One of the first questions that I am asked when approached by learning pros is often, “What software should I learn to make mobile learning websites and apps?” My answer is usually greeted with some confusion. “All of them, none of them, any of them,” I say. It’s okay. I’m purposefully being coy.
The real answer is that software won’t save you. There is no magic program that creates the ideal mobile learning experience for your users. The latest version of whatever you use to produce eLearning may be able to output content for mobile. I am not disputing marketing claims by software makers here, nor is that the intention of this post.
The real thing we need to be learning is less about the tooling we use to output this content and more about the process, practices, and the purpose we put behind the design and devleopment of it. We are moving, in some ways, to a model more akin to Web design, Web development and information design. Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson’s mantra of “Two Clicks and Ten Seconds” rings true in mobile design just as it does in electronic performance support systems. We are designing experiences for the enablement and augmentation of the learner. We are creating experiences that provide the information they need to know at the moment, as well as directing the user to the deeper content that leads to knowledge transfer and sustainment.
It is for this reason that software and tools alone will not save you. You will now have a lot in common with the designers of news sites, travel sites, restaurant guides and the rest of the World Wide Web community. So, with this the bag of tricks you need to employ changes. As new technologies, process and platforms are needed for mobile learning creation, it’s clear that we need to reexamine the roles and skills we have on our team and find where we may have gaps.
Instead of sending your teammates to a two-day boot camp on software products, I recommend a more comprehensive approach to growing your skills. Some areas I think that you may want to look into are:
IA: Information architecture is a discipline that has been in place in the Web and interactive design world for some time. It is the art and science of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability. This is a new area of practice for most learning professionals, but one that many instructional designers can adapt to with some study and preparation. I know it’s 11 years old, but I still love this book from O’Reilly on the topic.
UI/UX: More than graphic design, user interface design and user experience design are core skills needed for effective design in mobile apps and websites. An instructional designer who was often tasked with creating the user interfaces of eLearning will defintely be tested here. The role of a UI designer for mobile experiences is less about creating interfaces to explore and more about creating interfaces to facilitate information retrieval and task completion. For further reading on this, I recommend picking up Steven Hoober’s excellent resource, Designing Mobile Interfaces, or Josh Clark’s aging, yet indispensible text, Tapworthy.
Curation and Content Strategy: With social media playing such a crucial role in mobile learning, and informal learning’s importance growing, as well, it’s clear that much more content will be available to your learners than is truly useful. You must learn to cull the wasteful content and curate the very best information to make mobile experiences focused and beneficial for your audiences. The book Curation Nation may help you see where you need to beef up your skills.
Software Development: Mobile development tools and practices are distinctly different than the practices you are likely used to. While rapid tool vendors are making strides here, you would be well served to train your development staff on the HTML5 specification and authoring using native code (primarily Objective-C and Java) instead of waiting for the rapid software tools to play catch-up. The real takeaway from this, in my opinion, is that you, as a learning designer and developer, may be better served finding a partner in your organization’s technology group or a trusted vendor to help you with the final development of your products. You, after all, are likely a learning technologist, not a computer scientist.
These are all vastly different skills than you are likely used to. So, what do you think? Have I shifted your thoughts on what it takes to produce true mLearning? I’d like to know your opinion on this topic. Leave a comment here and tell me what you think.