mlearning man with smartphone in classroom

12 things you should know about mobile learning

Mobile learning — designing training and educational courses for use on mobile devices — is a burgeoning topic for public-sector agencies. Military, civilian and educational IT shops are increasingly developing educational applications that users can tap into via their smart phone and tablets.

But there’s a lot more to it than simply porting existing materials to a smaller format. Agencies have found that mobile learning apps must be designed separately and specifically for mobile use and used to complement, rather than replace, other coursework.

All of which means it’s going to be a hot topic for some time to come, as the workforce becomes more mobile. Here are a dozen terms that will come in handy in making plans for mobile learning apps:

44 by 44 pixels. The target tap size for mobile apps, according to Apple.  44 pixels is about 7 mm, or just over a quarter of an inch.

Backchannel. The real-time online conversation that occurs alongside the primary group activity, such as tweeting a keynote at a conference or IM chats among meeting participants to share idea.

Blended learning. A learning style that combines self-paced e-learning and face-to-face or classroom instruction.

Chunking. The practice of separating training materials into brief, mobile-friendly sections to improve learner comprehension and retention.

eLearning. A broad term for self-paced or instructor-led electronically supported learning and teaching, including educational technology. It covers text, image, animation, streaming video or audio or interactive content that can be delivered by the Web, app, audio or video, TV or portable media.

Learncasting. Instructional content that is distributed via a podcast, video or syndication feed such as RSS and Atom.

Learning 2.0. Technology-aided learning that emphasizes social learning through the use of social software and tools such as blogs, wikis, Twitter and virtual worlds. 

MOODLE.  An open-source course management system, the Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment comes with a news forum, e-mail, discussion forums, calendaring, tracking and reporting to accommodate full online courses or in-person instruction.

Microtasking. Small discrete tasks often performed on mobile devices that can range from browsing Twitter feeds while waiting in the grocery line to studying vocabulary on the bus. Microtasking is usually considered a solitary practice, but there are some social, crowdsourced applications in which many volunteers contribute to a common goal, such as correcting errors in image-to-digital text conversion.

mLearning. Different from elearning, mobile learning leverages mobile technologies, tools and techniques to encourage learning at any time in any setting.

Reference apps. Language translators, dictionaries, visual and computational search engines and calculators are reference tools adapted for mobile platforms. Reference apps can take advantage of a smart phone’s technology, such as GPS, compass and accelerometer to enhance and personalize the learning experience.

SCORMThe Sharable Content Object Reference Model is the de facto set of technical standards for e-learning content and learning software products.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.


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