Oops….Here we go again, or do we? 


(Printed in Learning Solutions Magazine, the online magazine of The Learning Guild)


Following a great week in San Jose at mLearnCon in July, where for two and a half days I was the host of the Mobile Operating System Help Stage (MOSHPit), I now have had some time (in the wine country in California) and back in London to reflect on what we did, who we met and the important conversations that took place.


I almost did as others have done and wrote an article the following day, but instead I shrugged off the urge and followed one of the experiential cycles taking time to let the whole overpowering week settle. Now at last I have some sense of what took place.


As one of the ‘experts’ at mLearnCon I was motivated to find out where delegates are in the cycle to adopt learning to mobile devices. As ‘The Learning Coach’ I was also readily available to enter into discussion about not only how to implement learning to the mobile device but what to deliver and to pose questions to many like: Why are you doing this? And, What are you expecting?


I am conscious that over the last 20 years of eLearning, the technology side of the industry has been led by the (a) the vendor, (b) the content as reflected by the Authoring Tool’s ability to create learning and (c) the LMS’s ability to deliver it. This in difference to the strategy to deliver good learning modules and courses designed around great learning outcomes rather than some off the shelf template, masquerading as bespoke content.


I have in these 20 years watched 4 boom and busts in eLearning, often referred to as Tranche 1, 2…etc.   These were: 1 – The high cost outsourcing model, 2 – The DIY Model,  3 – The ‘offshore’ model and more recently 4 – The Rapid Model.  Now Tranche 5  – The mobile Model.


Two of these quite obviously are DIY and these have always been the center of conversations that include a phrase similar to: “well of course ours never quite looks as good as the one created for us” and I ask why not? The answer often blames the authoring tool or the person creating the content. Of course the latter has probably never had media training or real training in Instructional Design. Plus of course the author probably has another full time job in the organization.  Yadda yadda yadda, I would love a dollar for every time I had this conversation.


So it was with some trepidation that I took a while to walk around the Expo of 15 suppliers peddling their wares. I was somewhat concerned that a few are the same vendors we see at other shows for eLearning. Same tools, smaller template! And I questioned was this the right tool for the job, is this what we are actually trying to do? The experts say no!  The tool vendors say: “Buy my product, it’s the fastest, greatest……”  Oh oh, here we go again.


But I am also pleased to report that not all the vendors had the same message, nor were all peddling the idea that mLearning is a miniaturization of eLearning, but for some partygoers it was quite obvious this was the underlying consideration.


So what did we learn? Well thanks go to a very lively chap I met called Alvin, who when questioned about why he wanted to deliver all of his eLearning – shrunk onto a mobile device – took me by surprise. “I work with a large group of Gen Y’s, and that’s what they want. It’s their device, its how they know how to use it, its in the format they want it and it’s in their pocket not mine.”  Thank you Alvin, the conference had started with a big bang, the whole group listening started to talk in a different way and started to think about possibilities not thought of before.


This was the theme of two and a half days; discover what you had not previously considered. For many the questions were WebApp or Native. For others it was HTML5 (“Whatever that may be”, said one person) or Flash. That particular discussion in the MOSHPit drew a crowd too large to count; the argument will continue for a long time to come I am sure.


For me personally, I learned we as the ‘experts’ have to spend much more time explaining what can be done with the mobile device. My chats with Judy Brown, which involve much heated conversation and much laughter as we both completely disagree on what actually constitutes a mobile device, will continue for some time I am sure. For Judy, the mobile device must fit in a pocket. For me the device just needs to not be tied to the desk or run from a power outlet.


In the week in San Jose there were so many conversations I lost count. Some with those personally at the event, over some great meals and numerous places plying the delegates with copious quantities of liquid we would never consume at home, and, some conversations with those following via a plethora of social media tools who were in every corner of the world.


The interesting point is that everything we learned was in a conversation of one type or another. Thankfully this underpins my concept that the best learning method is still conversation, we need to talk.