by Randah McKinnie
The mLearnCon conference is over for 2011. I’m sitting in my electronic bubble at SFO, headphones playing Josh Radin, almost succeeding in drowning out a group of elementary school cricket players running wild on the other side of the gate.
This year’s mLearnCon conference, hosted by the eLearning Guild, and attended and delivered by both new and venerable elearning professionals, has left me in a buzzing yet reflective state. As after every eLearning conference I’ve attended, my cerebral factory is in fifth gear, cranking out widgets.
I attended the conference to both impart and collect information. The collecting part always wins; if that ever stops being the case then I’ve stopped learning or listening, both of which are key to staying relevant in the software world, so I’ll continue to do my best at both. My outcome from this year’s mLearnCon was a mix: what I thought I knew was reinforced, and best of all, new perspectives were born.
What was reinforced is that the eLearning Guild community is rich with people who are working hard to meet their training mandates, entice and engage a sometimes challenging or reluctant learning audience, and keep up with technology. As always, we need to do all this with diminishing budgets, small teams, and executives who don’t always ‘get’ the symbiotic relationship between learning and technology. eLearning professionals continue to be a passionate group, challenging old paradigms and pushing for what’s new to also be purposeful and relevant to our learners.
The new perspective I gained was that more than any medium shift since electronic learning began, learning on mobile devices changes the game. This new, personal, everywhere delivery medium is challenging long-held metaphors of learning and information delivery.
Things have changed even since last year’s first annual mLearnCon conference. A year ago questions of relevance pervaded. Will mobile learning catch on? Does mobile learning really apply to my organization? Should I choose just one or two devices and limit delivery to those alone? This year the questions are different. How do I meet the permeating demand for learning content on mobile devices? How will I ever keep up with this demand, and deliver content to the wealth of devices and mobile operating systems in the hands of my learners?
The great news is this: mobile learners are voracious. They love having information in their pocket, and they are begging for more. The challenge: they expect mobile offerings to be available in their hands right now.
At mLearn I was impressed to see that some companies are already meeting the demand. They’ve jumped into the fray, run limited pilots on limited device sets, developed content with custom tools, and they have been successful. They need a better way, though, because the pilot projects are over and the demand is even higher. While these trailblazers were making one or two small groups of users happy on their BlackBerry smartphones, thousands of others bought a new XOOM, an iPad, a Droid X, or a PlayBook (to name only a few), and those learners want in on the game.
My mLearnCon take-away as a product manager at Adobe is that the direction we are heading with eLearning is going to simplify some of these challenges, and accelerate the delivery of quality content to multiple screens. One of the biggest problems and outstanding questions continues to be delivering content to devices: content that will work, will look good, and will run across devices; content that will communicate with a secure server, as an extension of current learning management systems, and provide the data needed to track the mobile audience as well as keep track of desktop learners today. That content needs to be engaging and memorable, and it needs to work in the context of the learner. We are bringing learning to people who are on the go, on the move, in need of an update now, or who want to fill formerly ‘wasted’ moments with a purposeful activity. If I can spend my 5 minutes in line at Peet’s Coffee learning something I didn’t know about a topic relevant to me, I will keep coming back for more.
This is the work we have ahead of us as an eLearning community, and as a product group here at Adobe. Our research and development is heading in this direction, and I hope to see my cerebral widgets come to life in a tappable, swipe-able app one day soon. The Adobe eLearning development teams understand the pain that this exciting new learning modality brings to the creation and delivery of training and knowledge transfer, and we are working to make it simple to add mobile learning to your portfolio. When we do, the next Android, iOS, BlackBerry, or other device and OS update will not cause a challenge, or dictate an expensive new development project, but will be checked off as just one more screen in the ecosystem of your training programs.