Sometimes it seems that you cannot go a day without hearing a mention of mLearning (mobile learning) in our little eLearning world. The market opportunity being spoken of is truly huge – a recent report by research firm Markets and Markets pegged the total spend on mobile learning in 2020 at $ 37.6 billion. Pretty much every player in the space has to sit up and take notice of such numbers. There has been a lot written, including by us, about situations where mLearning should become the preferred choice. That being said, though, what are the downsides? What are the situations where you should consider not climbing onto the mLearning bandwagon?

What Factors Determine Whether mLearning Is Right For You 

For starters, once you accept that mLearning is not just allowing access to your course from a mobile device, some complexities become apparent.

  1. Devices:
    There is an array of questions to answer first. Android or iOS or maybe Windows? Which version? What devices to support? Phones or tablets? If there is a range of devices owned by your employees, do you add on CapEx and give all of them standardized phones? If so, then who takes care of their warranties and maintenance? You see the challenge? And that’s only on the consumption side; what about the added complexity in designing and developing your course for ultimate consumption on mobile devices? You have to allow for different display resolutions, screen sizes, and device capability; this adds time, effort, and cost to the design, development, and testing process.
  2. The Eco-System:
    The course, obviously, doesn’t exist in isolation, but has to interface with a whole range of other tools and systems – Learning Management System, authoring tools, employee databases, and so on. The complexity is in understanding how well each of these plays with mobile devices. Legacy systems may need to be changed or upgraded; not always the easiest move, as we all know. There may also be a need to add people with more mobile-aligned skills to the team that babysit these systems.
  3. The Delivery Network:
    This is a problem that sometimes slips in under the radar. The performance and reliability of the mobile network varies across service providers, locations and technology considerations like 2G and 3G. Especially in organizations where people are spread out geographically there could be a real impact beyond just the “nuisance value”. For example poor network conditions could adversely impact those aspects of eLearning that are time sensitive, say a timed quiz.

Clearly you need to factor in a lot while deciding the amount of energy you would have to expend on the mLearning route. That being said, there are many businesses for which mLearning is really paying off despite this initial “pain”. For this note though let’s look at those when the move may not be quite as worthwhile.

First, and most obviously, if your workforce is largely office-bound, then there is not much additional value to making their eLearning mobile. Clearly the most fundamental use case of mLearning is to engage users who are likely to be on the move more often than not. If this does not comprise a significant enough chunk of your workforce, and desktop/browser-based eLearning is working for you, then, in the immortal words of Bert Lance, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”.

Then there is the course content to consider. The conventional wisdom is mLearning is consumed in smaller bite sized chunks rather than longer, more involved sets. Learners generally do not prefer staring at the small screen for long duration. Tablets with larger screens are possibly changing this but even there a perceived inconvenience of being tethered to the screen for long duration while on the go is a real concern. This suggests that if your content cannot easily be broken up into smaller, more easily consumable pieces then going mobile may not be the best option for you.

Is your course very heavy on visuals or do you have significant amounts of video content? This is usually a formidable challenge for mLearning to handle. The smaller screen size with variable resolution is not the best vehicle to render a complex machine diagram. Zoom in and out is an advantage but looking at a complex picture by scrolling through u and down & from side to side it is an obvious disadvantage. The problem with consuming video content on the mobile is the dependency on the device, the networks and the bandwidth is very high – the time your learners spend while the video is loading or buffering is not going to earn the course any fans.

In closing let’s just say that there are several good reasons to go mLearning. That being said, don’t do it because everyone else is talking about it; be aware that the move is not trivial and also that in certain situations mLearning may not be for you.