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Does Mobile Learning Work?

Dec. 21, 2012 - 01:56PM   |  
By MICHAEL PECK   |   Comments
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With more than 700,000 apps in Apple’s app store, mobile content is here to stay. But the jury remains out on just how effective mobile learning is.

Todd Richmond, director of advanced prototype development and transition at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, said his gut feeling is that what a user gets out of mobile learning depends on the user. “If you have a user that is comfortable with a tablet or a smartphone, they will be more willing to put up with issues and engage with the content,” he said.

Among mobile devices, desktops and laptops, there will always be tradeoffs in convenience, computing power and multimedia capabilities. Richmond plans to study the effectiveness of learning content on different platforms, though he notes that “these are tricky studies because there are so many variables.”

Jan Cannon-Bowers, research director of University of South Florida’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, said the convenience of mobile learning makes it useful for refresher training in rare procedures. For example, she’s working with the military on an app for refresher training for corpsmen.

“There are emergency procedures that do not occur often, but require a certain skill set,” she said. “These are notoriously hard to train because they have to stick to the users, but users don’t get to practice them.”

But is it possible to have too much of a good thing? There are hundreds of thousands of apps devised by a booming industry of apps developers. Many of those apps are junk. If massive amounts of learning content are ported to mobiles, can military users separate the wheat from the chaff, or will they fall victim to a digital Gresham’s Law, where the bad apps drive out the good? Cannon-Bowers believes a flood of apps could lead users to mediocre software.

“The best apps in the world may be out there, but I just don’t have time to go through all 10,000 to find them,” she said.

Cannon-Bowers, who has been working with military training technology for more than 25 years, says she’s seen it all before.

“We do this all the time. It was the same thing with PC-based training and distance learning,” she said. “It was dominated by very, very smart people who are engineers and software designers. They see possibilities — and there are possibilities — but we don’t apply them smartly. Then we throw it away for a while because we didn’t implement it well, and then we come back to it.

“Unfortunately, I have a feeling that mobile will go through that same trajectory. There will be too much stuff, it won’t make sense, and people will throw up their arms and some general will say, ‘I will not take another mobile app.

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