When I was thinking about how to group the mobile learning practices and experiences I wanted to share the title of a great, old western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (staring Clint Eastwood) immediately came to mind. I want to share with you best practices (The Good), poor practices (The Bad) and poor mobile instructional design choices (The Ugly).

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The Good

  • You’re here! The fact that you are reading this means you are at least considering a mobile learning roll out plan. Adopting a new, mobile learning platform with no plan as to how to effectively implement it is a sure path to failure that occurs far too often. So pat your self on the back you’ve made the first big step to adopting an effective mobile learning platform. You’ve recognizing that you need a plan and strategy to be successful. Many don’t – they tend to fail.
  • Work closely with you’re vendor partner and your IT department in order to fully understand technology capabilities so that you can present them to content providers and developers properly. Know the answer to each of these questions within your company:
    • Understand the corporate mobile platform in general
      • What Operating systems (Android, Apple, etc…) are supported?
      • What is the typical screen size?
      • What is the typical network band width?
      • What is the mobile data plan?
      • What LMS functionality is supported? (Bookmarking, assessments, etc…) and what is the granularity of SCORM data associated with it. ie. Does it just support Complete/Incomplete or can you pass assessment scores and even question level results?
    • Write and distribute a Mobile Learning technology Guidelines document. Send it to any (internal or external) instructional designers/developers that will be building mobile learning applications. Include all of the known specifics about your technology platform as well as preferred development tools and how best to configure them to work properly on your system.
  • Build excitement and increase awareness about the new capabilities. Roll out the new system with as much fan fare and exciting new content as you can. It’s important to show the value of the new system but the system is only as good as the content so be sure to have something great ready. It should not only show of the mobile technology but be something that is important for your learners to learn.

The Bad

  • Implementation without representation: Installing mobile technologies without truly understanding them and without building a strategy for success sounds like an obviously dumb thing to do but you would be surprised at how many time I’ve seen companies do it. For example; At one of my prior clients in the pharmaceutical industry upper management was considering moving their entire sales force to iPads. Part of the consideration was determining if the current LMS would work correctly with iPads. The head of training was excited to announce that in fact yes they had just recently installed a mobile capable LMS which the vendor has assured them is compatible with iPads. So the iPads were rolled out and short time after that the LMS help desk phones lit up. None of the sales reps could access their courses! The entire sales curriculum was in fact incompatible with iPads, nothing would launch! Furious the head of training called the LMS vendor to demand an explanation. The vendor  explained that while the LMS itself was indeed compatible with iPads the pharmaceutical company had elected to build their content using Flash which is not iPad compatible. In the end the company lost weeks of sales and the head of training lost her job. Now the company has a very robust mobile Learning platform who’s capabilities and limitations are fully documented, understood and well represented by the entire team.
  • Data doesn’t grow on trees: Creating quality mobile content often requires using very large multi-media files. If you learner’s mobile data plans are limited your implementation could become extremely expensive very, very quickly. For example; Another recent client spent a lot of time and money to ensure that their Mobile learning technology function correctly and they had some great, new, mobile courses for learners to try on day one. The learners loved it! The concepts were well presented and retained and everyone enjoyed the experience and declared it a great success. Unfortunately, however the courses were very large and while the designer took great care in balancing the load time across the programs so that they ran quickly no one considered paying for the data usage for downloading them. It turns out that the learners where all on very limited mobile data plans and when their phone bills came that month the company was in for a big surprise. Almost $500,000 in data usage expenses had been wracked up by the new mobile learning! The company quickly renegotiated their corporate data plan, fired the training manager and the following month the problem had been solved…

The Ugly

  • Many older eLearning programs created to run on a PC will function correctly on a mobile device but that doesn’t mean they should. Aesthetics are an important part of the learning experience. If the learner can’t read the text clearly or navigate the course easily their retention of the material will of course be minimal. Things like screen resolution, font size and functionality such as drag and drop, double clicks etc… are very important to consider on mobile devices, good instructional designers know this instinctively. However, in the reality of corporate world it’s often difficult to justify cost with aesthetics. Budgets are tight and manager don’t want to hear about fonts and graphics so it’s important to have examples ready to show when justification is required. Don’t try to explain the issue, show them or better yet have them try it themselves. I have found that once most managers fully understand the issue they will choose to deliver training that will not generate a lot of complaints and poor performance.

I hope this blog was helpful to you, if it was please share it. I believe that if you keep these things in mind while implementing your new mobile learning platform you’ll ride off into the sunset like a hero.

–Adam Marturana

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