20120620-125447.jpgI’m sitting in a not-so-quiet corner at mLearnCon 2012, reflecting on what I’ve seen and heard. As many of you know, I’m passionate about using online social media to support learning where it’s appropriate. I also use multiple mobile devices to connect to my knowledge and learning networks, so I am most definitely a mobile learner, but I’m not a mobile learning “expert.” From this perspective, I noted some similarities and differences between mobile learning and social learning. Perhaps these are obvious, but sometimes even the obvious needs to be explored.

Some differences

Online social media are communication channels that enable social interaction. They facilitate sharing ideas, discussing thoughts, and tap deeper into existing knowledge than learning as an individual. On one level, social interaction may be used as a strategy by the designer of a formal program to stimulate learning, but often the collaborative product of the social group is significantly greater and more meaningful than the sum of the individual contributions. Online social media are also important elements of strategy used by individuals in their informal pursuit of knowledge.

Mobile devices aren’t channels at all in this sense. As Clark Quinn said during a panel discussion on Tuesday, “mobile” is effectively a platform. The devices provide access to media of many types, social and non-social. They’re also good at delivering prepackaged content and formatting/displaying fetched content. But mobile devices are also good content creation (camera, video camera, microphone, geotagging, and more).

In my opinion, online social media are not meant to deliver content. While content may be delivered, it’s more commonly a link to a Web page or embedded from a content repository like YouTube, Vimeo, SlideShare, etc. In the context of a formal social learning activity, that content should always directly support interaction among the group. It’s not meant to be an individual activity such as an elearning course. Without a social context, content is much better delivered through more accessible means: the Web or the LMS.

Some similarities

Like social media used for formal learning, it seems mobile learning is also often seen as a hammer in search of nails. It’s a capability, something people can do and are doing, so many others want to jump on the bandwagon. At least some of that seems misguided. I repeatedly heard warnings that people should not “just” put existing courses onto mobile devices or even build new mobile courses just because they can. That reminds me of how I see people using social media without thinking through how any chosen medium supports planned engagement tactics.

I also heard from several people (Neil Lasher, Clark Quinn, Chad Udell, David Metcalf, and others) that “mobile” can do several things that social media can also do: enable social learning (by accessing social media while mobile), provide performance support, and interact with learners over space and time for an effective and more lasting experience. For any formal use (loosely defined as deliberately organized for the benefit of a learner by other than the learner), the key is to think about the engagement tactics that best fit the devices and needs of the learner.

Flexible design and delivery

In the end, I see “mobile learning” falling loosely into two categories. One takes advantage of the mobile device as a content delivery platform where instructional content is accessed (downloaded on demand or pre-installed), formatted, and displayed so the learner can interact with it. The other is much less clearly defined, integrating any number of activities that connect people through their devices with expertise, information, and communities wherever they are.

An open-ended approach to learning design, integrating mobile activities, is an exciting area for me. Like using social media, a mobile program can be created with tremendous flexibility and short design cycle, allowing it to be effective for the learner and also responsive to changes as needed in the conduct of the program. I heard many good ideas here and look forward to hearing many more in the months ahead. Drop me a line, share via Twitter, move the discussion forward.

Thanks for reading! @tomspiglanin

mLearnCon resources and photos I tweeted:

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