Developing a Mobile Learning Ecosystem

Mahima Swarup

When QUEST Alliance, a seasoned advocate of blended learning, first approached us to design and develop a mobile learning (mLearning) ecosystem, we were excited – after all, with the ever-increasing pervasiveness of mobile technologies and middle-class India’s burgeoning appetite for mobile devices, the possibilities to meaningfully engage with young learners were endless.

Yet, very early on, we recognized that despite the near-ubiquity of device ownership, mobile readiness varied considerably amongst students. For some, the mobile served as a simple communication tool that was shared by an entire family, offering limited access to the connected world. For others, the mobile was an “everything” personal device, a medium to entertain, capture memories, discover new content, complete transactions, and be more productive. The questions we then had to ask ourselves were those that inevitably surface in many complex, system-oriented problems: How do we create a single platform that accounts for everyone’s needs? How do we reach out without overwhelming an inexperienced user? How do we sustain the attention of someone more adroit? Most importantly, how do we avoid falling into the “design for everyone is design for no one” trap?

Keeping these considerations in mind, we closely studied students’ motivations, interactions and learning environments from time of enrolment to day of graduation. We realized that a collaborative on-boarding process–a piece that is often overlooked or not given the attention it deserves when introducing new methods–would be essential in successfully engaging students across the board. By providing a shared online device in the classroom in the initial stages, we envisioned experienced student-users to lead the exploration of new technological mediums and, in turn, support their peers. We designed digital prototypes of activities that could be implemented as a group but could also be used by an individual for in-depth, personal reflection at later stages.

The results from prototype testing were remarkable. In every classroom, we found a handful of students demonstrate disarming ease and confidence whilst navigating our platform’s wireframes. Given how often mobile phones serve as aspirational status markers, this knowledge triggered a feeling of pride and encouraged such student-users to guide their peers, enabling collective learning for the entire group. As a result, differences that we initially perceived as stumbling blocks to our design process eventually became the very anchor of our implementation strategy.

Nevertheless, as is with any other mobile application, we intimately understood that our real challenge lay in engaging the user regularly and repeatedly. In theory, a mobile platform can be an attractive solution for easily delivering content and support to a large number of users. However, its success and value is often only realized by the strength of its active community. How then could we build sustained commitment for a new mLearning platform, a space that is routinely ridden with some of the highest attrition rates amongst users?

Delving into research and holding discussions with QUEST yielded multiple insights. Despite successful placements, we found that entry-level professionals were often dissatisfied, dealing with difficult employers, family pressures, long working hours and limited avenues for growth. Most left their jobs within one to three months.

We had uncovered a critical gap. We recognized a clear need to mimic a supportive environment, especially in the absence of a physical classroom and lack of professional support. At the same time, we understood that recent graduates led busy, independent lifestyles where we had little control over their calendars or career paths.

Subsequently, we developed an interface concept that presented bite-sized, interest-based content specifically geared toward recent QUEST alumni. We placed features that allowed them to consume information and seek support when they needed it the most – right before an interview, after an employer conflict, or on the ride home after a long day at work. Providing access to such learning nuggets – what we called “just-in-time” elements – whenever and wherever was crucial in imagining ways in which users could effectively and continuously interact with the platform.

In retrospect, developing a mobile learning ecosystem is challenging. While working with QUEST, we had to frequently remind ourselves that mLearning is not eLearning on a smartphone! mLearning, unlike eLearning, is inherently constrained by its interface and technology. mLearning is also more informal and opportunistic – it has to give users exactly what they need at the moment of their choice. While it may have been easier to repackage existing eLearning materials, we found that having a mobile-first mindset and a limited canvas to work with forced us to think more critically of what to include and what to eliminate. By acknowledging this, we were able to ultimately deliver a carefully contemplated solution that was fundamentally focused on the end-user experience – a valuable learning that can be applied to anything that we do.

Please visit this link to read the full project brief.


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