Preparing for Mobile Learning – Part II Tim VanDoren

Preparing for Mobile Learning – Part II

There’s an App for that!

You’ve probably heard that saying a million times, partly as a joke and partly because it seems true almost all the time.  

I’ve had several clients reach out to me determined they “need” an app for what they are trying to do, and after doing a lot of analysis and investigation into why they think so, it usually comes down to a few reasons.

  • They want to be hip/trendy for those millennials entering the workforce,
  • They’ve been told to do something with “mobile” or “modern learner”, or
  • Someone else has an app and they want one too.  (This one is more common than you would think.)

So, what’s wrong with an app?  I am the last person to knock down technology, especially one that has many proof cases that show it is effective.  However, I am almost always skeptical when I am presented a solution to a problem/gap before there has ever been any more formal analysis to the problem.  I started out my career on the IT side of things, and when I came over to the education side of the house it seemed everyone thought e-Learning was the solution before they even knew the problem.  This led me to be more of a naysayer than a proponent to e-Learning for a lot of the requests.  Not that I didn’t think they were effective, but I knew there was a better way.  Before you continue on with the next point, really spend some time to think if this is what you need or is there a better way!

Do you want an app OR a mobile website?  When I have asked this question, I almost always get the response, app.  What is the difference between the two?  I am sure a lot of you have additional lists of differences, but to keep it simple for my clients, I try to keep it very high-level to get them thinking.  

  • APP:  An app is software that is developed to do certain tasks on a device.  Most of us think of mobile apps when we say app, but these days we now have to consider tablets, laptops and even desktops when looking at apps.  This software is designed to be downloaded and run within the operating system is was installed on.

  • Mobile Website:  A mobile website, or commonly referred to as a website designed with responsive design, is, for all intensive purposes, a website. The main difference is that it functions well with the device you are accessing it from.  Without getting geeked out on all the details, there are plenty of sites to do that; mobile websites are designed using HTML5/CSS3 to change the layout of the website to modify the size and items displaying to adjust to the device you are viewing it from.  
Which one is better?  Well, it really depends on what you are trying to do.  Each has their pro’s and con’s.  Depending on what the end result of your analysis is, choosing one should be fairly simple based on what they are good for.

  • APP Pros:  
    • Offline Access: You can use the app without being connected to a network.
    • Gaming: You can utilize the devices processing power to load and run the game and you are not depended on the connection speed.
    • Complex Tasks: Think similar to gaming, if you are running reports, spreadsheets or other tasks that are memory hogs an app is the better choice.
    • Device Functionality Usage: If you are using things like the devices built in camera or geo location then an app is perfect for this.
  • Mobile Website Pros:
    • Compatible Across Platforms: This is a huge advantage to responsive design!  With all the different devices out there with a mobile website with responsive design, you only need to build and more importantly, maintain, one site.
    • Cost:  Generally mobile websites tend to be a lot less expensive than and app.
    • Quicker to Market: I am a huge advocate for Rapid Application Development, RAD, which gets your site at that 80% readiness and allows you to move into usability testing far quicker than developing multiple apps.  
    • Easier to Update: Content seems to change the minute you hit publish, and with mobile websites you just need to make the changes and the next time your user visits your site they have the latest and greatest.  With an app, you are looking at pushing out updates and then balancing the number of updates you release so you aren’t negatively impacting your users.
I may lean towards responsive design over app development but as I mentioned, it really depends on what the goal is.  I’ve designed some really exciting and engaging learning that incorporated geo location pinging the learner when they are near something I wanted to push performance support out to, as well as social learning using cameras for pictures and videos to support collaboration and self-discovery.  I’ve also designed learning that I was able to quickly get out to learners with very low overhead and from the learner’s perspective, they would have thought they were using an app with the way it was built.  So, there may be an app for that, but there might also be mobile website for that, too.  

Preparing for Mobile Learning – Part I "Performance Support"

Preparing for Mobile Learning – Part I

What is Mobile Learning?  When I think about mobile learning, m-Learning, and what my clients within the organization mean when they talk about it can really be broke down into 3 categories of thought.  The first two seem to be the most common when working with clients outside of the L&D environment.

Visible via mobile platform:  These clients are typically driven by the platform being used and not necessarily the “Mobile” approach.  In cutting costs on having multiple devices some groups are moving to tablets to reduce overhead, lifecycle management and meet the demands of their users.  The main concern when is comes to learning is that the content previously accessible to the associates is still usable via their mobile device. 

Same content but taken outside of normal workspace:  The next group is trying to utilize all available time an associate has and allow for learning to occur during those downtimes to be as effective as possible.  There is a lot of value to this approach, especially if your intended audience is not typically sitting behind a computer all day.  I recently redeveloped some senior leadership training that was focused around learners who managed multiple locations and was on the road the majority of the time.  I wanted to have training available to them that they could pull down to their device and take when/where they wanted.  I went even further with this group and designed the content to be pulled down when they had external access to information and allowed them to take the training offline and push back the status the next time they were “online”.  Now our learners can pull their learning down, take their training while on that long flight and push back to the system their progress the next time they connect to the network.  We now have hours of downtime turned into uptime.   

Both Quinn (2000) and Pinkwart, et al. (2003) defined m-learning as “e-learning that uses mobile devices”.  This is the mindset that we are challenged with on a daily basis.  I like to use an example I personally had one day while brewing craft beer at home.  I was modifying an IIPA recipe when I needed to know how many ounces there was in a gallon.  I didn’t go online and begin a course on unit conversion or a cooking course on modifying quantities to increase or decrease quantities, I simply picked up my mobile device and asked Google how many ounce in a gallon.  In less than a second I knew there was 128 ounces in a gallon and I was able to quickly go back to the task at hand.  This is what I consider “Performance Support”.

Performance support:   Here is where I get really excited about the possibility of Mobile Learning.  We already have our e-Learning content and our facilitator led training, but what happens post learning.  We no longer need to carry cheat sheets of unit conversion with us to brew beer, we just need to know where to go and get the information.  Performance support isn’t designed to teach entirely new concepts to learners but to support the knowledge they already have and to add to it.  I see a lot of examples online about performance support and sales.  You are sitting in your car outside a client’s office and you know this sale is going to be hard to close.  You pull up your sales training performance support designed content and quickly find “5 quick closing pitches for a tough client”, you review the companies recommended pitches and head into your meeting.  Notice I said “quickly”!  Performance support is very dependent on speed to information.  Just look at the apps on your phone right now.  Are any of the apps you use on a regular basis complicated to use?  Do you need to spend several minutes to get the information you are trying to find?  Most likely not, or you would have deleted that app and found another one that does it better. 

There is a lot more involved with the types of mobile learning and things to consider when determining what your needs are, but there are plenty of books out there that cover this.  My goal is to get you thinking about the bigger picture.  Below are two links to books I would recommend reading on Mobile Learning.

Training Needs Assessment - Part 2

Learning Content Analysis



Is the right content being trained?

  • Is content aligned with the project goals?

  • Is the content appropriate for the targeted audience?

  • Will the content be used on the job immediately?

  • Do we receive regular feedback on the content via training feedback/reporting?



Are we conveying the knowledge effectively?

  • Is the delivery method appropriate for the targeted audience needs?

  • Is the content engaging?

  • Do the activities foster learning?

  • Is the individual time to proficiency what we expect?

  • Is the knowledge being retained as expected post deployment?

  • Is the content packaged into “digestible” pieces?



Are we doing it as quickly and cost effectively as appropriate?

  • Is the development time appropriate for the content being delivered?

  • Are the development, delivery and administration costs in line with expectations?

  • Are we efficiently leveraging people, tools and content across sectors?

  • Can the content be easily updated or modified in response to change in business?



Is the delivery of the content consistent and repeatable?

  • Is the content being delivered as designed consistently across each sector?

  • Can the content be easily updated or modified in response to changes in the business environment?

  • Do we anticipate frequent updates due to technology changes/customization?

Training Needs Assessment - Part 1

Three Levels of a Training Needs Assessment


The purpose of a training needs assessment is to identify performance requirements and the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed by an agency's workforce to achieve the requirements. An effective training needs assessment will help direct resources to areas of greatest demand. The assessment should address resources needed to fulfill organizational mission, improve productivity, and provide quality products and services. A needs assessment is the process of identifying the "gap" between performance required and current performance. When a difference exists, it explores the causes and reasons for the gap and methods for closing or eliminating the gap. A complete needs assessment also considers the consequences for ignoring the gaps.

Three Levels of a Training Needs Assessment:

Organizational Assessment:
Evaluates the level of organizational performance. An assessment of this type will determine what skills, knowledge, and abilities an organization needs. It determines what is required to alleviate the problems and weaknesses of the organization as well as to enhance strengths and competencies, especially for Mission Critical Occupation's (MCO). Organizational Assessment takes into consideration various additional factors, including changing demographics, political trends, technology, and the economy.

Occupational Assessment:
Examines the skills, knowledge, and abilities required for affected occupational groups. Occupational assessment identifies how and which occupational discrepancies or gaps exist, potentially introduced by the new direction of an organization. It also examines new ways to do work that can eliminate the discrepancies or gaps.

Individual Assessment
Analyzes how well an individual employee is doing a job and determines the individual's capacity to do new or different work. Individual assessment provides information on which employees need training and what kind.

Retrieved January 9, 2012, from



The ADDIE model is the generic process traditionally used by instructional designers and training developers. The five phases—Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation—represent a dynamic, flexible guideline for building effective training and performance support tools. While perhaps the most common design model, there are a number of weaknesses to the ADDIE model which have led to a number of spin-offs or variations.

It is an Instructional Systems Design (ISD) model. Most of the current instructional design models are spin-offs or variations of the ADDIE model; other models include the Dick & Carey and Kemp ISD models. One commonly accepted improvement to this model is the use of rapid prototyping. This is the idea of receiving continual or formative feedback while instructional materials are being created. This model attempts to save time and money by catching problems while they are still easy to fix.

Instructional theories also play an important role in the design of instructional materials. Theories such as behaviorism, constructivism, social learning and cognitivism help shape and define the outcome of instructional materials.

In the ADDIE model, each step has an outcome that feeds into the subsequent step.

Analysis > Design > Development > Implementation > Evaluation

Analysis Phase

In the analysis phase, instructional problem is clarified, the instructional goals and objectives are established and the learning environment and learner's existing knowledge and skills are identified. Below are some of the questions that are addressed during the analysis phase:

* Who is the audience and their characteristics?
* Identify the new behavioral outcome?
* What types of learning constraints exist?
* What are the delivery options?
* What are the online pedagogical considerations?
* What is the timeline for project completion?

Design Phase

The design phase deals with learning objectives, assessment instruments, exercises, content, subject matter analysis, lesson planning and media selection. The design phase should be systematic and specific. Systematic means a logical, orderly method of identifying, developing and evaluating a set of planned strategies targeted for attaining the project's goals. Specific means each element of the instructional design plan needs to be executed with attention to details.

These are steps used for the design phase:

* Documentation of the project's instructional, visual and technical design strategy
* Apply instructional strategies according to the intended behavioral outcomes by domain (cognitive, affective, psychomotor).
* Create storyboards
* Design the user interface and user experience
* Prototype creation
* Apply visual design (graphic design)

Development Phase

The development phase is where the developers create and assemble the content assets that were created in the design phase. Programmers work to develop and/or integrate technologies. Testers perform debugging procedures. The project is reviewed and revised according to any feedback given.

Implementation Phase

During the implementation phase, a procedure for training the facilitators and the learners is developed. The facilitators' training should cover the course curriculum, learning outcomes, method of delivery, and testing procedures. Preparation of the learners include training them on new tools (software or hardware), student registration.

This is also the phase where the project manager ensures that the books, hands on equipment, tools, CD-ROMs and software are in place, and that the learning application or Web site is functional.

Evaluation Phase

The evaluation phase consists of two parts: formative and summative. Formative evaluation is present in each stage of the ADDIE process. Summative evaluation consists of tests designed for domain specific criterion-related referenced items and providing opportunities for feedback from the users.

Retrieved March 7, 2011, from