M-learning

Everyone in the know in e-learning is banding around the m-learning buzzword as much as they are that phrase 2.0 (with anything chucked on at the beginning), and they’re not thinking about the best solution for both the learner and provider, nor are they thinking broadly enough. They are caught up in the latest fad and not thinking long term.

M-learning is used to talk about learning content delivered to mobile phones and handheld devices, hence the use of the ‘m’ in m-learning, gettit? It’s mobile, that’s the ‘m’. Yes very clever but wait just a moment. M-learning is a waste of money.


If you’re in a organisation delivering learning content to a large and disparate audience you’ll more than likely be delivering content to desktop PC’s. You may have some different versions for external learners and perhaps for your internal audience.

There could be the need for a thin or light version depending on how the learners are accessing and downloading the content, then what about different versions for those with different browsers, software that’s not present (like Flash for example).

Then, of course the organisation will have multiple forms of content to cover for legislation, particularly DDA. The list goes on, and as the list grows so does the need for multiple versions of the same content.

So why on earth would you want to create another strand of content versioning for mobile devices, or even create unique content just for certain mobile devices? This raises strong cost and time concerns, as well as the over complex task of managing all this content and the versioning of it within the chosen system.

The answer is simple and clear. You create one piece of content and then make it available on multiple platforms. Why would, or should the organisation build the same learning content multiple times for multiple platforms?

Welcome to device independence.

If the organisation is creating content for multiple browsers then the process is almost there already. It’s been made easier by the adoption of DDA. Fully DDA content is very close to that of WAP, why can’t the two be integrated together and used to deliver to all audiences who can’t receive the media rich version?

With cross browser coding and DDA the content should follow standard display rules, have alternatives for embedded objects that can’t be displayed, alternatives or text indicators for larger objects such as video, audio, etc. All that has to be done is the correct combination chosen for the device being used by the learner.

The media rich and WAP/DDA versions are essentially the same content, at a simple level the media rich version has additional formatting and embedded objects. This should simply follow the idea of Internet feeds (RSS and Atom), the content is delivered to the device and it decides how to display it locally, either through a local application or a frameset running in the browser. All embedded objects would be delivered as links to the actual content, and two links could be supplied to the different stylesheets, the media rich version and the media light. Just like how an email containing graphics is displayed in your mail reader.

This could also be handled at the Server level with an additional application over the content delivery system. By identifying the requirements of the client requesting the learning, either by an interactive question or by examining the browser string or registry settings, the correct content could be assembled Server side before delivery.

All in all the idea of creating a system to choose and assemble the correct content version at either the Server or client end is the most efficient and cost effective long term.

Otherwise the organisation faces repurposing the entire learning catalogue for DDA, then m-learning for devices in use now, then there’s the devices in the future, home PC’s, games consoles, etc. Pretty soon the organisation will be left with multiple versions of older content, and when it comes to maintenance of these, or the implementation of a new device, the cost is going to rocket.

So why not play to the fact that just about all of the devices in the marketplace currently cater for some form of web browser, browsers that are standard in their use of HTML, Flash, etc. Certainly every device in the future will have a browser built in, already I’ve seen my websites being viewed by Television browsers as well as mobile phones.

To cover all the possible devices the audience may have would just prove too vast for your organisation. Investing in all those different content versions would prove far too expensive. So the logical thing to do is to look to creating content that is device independent and that will not need re-versioning come the release of the latest trend.

Making your single source of content not reliant on the end user device is something that used to be a bit of a pipe dream, but not nowadays with current web browsers. They are designed for portability between devices, and indeed even portability of content between browsers. Opera, Firefox or Internet Explorer, all the websites I visit behave exactly the same on them all, barring a tiny few issues as the Opera and Internet Explorer I’m running are both the latest beta versions. When there are genuine problems you find these are due to the content provider, not the browser themselves. Opera and Internet Explorer, Opera especially, have different flavours for different devices too.

So we have a reliable, cross device, delivery and display mechanism. Combined with some additional software such as Flash and Quicktime, the idea of having a single source of content to cover all your devices doesn’t seem like such a pipedream after all.

I suggest you look at your learners devices and see what they really have. In the organisation I work for we have mobile phones that have both web browsers and MP3 players, do we use either? No. Yet we could be delivering announcements, broadcasts and learning through these mobile phones to the employee. There are also Blackberries, Palms and iPaqs galore, not to mention personal mobile phones too, all with browsers as standardised as the desktop PC and the ability to play audio files and even video.

Why then are we going with some new fad called m-learning and being pushed to create new sets of content, developed in a new style, and ready to sit on your LMS until the next fad appears, along with a nice repurposing budget.

Device independence.

2 comments on “M-learning”

  1. Patrick Reply

    Interesting piece, Richard!

    The business case device independence seems obvious, but perhaps m-learning sounds sexier and more attractive – and pod-learning even better – since end-users and their managers can picture this, and they have something to hang their vision on.

    I’d say the key is to design learning for device independence – and let our clients use it in the most interesting ways they can.

  2. Richard Reply

    I think it does Patrick, and the companies take advantage of that hype and sexiness to get the products sold.

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