Does Mobile Learning Require a Mobile Device?

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Clark Quinn’s recent post explores what defines a mobile device. Does a laptop count? Does a tablet count? Should any device that requires two hands to operate be considered a mobile device? Is it only a mobile device if you’d carry it to the store?

It’s a great post and food for thought, but it made me think about something I argued during a webinar in 2011: mobile learning doesn’t require mobile devices, only a mobile learner.

One of the best implementations of mobile learning I’ve seen is a paper-based performance support tool that slides behind retail sales employees’ ID lanyards. The tool acts as a decision tree for employees during various customer interactions. For example, a customer asks for X, the tool recommends Y.

It’s definitely considered performance support. It’s a sidekick, as Allison Rossett would call it, that employees use right when they need it. The question is, would you consider it mobile learning? I would, and here’s why:

  • It’s mobile (duh).
  • It contains a small amount of content.
  • It can be used exactly when it’s needed.
  • It’s convenient to carry it along throughout the day.

If a tool meets those characteristics, then it’s mobile learning (even if it’s a piece of paper). Convenience is the characteristic that usually eliminates paper-based performance support tools from being considered mobile learning. In this case, the tool was inserted into a lanyard that employees already wear every day, so it makes the grade.

I know this discussion is different from Quinn’s, and I agree with his definition of mobile devices. However, I did want to point out that mobile learning happens in more places than our devices.