Nearly As Good as the Real Thing

Why a Mobile Learning Prototype May Be Your Next Best Move

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Ready to figure out how to get that first mobile app out to your audience? You are not alone. I’m not sure those of us at Float are ready to declare 2012 the Year of Mobile Learning but we are seeing lots of companies ready and willing to take the first steps in mLearning implementation. This is happening for many reasons. First of all, the ubiquity of mobile devices is making the bridge to the target audiences stronger and more accessible. Secondly, the audiences themselves are asking for content on mobile devices. They are using them to solve challenges in their everyday lives and they can see the applicability in their work efforts as well. Keeping this in mind, it means the timing may be just right for a mobile learning launch.

Just because the timing may be right doesn’t mean that aren’t some immediate hurdles. For instance, what if you find that executive management is reluctant to pull the trigger on this new technology? They may cite reasons that it is too risky or that it costs too much money. Or what if you look around your staff and realize that you don’t have the right skill sets in place or the appropriate technology in hardware or software? Or even worse, when you talked to someone in IT about mobile learning, you sort of got that “not on my watch” look. All situations are different and there isn’t necessarily a “one size fits all” solution to these challenges, but there is an option that could go a long way to meeting the concerns of your stakeholders and overcoming current shortcomings you may have in resources and capabilities. That option is the mobile learning prototype.

First, let’s define a prototype. A prototype is a targeted and limited tool that is designed to simulate the mobile learning user experience. It is not fully functioning and it is developed for a curated demonstration. The goal of the prototype is give the user an idea of the “look and feel” of a mobile learning application in the context of the environment in which it will be used. When done right, a prototype can be very powerful and instrumental in overcoming the trepidations or concerns of the decision-makers you need to convince. Let’s take a look at why a prototype can be an effective strategy.

It reigns in the scope and budget. The prototype will be a much smaller effort than the development of a full-blown mobile application, so you will not need to commit as many resources. A prototype is a somewhat “flat” application with mostly static screens and limited functionality. Usually a prototype has just one or two paths of functionality that show how an application will work. It contains content that will resonate with the audience and presents it in a mobile context. Your audience understands that it was created as a demo, and it is useful to begin the discussion of the applicability of mLearning within the enterprise. Because it is a limited effort, it makes it easier for you to keep your arms around the scope, timeline and budget for the build of the prototype. More times than not, executive management is going to appreciate a smaller budget number in your first mobile learning excursion. And, they may appreciate the calculated strategy behind the prototype and how you are being mindful of dollars and resources.

There is less risk. Here is a guarantee about your first attempt at mobile learning development: you are going to make mistakes. No matter how much you prepare, there will be some unexpected obstacles. You are going to need to answer questions about what mobile devices are going to be used, how those devices and users are going to be authenticated and secure, what learners are going to utilize the mLearning, if it will be a mobile app or a mobile Web app and many others. The prototype exercise will cause you to ask these tough questions in a less-threatening process and qualify your decisions with substantive deployment experiences with actual learners. You will be able to utilize their feedback and show mobile learning at work in the hands of the users in their actual work environment.

It won’t drain your resources. Budgets and staffing are still tight these days. There is a lot to do in your department, and it always seems like there are not enough people to get everything done. The last thing you need to do is add another substantive effort onto your workload. At the same time, growth and positive change are important and necessary. The good news is that there are some options out there that you can consider that won’t result in you adding new personnel, allocating days or months for development or make you learn a new programming language. Chad Udell, the managing director of Float, has covered some of these options in a post from last year entitled, “Prototyping on a Shoestring with Virtually No Tech Skills!” Chad points out that you may already have the skills in-house by using the Adobe Creative Suite or presentation or eLearning development tools. You are most likely closer than you think.

It’s a powerful evangelistic tool. Finally, nothing can compare to the power of actually seeing and using something that gives the user, whether it be a stakeholder or a member of the target audience, a very real taste of how mobile learning would work in their world. You can design the prototype with your branding and choose content that they recognize from existing training. And depending how you build it, it’s possible to load the prototype on their device through ad hoc distribution. Whether you supply the device or not, once you have the prototype loaded, you can then sit down and show them the power of mLearning through a curated demonstration following the targeted functionality path that you have mapped out. As you step through the prototype, you can explain the features and benefits of a learning platform that can happen anywhere and at any time at the user’s discretion and at their own pace. More often than not, you’ll see the lights go on as they see the potential of mobile learning. The best metric in these situations is when they call over a coworker or colleague and tell them, “You need to take a look at this!”

If a mobile learning implementation is one of your goals for 2012 and you still feel stuck at square one, it might be time to consider building a prototype. In many ways, it forces you into confronting the challenges you will have, but at much less risk. And, it will cost less and be done quicker. That’s all good news for you, your stakeholders and your audience.

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Scott McCormick is a founding partner of Float. Building on more than 30 years of experience in training, eLearning, and mLearning efforts for Fortune 500 companies, Scott helps companies embrace new learning strategies and deliver results. Scott is in charge of client relationships with global leaders in healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality, and insurance, and is instrumental in building new business and contributing to Float’s thought leadership efforts. Scott is featured in Float’s latest book, “Mastering Mobile Learning,” available from Wiley and ASTD Press.

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On April 30, 2012
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