Everything You Need to Know About Mobile Learning (or mLearning)

Sarah Flesher

Imagine going through your day without looking at or using your mobile phone. Mobile devices have become so ingrained into our day-to-day activities that it's hard to imagine not having one. Technology has changed. The primary purpose of mobile devices from making or receiving calls has evolved to retrieving the latest information on any subject at the touch of a button. It's no surprise that organizations are increasingly incorporating mobile devices into their training and education programs. According to Joanne Chan from the eLearning Industry, "mobile Learning is primed to address the 21st century challenges of an increasingly global, mobile and technologically savvy workforce and is touted to be the future of workplace learning".

So what is mobile learning? This article defines mobile learning, identifies the benefits and challenges associated with mobile learning and provides three tips for organizations who are considering developing mobile friendly training content.

What is Mobile Learning?

Mobile learning, or mLearning is the delivery of training or education materials, or learning support on any mobile device (smart phone or tablet). Mobile learning allows people to learn virtually anywhere at anytime as long as they have a mobile single. It ultimately allows for "greater opportunity for timing, location, accessibility and context of learning" (John-Harmen Valk et al.).

MLearning is not eLearning. Think about it, you aren't going to sit in front of your phone and scroll though 50 presentation slides or listen to a one-hour instructional video. We access our phones on-the go. This means mLearning content needs to be concise and to the point.

Benefits of Mobile Learning

1. Mobile learning provides new opportunities for learning

Organizations are looking for ways to train and educate their employees with content and delivery solutions that are flexible, self-pace, self-directed and that supports on-demand learning.

Learners want to be able to access information from all types of devices at any time of the day. Mobile learning addresses this need and allows learners to access small chunks of information at their own pace.

2. Mobile learning can be used to diversify learning

We know that everyone prefers to learn differently. Mobile learning provides yet another avenue for the delivery of information. Learning can be delivered in face-to-face workshops, webinars, online courses and now through micro-sized content on the tablet or cell phone.

For example, take microlearning, it's a natural fit for mobile learning. With bite-sized learning nuggets that focus on a maximum of one or two objectives, learners can instantly access the course on mobile and immediately apply what they learn on the job.

3. Mobile learning supports the learning process rather than being integral to it

Content is not developed on mobile devices, rather mobile devices are used to deliver existing content. We are also starting to see the emergence of mobile apps for learning. Mobile learning is a readily available learning experience as it seems like most people have access to a phone or tablet.

4. Devices are more lightweight than books and PCs

This may seem silly however people are always on-the-go. They don't want to carry items that are heavy or burdensome.

Challenges of Mobile Learning

1. Security and privacy issues

Technologies, protocols and policies that provide security and privacy in networked applications have to be improved and adjusted to take into account the new uses and requirements of mLearning.

2. Screen size

It is difficult to develop content that can be viewed on different screen sizes. Authoring tools are getting better at responsible design, however not all content that is viewed on a 15-inch screen can be viewed on the screen of a cell phone.

3. Risk of distractions

One of the benefits of using a cell phone or tablet is that all types of information can be accessed. Users also have access to social media sites and can simultaneously receive and answer calls and text messages. This ultimately distracts learners. For example, it's easy for a learner to pause a training video to answer a text message and completely forget what they just learned.

4. Mobile friendly support

It is important that you use an LMS that supports mLearning. Your LMS also needs to be responsive (automatically resize depending on the screen size you are viewing the application on) to deliver your content. Mobile learning needs to be part of a learning path-based approach in order to allow administrators to personalize the learning environment and encourage continuous learning.

Tips to Consider for Designing Mobile Learning Content

1. Keep it short

Research shows that after 90 seconds, users begin to lose concentration. Gerry Griffin suggests that yes, "people watch 30-minute TV episodes on their mobiles but that is a 'lying back' style of entertainment. What we want to achieve is the 'lean forward;' a more interactive engagement in which the user works alongside the content." You want to try and limit your content to no longer than two minutes.

2. Deliver 'How-To' instructions

People want to know how they can be better at something, how they can be smarter or faster at completing a particular task or skill. Focus on teaching one or two learning objectives and on key takeaways. Avoid trying to teach something new as learners are less likely to process new information.

3. Ensure easy navigation and minimize functionality

Remember that is it very different looking at content on a cell phone versus a computer screen. You want to ensure that it is easy for your users to navigate from one screen to the next. Rather than using the scroll function, increase the number of slides. Also consider minimizing functionality and designing for touch. Learners don't have the ability to click from one page to the next using a mouse, instead they use their fingers.


It is important to remember that mLearning isn't the only way to deliver content. Mobile learning has many benefits and it capitalized on learners need for flexibility and access, however it isn't always effective for delivering content on more complex education or training goals.

When we design content that is mobile friendly, we need to change the way we write and develop. What looks good on a computer screen doesn't always look good on a tablet or mobile phone. Bite-size content and animations work well but long eLearning courses do not.

Finally, you need to ensure that you have an LMS that support mLearning -- a system that includes mLearning as part of your learner's learning journey.

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Sarah Flesher

Sarah, our President, graduated from Concordia University in Montreal with a BA and an MA in Public Policy and Public Administration and completed her doctorate in Educational Technology. Sarah brings over 15 years of operational and management experience to her role as President at Base Corp. She works collaboratively with organizations to develop strategic learning plans, determine training requirements. When she doesn't have her nose in a book you can find her at the gym, on the ice, on the ski hill, drinking wine or in a coffee shop … with her nose in a book.