Audio + Visual + Apps = Mobile Learning

by Renee Robbins on January 8, 2010

After taking part in last night’s #lrnchat, I am as convinced as ever that we need to do away with the term “mobile learning.”  It’s just too broad of a term.  The group seemed to struggle for the entire 90 minutes with a the true definition.  Here are some of my favorite comments:

@hydridkris: Mlearning is the punk rock of eLearning. It’s disruptive, but if you really look at it, it’s ahead of it’s time.

@gminks: So question: if I am a 100% distance student, am I doing mlearning?

@dwilkinsnh: Is Mobile Learning also about Mobile knowledge, expertise capture?

@JaneBozarth: Ok then I am going to talk about C-learning (= ‘classroom’) maybe that will get me some resistance and throw up barriers to it.

@gwoodill: 2005 def: “Mlearning is learning on devices which a lady can carry in her handbag or a gentleman can carry in his pocket.”

This might just be me, but when the definition of a learning philosophy depends on fashion I say it’s time to make some changes.  So let’s talk specifically about the tools that allow learners to be mobile.  They each have their own merits, and the criteria for creating content for these technologies can be vastly different.  Let’s take a look at the big three, audio, video and apps. 


Just because televisions were invited doesn’t mean that audio only education doesn’t work anymore.  On the contrary this is one of the most useful learning methods for sales representatives, truck drivers, and anyone else that spends a majority of their time communiting from one place to another.  I have found that audio lessons can be up to 30 minutes in length and still allow for maximum attention.  Beyond 30 minutes people start to loose interest and it just becomes background noise.  30 minutes is also a good length for your commuters to listen to the program in one trip.  Finally, at only 30 minutes learners are more apt to listen to the program again to either reinforce their learning or clarify any questions.  (One trick I have learned about audio and reinforcement: CDs are great because the learners usually listen to them in the car and forget to take them out of the CD player.  Therefore the program plays over and over again.)  Audio is usually very good for discussing theoretical or highlevel  content.


Visual tools aren’t as great as audio for learners on the go unless they are on a train, waiting for an appointment, or somewhere with nothing they need to pay attention to.   Obviously one type of visual method that has become more and more mobile is video.  It can be simple, quick, and cheap to make a video but you have to take into consideration the amount of information you have to convey.  If the content can be shared in 5-10 minutes you should be safe with a webcast format.  For a webcast all you need to do is set up a video camera, point it in your direction, hit the record button and just start talking.  You don’t need to worry about visuals for a 5 minute piece, but if you are getting closer to 10 then you may need to entice your audience with some transitions.  If you need something longer than 10 minutes you’re going to have to include some entertainment value to keep your audience’s attention. Video comes in handy when you have detailed content you need to explain such as biology or long processes.  There are other learning methods like text messaging that are also very effective from a “visual” standpoint.  For example, text messaging is a great add reinforcement tool when used in conjunction with another program.  Since text message SPAM is virtually non-existent (for the time being) when you send a text message the learner will not only receive it, but also pay attention to it.


An app (short for application) can be downloaded and played on any portable device it is created for. You basically have two directions to go with app – either data repository or gaming.  Data repositories can be static or social.  By static I mean the content is entered into the app and is basically read only.  Think of static like a paperback dictionary.  Lots of information that is organized and easy to find – a static app may even help you find what you are looking for, but in the end what you see is what you get.  A good example of this is the Pocket Universe: Virtual Sky Astronomy app.  On the other hand data repository apps can be social.  For example apps like myBoards vB which is an app that allows users to access web-based forums where other users have created a repository of information based on their own experiences.  If the learner doesn’t see the answer to their question they have the ability to start a new conversation and ask for help.  This further builds the data repository for the next user.  As for gaming it is exactly what it sounds like.  There are plenty of apps that have been created to make learning a fun and interactive game.  In many cases the learner doesn’t even know that they are learning.  One that I like (and don’t laugh) is Lost at Sea.  The game is fun and the whole time you are sharpening your reaction time and mental focus. 

While these are big categories, breaking down “mobile learning” to its parts makes it a little more understandable.  Now its your turn to figure out what direction to move in next.  What meets the needs of your audience?



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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Woodill January 12, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Your equation focuses on defining mlearning as the provision of media plus software. My definition is Mobile Learner + Connectivity by any means + Information in the Cloud = Mobile Learning. I am continually amazed that I can find out whatever I need by going to the web on my Blackberry, finding information that I need, and then shutting it down until I need it next. Or being on a train with my laptop reading an article from a library online. Educational apps are still based on the instructional model of learning, which is what I think is in danger.

Renee Robbins January 13, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Great definition Gary. As you suggest with the speed that technology is developing it seems everything is going to be mobile so looking at it from the standpoint of the individual is key. My “algorithm” is limited to the “how” instead of the “what.” I appreciate your insight!

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