Goin’ Mobile

This is a copy of an article I’ve written for a Wiley newsletter to promote my mlearning book.

The indicators are clear: the world is going mobile. Mobile subscriptions in the developed world are flattening out, not from lack of interest, but from saturation. People are accessing the internet more from mobile devices than desktops, and some people only access the internet via mobile! And when a small company like Google says that they’re designing for mobile first and the desktop is an afterthought, it is safe to say mobile is on the move.

And the opportunities are huge. Through the centuries, we have continually extended our physical capabilities with tools: we’ve developed more capable clothing to let us go to further extremes, more powerful transportation that can let us travel thousands of miles in a matter of hours, tools that can let us work on the scale of mountains or of molecules. We’ve also used tools to augment our brains: books to serve as external memory, calculators to support our computational capability, phones to allow us to communicate at distances. Digital technology has proven to be the ultimate cognitive augment, doing exactly the things that our brains don’t do well, so together we’re truly formidable problem-solvers. And now, we have that capability wherever and whenever we need it. Which has important implications by itself, but there is more potential, too.

Don’t be mislead by the label, mLearning is about so much more than courses on a phone. In fact, that’s almost contra-indicated. What mobile learning really is about is augmenting formal learning, and augmenting performance regardless. The old ‘event’ model of learning really doesn’t work very well, as our brains only can handle so much at a time. With mobile, however, we can extend that learning over time. And over space: we can turn the entire world into part of our learning environment, or to think about it another way, we can spread our learning environment over the world. Beyond learning, we can bring specific support to wherever we are: accessing information to make our shopping more effective, our understanding deeper, our interactions richer. We can access information, support our decisions, and share our experiences.

But there’s also something unique to mobile, beyond a pocketable desktop. As the devices get more capable, they begin to know where we are, even which way we’re facing, and they can start adding unique information specific to our current context, location-aware. We’re just beginning to explore the possibilities, and you really do have to think differently to take advantage, but the potential is exciting. Are you mobilizing?