The Need for Progressive mLearning Strategies

Jarret Cassaniti

JHU∙CCP | Program Officer

In my last blog I referenced CNN’s ongoing look at Our Mobile Society. The next article in the series, How the cell phone can improve health care, discusses how mobile devices can be used for educational purposes. The issues and solutions that author Nadim Mahmud of Medic Mobile describes were echoed at the Mobile Learning Development Convention organized by Rapid Intake that I attended last week in Philadelphia.



The convention audience came from diverse industries including retail, trucking, insurance, and health care. One thing that we all had in common was wanting to bring mobile into our training toolkit but not knowing exactly how to do it. A story one attendee told was about an organization which bought hundreds of tablets that sat in storage for a year until a strategy was developed for their use. Another participant seemed frustrated by the lack of a clear path toward a mLearning strategy and laid out his organization’s dilemma: either wait until a path forward becomes clear or learn by trial and error.”

The answer about how to incorporate mobile became clearer as the conference progressed. The presenters shared their vision of mobile as a complement to broader eLearning strategies and an even wider overall training strategy. As a tool, it’s great for teachers, truck drivers, mobile sales teams, emergency medical technicians, and public health professionals. These cadres of workers can benefit from mobile learning if content is developed as just-in-time material, refreshers, job aids, quick courses, and learning nuggets.

There are numerous supporting reasons to include mobile learning in a wider strategy, not least because it works. An article in the Chief Learning Officer magazine describes Merrill Lynch’s success using mobile modalities to deliver training:

Merrill Lynch offered three compliance training courses via BlackBerry for a two-month period. The organization analyzed the access, usage and effectiveness of learning delivered over the mobile devices and, in the process, established standards for future mobile courses. Sixty-one percent of the eligible population participated, and the results were remarkable. They delivered the training with no degradation to learning effectiveness. In addition, they:

  • Achieved a 1.21 percent increase in average competency score to the control groups;
  • Obtained a more timely completion of compliance training, including a 12 percent higher completion rate at the 45-day milestone; and
  • Demonstrated shorter time to completion of courses taken on mobile devices with no loss of comprehension, including an average of 45 percent less time in training, with some completing the training in 80 percent less time.

Another theme of the convention was the promise of a new tracking tool called Tin Can API:

The Tin Can API is a brand new learning technology specification that opens up an entire world of experiences (online and offline). This API captures the activities that happen as part of learning experiences. A wide range of systems can now securely communicate with a simple vocabulary that captures this stream of activities.

Previous specification were difficult and had limitations — the Tin Can API is simple and flexible. It lifts many of the older restrictions. Mobile learning, simulations, virtual worlds, serious games, real-world activities, experiential learning, social learning, offline learning, and collaborative learning are just are some of the things that can now be recognized and communicated well with the Tin Can API.

Progressive mLearning strategies respond to the fast pace of work and change, the average learners’ shrinking attention span and their desire for brisk learning events. Tin Can API will help mLearning meet these big expectations. In the future we will be able to see what learners are choosing to learn about, better understand how they like to learn and respond to their needs. As Nadim Mahmud puts it, the potential of mobile health development is ‘truly mind-blowing.’