Mobile Learning – Is it melting away?

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The other day, I was listening to the classic 80’s tune, I Melt With You.  While you can argue that the music video is lame, the song itself stays true and lasting.

What you may ask does this have to do with mobile learning?  Well, for one thing, some of the lyrics can easily be incorporated to reflect m-learning. 

“I’ll stop the world and melt with you
You’ve seen the difference and it’s getting better all the time
There’s nothing you and I won’t do”

When mobile learning took off in 2011 it was due to tablets.

Not smartphones, not even close (despite the best efforts of many vendors then and even now). 

The difference was right in front of all our eyes and knowing that learners could take courses via tablets, utilize responsive and the possibilities and potential was right there.  Right there.

We all saw the difference and m-learning was getting better, each year. 

We (well us m-learning fans), understood that there wasn’t anything we wouldn’t try or do to attract learners to m-learning, knowing full well that the consumer market – due to the iPad and Galaxy success was exploding – in a good way.

“Dream of better lives the kind which never hates
Trapped in the state of imaginary grace….”

The dream was there, and despite the naysayers who didn’t realize that on the go learning was not imaginary, but real.  

“The future’s open wide..”  Yes, it was wide open.. but then something happened.

Something that has far reaching implications, that has placed m-learning on the precipice, with a real question mark of where to go from here.

The facts say it all

  • Less than 2.5% of the entire industry have native apps for iOS and Android
  • There are plenty of vendors who do NOT support the latest versions of iOS and Android – and on a side note, I found two vendors who told me that they didn’t support the latest versions – and it was only after I asked them. 
  • Less than 1% offer online/offline synchronization
  • The majority of LMS vendors see the native app as nothing more than using your mobile web browser to go to the LMS –  in other words, you have to internet connectivity – despite the fact that in the tablet space, more people purchase them with Wi-Fi.

Oh and those data plans are expensive. Clearly someone forgot to tell these vendors, that video chows up a lot of data.

  • Microsoft announced months ago, that they were going to target the Enterprise market for their smartphones.  I can count on two hands, the number of vendors who have a native app for the latest version of Windows OS.  Wait, one hand.

Examining the mobile market today in terms of global sales, some interesting tidbits..

  • Tablet sales have dropped in the last two quarters
  • Smartphones may have hit the saturation level
  • Phablets are taking off (larger screen size than a smartphone)
  • Ultraportables are projected to be the next big thing in terms of sales  (An ultraportable is a tablet/laptop; with Microsoft Surface being the most well known.  I use the Lenovo Yoga – which rocks)
  • T-Mobile users have streamed (video and audio) over 57GB in four months, AT&T and Verizon have jumped in to offer video streaming to their user base – oh and with T-Mobile they are achieving this without impacting end user’s data plans. 
  • Snapchat is the third most popular app for the iPhone in the United States,
  • In the social networking scene for mobile apps – WhatsApp is #3 in the U.S., #2 in the U.K., #1 in Germany, #3 in Australia;  oh and I should note that it has over 1 billion users – that is correct, one billion users
  • BTW, WhatsApp is going to be adding group chat very soon
  • Other apps similar to WhatsApp, Kik, imo, Tango, Line are all in the top 20 for iPhone usage (U.S., U.K. (includes ooVoo), four apps similar to WhatsApp are in the top 20 in Russia) – I think you get my point
  • Encryption is the latest trend with mobile apps such as those noted above – messages between end users who use the app is just one example

I constantly hear how millennials are coming into companies and changes have to be made, yet when you look at mobile learning, nearly nothing is being done to engage them – like those social networking apps do.

WhatsApp and their similar brethren allow folks who have the app to make free calls, send free text messages, add images, video, audio, etc and share it between users (they have to use the app) along with other feature sets.

Where are these capabilities with m-learning? 

Millennials and many adults I know prefer, send and receive text messages, rather than using e-mail.  Why then are LMS vendors so hesitant to add SMS notifications with their solution?

I repeatedly hear the new buzz word, “mobile first”, yet there is nothing that imparts that as being accurate.

You want “mobile first”, then incorporate some of the features that are offered and available in apps similar to WhatsApp. 

You pitch “mobile first” then add SMS notifications. 

You show potential clients and current customers your amazing social;  well let’s tie in social capabilities with your native apps – capabilities that are being used today by millennials.

You constantly showcase smartphones; but I have yet to see ultraportables as examples, let alone Phablets.

And yes, not just millennials but also lots of folks of all ages are buying Phablets.  Where is that in your pitch?

You reply to potentials that your LMS is strong on security. 

Why then do you rarely state the same case with your mobile apps (there are a few vendors who do)?  If I’m going to send messages or videos or whatever in mobile apps, where is my encryption?

Why are vendors so far behind the consumer marketplace? 

Why are they missing the bigger picture?  Why are they failing to grasp mobile apps for m-learning, but have no issue using apps with their own mobile devices?

Why the disconnect?

I’ll tell you why – because they just don’t get it (there are exceptions). 

They are doing what they did and currently do with social, follow the pattern of “same ol same” and think that learners are going to find this the “be all”. 

You want engagement? Then push the envelope with your mobile device. 

Yes, there are vendors moving towards universal apps (working with any mobile OS) – and I’m happy for them – but come on, that is just a minuscule first step.

And it shouldn’t be that way. 

Bottom Line

After all, “I’ll stop the world and melt with you (Let’s stop the world)”

Shouldn’t just be lyrics in a song, it should be a shout out to every vendor in the LMS space, that stopping the world doesn’t mean doing nothing,

It means changing.

With mobile learning front and center.

And not melting away.

E-Learning 24/7






  1. Nice one Craig….

    We get technology out of the way. technology as it stands is in the way!

    The platform takes care of all of this for you automatically. Online, offline, even off grid on any device.

    By summer SMS text alerts will take people directly to class and all you will need is a cell phone number to join the training, coaching and mentoring platform.

    We are passionate about UGC, video selfies and this content is great for mLearning. Trainers and Instructors can easily build for mobile. It’s a small shift in mindset.

    On technology – All vendors should not have to design their product to work in a range of IOS (Apple, Android, MS, Blackberry etc) – That adds a HUGE cost burden in development time, build, testing and validation…. then managing updates etc. The hassle of making sure learners have the right app loaded is a further burden/hassle. Then there’s security and so it goes on

    HTML5 is a mobile friendly standard. A compliant web browser is all thats needed..

    As much as I love Apple. I hate the fact that they (for business reasons) are trying to force vendors to build and market apps via their stores. If they made Safari HTML5 compliant then we could all easily run on that…. But then what about the store and the % they rake 🙂

    Kudos to Google and others for pushing the HTML5 and other standards like video WebM that make all of this possible.

    We can all make a difference by dumping browsers that are not HTML5 compliant and supporting: Opera, Firefox, Chrome, MS Edge and others.

    Best wishes

    Mark Taggart – CEO – Create eLearning
    [email protected]

  2. Thanks for this, Craig. I agree that mobile learning doesn’t seem to have really taken off yet. For me, it comes down to too narrow a focus by the L&D profession. Only last week, I blogged myself on what I perceive to be the “mobile learning muddle” that’s holding L&D back:

    Mobile learning is so much more than just delivering an e-learning course on a tablet. Mobile learning should be used in a variety of different ways to support the entire learning life-cycle and – in my last role – I saw it really take off as a way to deliver micro-learning and refresher and performance support content for other training programmes.

    Learners are already using their mobile devices to learn. They aren’t learning from “courses”, but a much broader range of content types and sources. As always, L&D needs to catch up.

    This type of learning doesn’t always fit so well into the frameworks within your typical LMS. In my current role, I am looking to address this and make sure that the LMS is able to support the broadest definitions of mobile learning.

  3. Hi Craig,

    Thanks for the great sharing of the ideas in this latest posting — and especially for the song analogy which rings in my ears (and plays on my laptop) as I offer my own thoughts in response. Here are a few things I can share…

    Mobile Devices. This is what we all think of first when it comes to mobile learning. And there are lots of options other there although a once crowded field is winnowing as BlackBerry steps aside in most enterprises leaving us with a three horse instead of a four horse race. I agree that smartphone market penetration/adoption is reaching its apex and that’s a good thing (not a bad one) as target audiences have capable devices and already know how to use them in their daily work and personal lives. True again, phablets are gaining in popularity — but they are essentially smartphones with “tabletesque” screens so advances in mobile learning should really be coming from the smartphone side up instead of the tablet side down — this underscores the importance for having not only responsive content and sites but also responsive interfaces on those devices (in-app and mobile web app alike).

    Messaging. Regarding messaging, I concur that finding ways to incorporate messaging directly into the learning process is not only critical but often essential especially if you’re seeking ways to elevate the visibility of your mobile efforts above the noise level of all of the other competing apps (and games and social interactions) already running on your learner’s devices both personal and company issued. More broadly, SMS style interactions are part of this sort of strategy but so are personalized email-based messages, in-app communications and, most importantly, app-based PUSH notifications that are actionable as well as informational. A good platform provides the full “Chinese menu” of messaging options for learning teams to leverage to their advantage.

    Next, the need to support the LATEST versions of a mobile OS balanced alongside the OLDEST versions is becoming commonplace in these days of “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) initiatives — as many potential mobile learners will buy and want to use the most advanced new device out there while other laggard target mobile learners are seeking to eek another month/quarter/year out of their favorite legacy handset for myriad (budgetary, sentimental) reasons…vendors need to try and support the widest “open door policy” they can to ensure the broadest population can access their on-the-go learning environments.

    Tablets. In our experience, Microsoft’s Surface-style devices are the fastest growing category of tablets — replacing iPads and Android-based tablets in many enterprises especially given IT wants to save money/effort by having an easier to support “single device solution” that combines yesterday’s legacy Windows laptop with a modern touch-enabled tablet device into one platform — and that shift often mandates the need for a Windows-based native app to run on the next-gen tablet. But many teams will remain committed to their iOS and Android investments (devices as well as custom apps) and new OS-level features keep life interesting for developers and teams alike to try and take advantage of (e.g., Apple pencil support for newer iPad Pros, geolocation features, more).

    Social/Informal Support. I would also agree with you that social interactions are a key ingredient to the enhancing the learning experience for mobile learners but simply adding message threads and forums may only address part of the need. We’ve witnessed many organizations who want to tie their existing enterprise social solutions (e.g., Chatter, Microsoft Yammer, Jive, others) into their learning environments instead of attempting to introduce a new social channel into their enterprise communications needs.

    Mobile is Unique. Finally, mobile devices optimized for learning offer many more affordances not found in the traditional learning landscape ranging from using device cameras/recorders for user-generated content contributions to shared tablets in retail environments and field force enablement strategies. And mobile security need not be a concern if approached correctly — indeed, the mobile learning experience has to be MORE secure that its online learning equivalent and that’s certainly achievable with any mature mobile offerings. And mobile apps are really the only way reliable and extensible way to ensure a secure learning experience for the mobile worker enabling not only on-device content encryption required by IT/Risk teams but the same secure experience for all the messaging, social interactions and other experiences L&D teams want to make part of their mobile learning experiences.

    Thanks again for all of your continued insights shared with the learning community and promotion of learning — mobile or otherwise — in the modern enterprise.

    Robert Gadd

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