The iPad Eats the Smartphone and Mobile Learning Becomes Real

Posted by Rich Mesch on Jul 30, 2012 3:35:00 AM

by Rich Mesch
apple and smart phone

I’ve been following the so-called Mobile Learning revolution for some time now. The reality is, Mobile Learning was something that a lot of people talked about, few people did, and even fewer did well. There are a number of reasons for that, including the fact that most folks were repurposing e-learning courses to tiny smartphone screens without acknowledging that mobile was a new paradigm that required new rules.

But the reality is, not many companies even go that far. You know why? Because their mobile learning initiative ended at their IT department.  Few organization issued smartphones to their employees. There were a laundry list of issues, from cost to security to platform choices. Never before in history has American business been so concerned that a bit of technology might be left behind in a bar.

Some organizations had a “bring your own device” policy, but due to a lack of interoperability, confusion over LMs issues, and the dramatic chasm in capabilities between the newest and oldest smartphone platforms, any sort of comprehensive mobile learning strategy usually withered on the vine.

I’m writing this during the 2012 Summer Olympics, so I’ll use an Olympic metaphor. While a lot of people were focused on whether Michael Phelps would break the record for most medals won, Ryan Lochte quietly came in and ate Phelps’ lunch, then drank his Thermos of milk for good measure. (edit: Okay, Phelps proved me wrong on that one. So sue me.) Similarly, while a lot of us focused on the smartphone wars, the iPad came in made that conversation dramatically less relevant. The iPad is now making Mobile Learning a reality.

Why? The causal diagram has a lot of nodes, but it comes down to two big issues:

  • Most importantly, large businesses are settling on the iPad as a platform of choice.  The old wars over smartphone platforms become increasingly irrelevant as organizations feel comfort in the relatively proven iPad platform. In many organizations, iPads are beginning to replace PCs as the business technology of choice.

  • A lot of the reason this is happening is the form factor of the iPad. Large enough to do product demos, read documents, watch videos, etc, it’s become a reasonable alternative to a PC. Its slender size, friendly operating system, and long battery life make it much more convenient.

That being said, there are still pretty big challenges to doing learning on the iPad. As always, companies are concerned about data security and privacy. But as we centralize on a single platform those issues will be easier to address. But with at least some of the technology questions being settled, learning developers can focus on content challenges, not just technology challenges.

So how do we design learning that takes advantage of the iPad’s capabilities? That’s easy; we don’t design learning. We’ll talk more about that in the next blog entry!

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Mobile Performance, Innovation Strategy

The Chocofication of Learning

Posted by Rich Mesch on Apr 20, 2012 12:37:00 AM


Why Games Won’t Cure the Common Cold, but They Will Solve a Lot of Other Problems

by Rich Mesch

Welcome to the next stop on the blog tour for Karl Kapp’s new book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction! Hop off that blog bus and shake the dust off.

Picture of Books entitled "The Gamification of Learning and InstructionWhen reading Karl Kapp’s new book, I was pleased to see reference to Jesse Schell, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. I remember seeing Jesse deliver the keynote at last year’s Learning 3.0 conference where he, too, discussed gaming and learning. One of the points that Jesse made was you don’t need to “gamify” learning—games have inherent properties that lead to knowledge, growth and behavior change.  So to gamify learning, what we really need to do is identify what makes games such effective tools, and incorporate that into our design.His point was that games are good, but applying games to every kind of learning won’t automatically make them better. And to drive his point home, he asked: what if we focused on Chocofication—adding chocolate to everything? Chocolate is tasty, so wouldn’t it make everything better? And to illustrate, he offered many things you could dip in chocolate—some delightful, some unusual, and some downright disgusting.

You can see Jesse’s presentation from Learning 3.0 here:

It won’t have much impact without Jesse’s narration (like most good presentations, it’s mostly pictures with very few words), but you can enjoy looking at all the things that Jesse wanted to dip in chocolate (including his stapler).brown stapler

Schell briefly made many of the same points that Kapp makes in-depth. Gaming isn’t for every learning experience. Simply dipping learning in game sauce does not automatically make it better;  in fact, randomly applying vaguely game-ish attributes to learning (like points, badges, and levels) can trivialize the content.

So why all this talk of gamification? Like most aspects of learning, it comes down to motivation, engagement, and behavior change. There’s a reason we’ve been playing games for thousands of years. They engage us, they draw us in, they make us want to gain skills and improve our performance.


Karl’s books over the years show a definite progression, from identifying and classifying a concept to ultimately codifying that which seems uncodifiable.  In Gadgets, Games, and Gizmos for Learning, he looked at the role of story and creativity in learning with a broad brush; in Learning in 3D (with Tony O’Driscoll), he began to put some definitions around the wild, wild west that was Immersive Learning. And in this book, he’s looking for the Checkers black and redrules, the trends, and the benefits that tie gaming to learning.

The good news is that we’ve got a good head start with gaming. Gaming has been pretty well codified; the creation of new technologies modifies the rules, but doesn’t inherently change them. Concepts like “boss challenges” and “leveling up” didn’t start with Nintendo. We’ve been “leveling up” ever since someone put one checker on top of another, called it a “King,” and determined that it now had a new set of powers. 

So how do we bring the power of gaming to learning? That's what the book is for. Karl says it better than I ever could. You can get your own copy here:

As for me, it’s getting to be lunchtime, and that chocolate stapler is looking better and better.

Topics: Performance Improvement, Innovation Strategy, Gamification

Mobile Learning is SO 10 Minutes Ago…

Posted by Rich Mesch on Jun 7, 2011 3:41:00 AM

by Rich Mesch

describe the imageImagine going out and buying a shiny new sports car. Now imagine hitching up a horse to it, and having the horse drag your car to work every day.

Sound crazy? Sure it does. So why are people still using mobile devices to deliver e-learning courses?

Years ago, Nicholas Negroponte insisted that in the not-too-distant future, we would all be wearing our computers. He was envisioning complex eyepieces and finger sensors with wires running up your sleeves. He had the right idea but the wrong form factor; he didn’t foresee that we’d be carrying our computers in our pockets and calling them “phones.”

Mobile learning is on everybody’s to-do list, and why not? Who wouldn’t want learning that could follow an employee no matter where she went? But like so many emerging technologies, we need to look past the gloss of the possible to the reality of the useful. Today’s smart phones have nearly as many capabilities as our desktop computers, but that doesn’t mean we use them the same way. And when we try to deliver learning to a mobile device the same way we deliver it to a desktop computer, we miss the point of having a mobile device to begin with.

When it became clear mobile learning was a reality, the first thing many organizations did was look at “re-chunking” their current content. If something made sense as a 30-minute e-learning program, they reasoned, it could be broken down cleanly into, say, 5 bite-sized e-learning programs for a mobile device. There’s a bit of tortured logic going on there; if something is brief and bite-sized, people will be happy to use it on their phones. And while there’s some truth to that, it misses the point. Mobile applications aren’t just about brevity, they’re about applicability. People “learn” from their mobile devices all the time, they just don’t call it training. Whether they’re pulling sports scores, GPS-ing the next leg of their trip, or sending some quick texts, people use their mobile devices to gain knowledge. So as learning professionals, why would we think they should get little e-learning courses? Why not leverage the methods they’re already using?

The re-chunking people weren’t really wrong, they just sort of missed the point. Rather than creating mini-courses for mobile devices, we need to design learning for each venue in a method that fits it best. People tend to use mobile devices:

  • In short intense bursts
  • When they need information right away
  • In down-time, such as between appointments
  • To retrieve information that may not be at their fingertips, or
  • To get information that may be so current or time-sensitive, there’s no other way to get it other than right now

So when we look at how our audience performs, we need to ask not what can we teach people on a mobile device, but rather how can we use mobile devices to provide information to help them perform better.

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Performance Improvement, Mobile Performance, Innovation Strategy, Informal Learning