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GCN : March 2013
24 GCN MARCH 2013 • GCN.COM As government comes to grips with changes be- ing forced by an explo- sion in mobile computing and communications, it's also trying to wrap its arms around how to use mobile for its educational, training and job performance demands. Mobile technology has huge potential as a learning tool, gov- ernment educators say, but it's also a far more difficult field than most organizations realize. The transition of computer- based learning from distance learning programs through electronic learning systems to new mobile learning (mLearn- ing) apps would seem to have a natural adoption curve. And that's how many organi- zations are trying to exploit the new technologies --- by repur- posing classroom and eLearn- ing materials to run on mobile devices. But that won't cut it, accord- ing to those with experience in mLearning. Mobile is a separate channel through which to deliver edu- cational and training material to users, they say, and is not de- signed to replace anything that is already out there. Instead, it should be viewed as a dis- tinct environment that adds to other instructional resources. People who rush to mobile sim- ply because it's trendy, without analyzing its specific needs, are making a big mistake. A primary lesson learned from the decade and more that the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) has been involved in mLearning is that you have to design original courses spe- cifically for mobile if you want students to learn anything that way. "If you take a course that has been designed for the class- room and simply port it to the mLearning environment, that will be a poorly designed course," said Thomas Mastre, director of the NPS Center for Educational Design, Develop- ment, and Distribution. TECH CONTINUUM Another lesson is that mLearn- ing doesn't apply in all situa- tions. Instead, it's just one more resource that can be exploited in a continuum of learning media. But it's an increasingly impor- tant one, experts say, particu- larly as a generation comes into government that is used to any- time, anywhere consumption of content via their smart phones. Mobile is a technology that the Defense Department overall intends to exploit to help keep its workforce on top of things. A key reason for its mobile strate- gy, published in June 2012, was to "keep the DOD workforce rel- evant in an era when informa- tion and cyberspace play a criti- cal role in mission success." And it's in for the long haul. DOD has instituted a "lifelong learning" process that enables continuing education and in- struction for service people from the time they enlist to when they retire, for which mLearning will be a key enabler. Mobile devices have a lot more capability than just the ability to be infinitely mobile, of course. They also have cameras, microphones, touch screens, accelerometers, GPS and loca- tion detectors, and more, all of which can be used in mLearn- ing. The Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative is looking into how all of these can be brought to play to help mLearning progress within DOD. A part of DOD's Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness, ADL is the result of a January 1999 Ex- ecutive Order aimed at ensur- ing that employees of DOD and federal agencies use technology It has great potential as an educational tool, and it will be around for the long haul, but building platforms and apps isn't as easy as you might think. GOVERNMENT FACES A STEEP CURVE GETTING TO MOBILE LEARNING MOBILE LEARNING FEATURE BY BRIAN ROBINSON