules, hardware and software choice, and offline data access mean that the organization would need to get a custom mobile app developed from a contract developer for delivering the training program. An organization may decide to use existing mobile browsers as well. This would require conversion/development of the content to work on the mobile platform. Expert resources are required to manage/develop content for mobile devices and it would make sense to farm it out to contractors if internal resources are not available.
2. Methodology of mobilizing learning and teaching.
TThis area can be further subdivided into three sub areas as follows:
- Institutional Strategies
- Learning Methodologies
- Assessment and Evaluation
Here again a vast collection of resources is available online about implementing mobile learning strategies for schools, universities, and professional development. By learning how others are implementing, assessing, supporting, and developing mobile learning strategies, a trainer may be able to devise his own strategies easily. However, if you are unsure as to how mLearning fits within the overall organizational goals, it may be a good idea to bring in an external consultant who is an expert in developing learning and development strategies tailored to specific objectives.
In addition, it is not a good idea in general to convert your eLearning courses directly into mLearning courses on a 1:1 basis as we have seen here. A mLearning class usually should be created for topics that require quick answers, such as troubleshooting, customer support, installation, product pricing guidelines, etc. It makes no sense to convert an eLearning program on product theory or software algorithms into mLearning. If your organization does not have the expertise to convert your existing learning programs to mLearning, it would be better to hire an external vendor that specializes in developing and distributing mLearning programs.
Lastly, assessing and evaluating the performance of a learner going through a mLearning course is somewhat difficult due to environmental and structural issues. For example, how do you assess the performance of a technical support agent who has just signed into a quick 3 minute mLearning course in order to answer a specific customer query? The agent’s priority here is to get back to the customer and not to respond to quiz questions. Rather than using the generic assessment methods, the right approach here might be to see if the customer question was answered satisfactorily. This not only results in a better grade for the learner but is also an effective way of grading your mLearning class. You can find online resources on how to assess and evaluate a mobile learner, but it’s best to get expert consultants on board who can help create a specific assessment and evaluation strategy for your mLearning program.
3. Ways of connecting trainers and learners using mobile Apps.
Once the mobile App and instructional strategy is final, organizations need to focus on selecting a medium through which learners and trainers get connected with each other. Due to challenges of the mLearning environment, it is entirely possible that a trainer and a learner are completely disconnected and trainer gets no insights into the effectiveness of the training program or the performance of the learner. The cloud assumes massive importance here – a cloud based mLearning system that delivers instructional materials to the learner and offers an effective way of connecting trainers and learners is a must for a successful mLearning program.
Fortunately, such mLearning Management Systems (mLMS) are available on the market. However, as with all ready-made tools, they come with their own limitations which range from features and functionality to pricing. Some typical mLMS features are listed below:
- Online Course Creation and distribution to mobile devices
- Support for a wide variety of media formats – video, slides, audio clips, etc.
- Storage for supporting materials and offline access capabilities
- Secured discussion groups and communities
- Messaging channel integration – secure, instant, SMS, email, etc.
- Assessment and evaluation including surveys and quizzes
- Custom Branding - fitting a standard system in customer’s training program
- Training Scheduler
- Learner Training Profiles
- System Integration- Integrating with other customer systems such as CRM/SCM/HRMS
- Reporting and Analytics
- Notifications & Feedback
An organization must evaluate whether to purchase a ready-made mLMS as is or with modifications, or build one from scratch based on the needs of its trainers and its institutional strategies. Several open source mLMS are also available and can be modified to fit the training needs. Unless you have access to dedicated resources to develop, change and modify mLMS systems, it is strongly recommended that an outside company be brought in to execute these efforts.
To summarize, it can be said that considering the complexities of a mLearning system, an organization can attempt to do it themselves using a wide array of resources available on the web, only if they have necessary trained manpower and technical enterprise. Otherwise, it is much simpler and easier to contract out the development and execution of your mLearning program to an outside vendor.