Musings on mobile learning

Just this morning I attended a thought-provoking webinar with Gary Woodill, author of Mobile Learning Edge.

Near the beginning of the session, Gary mentioned the Marshall McLuhan quote “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future,” and discussed how this is apropos for learning in general and mobile learning in particular. This really struck a chord with me. When I think about it, even in modern times we are always trying to fit the latest advances that come to learning into the box of what we already know. For instance, eLearning can too often be like the PowerPoint presentation we knew from classroom training, trying to recreate that classroom experience in an online environment instead of taking advantage of the capabilities of technology to create truly engaging and interactive experiences that relate to the learning material. Now we see the same happening as mobile learning gains more traction: looking in the rear-view mirror at eLearning and trying to repurpose it for a smaller and more portable delivery mechanism, instead of embracing the true potential at our fingertips.

Gary also talked about the changing definition of mobile learning over the last 10 years. I think that it’s not only the definition of mobile learning that is undergoing change, it’s also our deep-down understanding of learning itself. Yes, as modern people involved in adult learning, we understand that learning is not tied to a classroom, or even a desktop computer, but do we (and the C-levels in our organizations) truly accept that a valid learning event can take place in two minutes using Twitter – for example, to poll contacts for the best way to do solve a problem?

One of the examples Gary gave that really resonated for me, and shows the power we have with mobile learning, is the story of a doctor travelling in Africa who came across a teenager with a severely infected arm due to a hippopotamus bite. The doctor recognized the need for an amputation at the shoulder to give the teen a chance at survival, but he’d never performed such a surgery before. After unsuccessfully trying to reach help by phone, he ended up connecting to a colleague on vacation by text message.  The doctor learned to perform the operation through a series of text messages from his colleague, and was able to successfully amputate the limb. Now if that’s not a poignant example of the value of mobile learning and the need to embrace the tools and technology that can make it happen, I don’t know what is.

Read about Gary Woodill on his website here. I'm looking forward to reading his book!