The Two Major Factors When Designing M-learning Lessons

M-learning is poised to be the “next big thing” in higher education and in employee training.  While educators know what m-learning is, there is considerable confusion about how to use it effectively.  Three often overlooked factors when creating m-learning modules or lessons are technology, time, and the learning environment.

Smartphones and Tablets – Similar to classroom or e-learning delivery methods, the technology must be taken into account.  This goes beyond how educators use technology, but must focus on how and where learners will receive the learning modules.

The increasing use of smartphones and tablets allows learners to learn on-the-go, at a time that is convenient to them, and using the latest technology.

Unlike classroom delivery, educators have no control over where the learner will access the m-learning modules.  The learner could be sitting on a bus, waiting in a queue, or access the module during a commercial break while watching TV.  In today’s multi-tasking society, it is more likely than not that the learner will be somewhere other than sitting in a quiet study hall.

While the how and where of learners receiving learning modules may seem common sense, it is often overlooked in the actual instructional design process.

The smartphones and tables are small and portable.  Learning modules must accommodate the small screen size and compliment the technology.  This means that it must be aesthetically pleasing to the eye and not look out of place on screen.  The small screen size demands font and graphics are created specifically for m-learning and not merely a transfer of PowerPoint slides into an app.

Using smartphones and tablets are inherently fun for the user; therefore, the learning modules must also be engaging.  Educators must remember that every learning module is in direct competition with the temptation to use other app in addition to distractions in the learners’ environment.

This naturally leads us into instructional design based on technology.  It is important to remember than instructional design for m-learning is much different than any other type of delivery method.  Synchronous e-learning can be a simple PowerPoint slide deck delivered live to learners by an instructor.  Asynchronous e-learning may contain lecture notes, the slide deck, and links to supporting material.

Clearly e-learning principals cannot be successfully transferred to m-learning design.  In broad terms, m-learning should use videos, animated PowerPoint slide decks with voice-overs, or interactive components, such as quizzes or learning games.  Educators may argue that they currently use those in class and in e-learning, but there are two critical factors to using these in m-learning: Time and environment.

Time and Environment – As mentioned above, learners will mostly likely be multi-tasking, so it is imperative that each learning module be short.  Research has shown that adults have a learning attention span of somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes.  I believe that that has decreased in the past decade.  Adults demand immediate gratification.  For example, how long would you wait for this blog page to open?  Five seconds? 10 seconds?  Is 15 seconds too long?  Of the 86,400 seconds in a day, this seems miniscule, yet most of us won’t wait 15 seconds.

M-learning chunks must be short to retain the learners’ attention.  I’m a proponent of 5 minute learning modules because as educators we have to “get the point across” while competing with distractions.  If the bus arrives or the commercial break ends, can your m-learning module compete?  Mostly likely not.  But with a five minute learning module the student can easily start the module again or pick it up where he or she left off.

Creating a meaningful five minute learning module is challenging, especially when ideally it should include how the new information builds on previous information, why it is important, the actual new material, how the material can be applied, a recap of information, and then perhaps a quick quiz.

Of course this is much different in m-learning gaming, but nonetheless, the game should also build on previous knowledge, add new knowledge and have the learner apply this knowledge.  The quiz is, naturally, winning the gaming module.

In the world of higher education it is vital remember that m-learning module cannot be created merely by transferring e-learning or classroom material into m-learning modules.  Material must be restructured and each module must fit in to the overall instructional design plan.

In corporate training, it may be more important to have just-in-time learning modules ready.  Each module must be specific to a training, product or service issue.  The module must also clearly demonstrate the outcome of the application of the training.

Whether for higher education or corporate training, m-learning is a valuable tool that will be become increasingly prevalent in education.  Understanding how time and the learners’ environment play a key role in the success of m-learning will help instructional designer create effective learning modules.

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