One of the most frequent themes that comes through in discussions of mobile learning in the conference sessions and workshops that I do is a debate about whether “performance support” can be a form of mobile learning. People who argue that it is not seem to think that learning is something that only happens as a result of instruction or study, and not something that can happen on the job. But, learning is something that takes place at any
time and in any location where a person has discovered something new, no matter what the source or circumstances. Therefore we need to consider performance support that is delivered through mobile devices as a form of mobile learning.
The vision of mobile learning being used as a form of performance support goes back to some of the first publications on mobile learning. Diane Gayeski, in her 2003 book Learning Unplugged: Using Mobile Technologies for Organizational Training and Performance Improvement, certainly advances the case for mobile learning as performance support. There are a number of ways that performance support can be delivered using mobile devices, but the two most common approaches are the provision of “job aids,” and the availability of mentors via mobile devices.
Making job aids available mobile phones and tablets – Given that most of us have a mobile phone, and more and more of us have a tablet computer,
it is not surprising that some analysts see giving just-in-time assistance to employees as they need it as something that will be commonly offered in the near future. Job aids are especially appropriate for a mobile workforce. On the road there is often a need to find out a specific answer to a question, look up a set of directions, or to refresh one’s memory about a certain process. Sometimes, in emergency situations, we are called upon to carry out procedures for which we have no training. A mobile device can be very useful if it contains a set of procedures that we need or if we can contact an expert at another location who can then guide us through the emergency situation. Already there are examples of this in the medical field where a doctor who was not trained in a particular procedure was able to perform it by receiving text messages from a colleague who was familiar with the operation.
Mentoring, Support and Cognitive Apprenticeships – As we move away from the classroom model of training, learners often need mentoring,
psychological support and direction in terms of what they need to know in the workplace. Instead of being removed from the real job situation where knowledge is needed, mobile communications allow expertise to be available to the learner as they are performing a task. There are many examples of the use of mobile communications for just-in-time performance support and coaching, especially in the field of healthcare and medicine. The United Nations Foundation reports that the National Leadership and Innovation Agency for Healthcare introduced a radical approach to mentoring using social networking with guided learning principles. The University of Southampton’s MPLAT Project supported healthcare students in clinical placements with a mobile learning toolkit that included practice-based learning, mentoring and assessment using mobile devices.
In New Zealand, Chan and Ford (PDF) describe how apprentice bakers are supported in the workplace with mobile learning. The program uses text messaging to disseminate the results of both summative and formative assessments. The apprentice bakers use their mobile phones to take photos, videos, audio and text evidence of their workplace skills, and assemble an e-portfolio for later assessment by faculty. The whole system is tracked and reported using Moodle, an open-source learning management system. Similarly, workers in the oil sands industry in Canada can take courses from Keyano College through a mobile electrical apprenticeship program. This allows the students to continue working through their apprenticeship with no increase in their living expenses. The employers have the benefit of a steady workforce of highly skilled workers.
At the ICEL conference in New York in 2007, a team from Denmark presented a checklist for evaluating personal digital assistants (PDAs) as performance support to medical professionals. They said:
“The checklist facilitates the communication between designers and innovators throughout the development of…a prototype, dubbed ‘e-pocket’, [that] is supposed to replace and expand the support which inexperienced but professional physicians normally get from carrying books, paper slips and personal notes in their pockets, when on duty. The checklist addresses the key issue in developing professional competence: how to integrate formal rules of procedural and declarative knowledge with personal experience of problem-based learning.”
There are other examples of mobile learning being used for performance support, but this concept is just in its infancy. Watch it grow, as our ideas of learning and support change in the next few years.