Mobile Learning Instructional Design

Mobile Learning and Instructional Design?

by Mark Sivy

Mobile learning is an integral part of daily life and should be part of your instructional design palette. It’s not intended or expected to be THE answer to current issues surrounding learning, but rather can address certain needs. Mobile learning is a subset of online learning, which is a subset of online learning. Think of mobile learning as on-demand, in-the-moment, chunked learning that occurs through connections made using mobile digital devices such as smartphones and tablets. An example of mobile learning would be a homeowner using a smartphone to identify an unknown caterpillar and find the most current information about natural means of pest control. From my perspective, mobile learning allows us to address memory lapses, fill knowledge gaps, and support formal learning processes.

Mobile Learning Benefits

  • Occurs on readily available, easy-to-carry portable devices.
  • Fits into personal needs more easily and quickly than traditional or online learning.
  • Can be self-directed and self-paced, thus allowing learners the opportunity to speed up, slow down, and review content at an individual pace or as needed.
  • Improves self-esteem and self-efficacy.
  • Decreases training costs.
  • Empowers the learner to take more responsibility for their learning.
  • Accommodates personal preferences.
  • Can be learner-centered by diversifying learning activities.
  • Allows learners to overcome geographic barriers.
  • Compensates for personal restrictions, challenges, or limitations.
  • Facilitates immediate learner collaboration and communication.
  • Can be used to create peer community and support which enhance learning.
  • Allows for broader learning opportunities and course options at a lower cost to the learner.
  • Enables global awareness, community, networking and resources.
  • Provides tools which allow for tracking, analyzing, reporting, and improving instruction and learning.

Mobile Learning Challenges

  • There is a problem developing learning content and programs across multiple operating systems, screen sizes, and device capabilities
  • Learners who procrastinate or are poorly self-motivated be disadvantaged and less likely to succeed.
  • Non-verbal communication such as body language, facial expressions, and eye contact will typically be missing.
  • Addressing policies, procedures, compliance requirements, technology application updates, and business updates.
  • Barriers can exist initially for learners due to the need for new skills which are associated with using technologies and new ways of learning.
  • It is more difficult to interact or communicate with individuals who tend to be unresponsive.
  • Learners may miss face-to-face social contact and interaction, can feel isolated, or may need in-person instructor-learner interaction.
  • Subject matter experts or instructors may not always be available on demand.
  • Slow or unreliable network or wireless connections can present issues and frustration.
  • It often requires a difficult change in attitudes and beliefs by leaders, learners, instructors, and instructional designers.
  • There is a reduction in opportunities to develop oral communication skills and other social dynamics.

Final Words

As an instructional designer, you can incorporate mobile learning into your arsenal of strategies. Keep in mind these advantages and drawbacks as you decide whether or not to use it as part of a project. Additionally since the screen size of mobile devices vary greatly, you’ll need to keep this in mind as you use responsive design in creating your content. Some software, such as Adobe Captivate 8, are now stepping up to the mobile learning plate by incorporating this as part of their tool.

Reflection Point – “Instructional designers need to run, not walk, away from classroom-thinking and get to the point of providing short, quick business focused learning points that are easily accessible when and where our learners need them. This means leveraging new technologies to deliver non-traditional instruction.” ~ Karl Kapp


REAL Adult Learner

The REAL Adult Learner

by Mark Sivy

The writing of this post was prompted by the all too common contrary treatment of adult learners in academic and corporate settings. Learning for adults is often treated as an extension of traditional public education, which itself is in desperate need of updating. As an adult, the motivations, challenges, psychology, and mechanics of learning are significantly different from those that exist for K-12 and undergraduate programs. These differences need to be recognized, acknowledged, and integrated into instructional practice.

Adult Learner


Even though no single theorist’s approach comprehensively applies to all adults, one of the most well-known of contemporary adult learning theorists is Malcolm Knowles. His assumptions align with previous work of noted individuals such as Jean Piaget and Dusan Savicevic and concurrent work by experts such as Kathryn Cross and Jack Mezirow.

Adult Learner Characteristics

So for a start, the first six items that I present are based upon Malcolm Knowles’ (1984) assumptions of adult learning characteristics. I then follow up with some of my own, which I highly doubt are original, yet they are important to consider.

  1. Adults have transitioned from being dependent learners to being self-directed. This translates into the abilities to: a) have control over their learning process, b) develop peer-level rapport with instructors and trainers, c) learn in a manner that is conducive to their individual style, d) to select projects or tasks that reflect their desires, and e) avoid highly structured learning.
  2. Closely related to the previous assumption is that adults motivated to learn voluntarily, or at least learning material in a manner that generates a sense of intrinsic benefit such as to boost self-esteem or address a curiosity.
  3. Adults want to draw on or connect to their past experiences to help them in learning new content or skills. This stresses the importance of hosting learner groups that are comprised of individuals with similar experiences or interests.
  4. Adults are pragmatic and goal-oriented, wanting learning outcomes that are immediately applicable.
  5. Adults need to see the relevance and benefit of current learning to their life and future, work or personal.
  6. Learning needs to be problem-based and task-oriented instead of focused on the memorization of facts or processes.
  7. Adult’s lives are complex with multiple roles and busy schedules, thus learning needs to be more flexible in terms of time, place, and pacing.
  8. The ability to learn slows with age, yet learning becomes deeper and more meaningful due to its integration with a learner’s pre-existing knowledge and experience.
  9. Many adult learners who approach a new learning experience have anxieties, either due to negative learning experiences at earlier ages or because they sense they may not be equipped to learn as an adult.
  10. As a whole, adult learners are much more diverse, consequently requiring a greater personalization of the learning experience.
  11. Learning through the use of technology and at-a-distance communication can be new for many adults, thus causing a sense of disconnection with the learning process and a perceived inability to address previously mentioned adult learner needs.
  12. After a learning event, adults benefit from coaching, follow-up discussions, on-demand support, and informal communities of practice.

Adult Learning TheoryImplementation

The topic of integrating these characteristics of adult learners into the development and deployment will be the topic of a follow-up blog post next month….

Reflection Point – “Learning shouldn’t be treated as an assembly line process like that implemented by Henry Ford.”     ~Mark Sivy


Knowles, M. (1984). Andragogy in Action. San Francisco

Ed Tech Priorities

Correct Priorities for Educational Technology?

by Mark Sivy


What IS educational technology? When it comes down to the basics, it’s technology that supports learning processes. According to the AECT (2008), educational technology is the

“…study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.”

What we need gather from this definition is that it takes us from a commonplace and superficial notion that educational technology refers to the hardware, software, and devices that can be used for learning. Instead, it draws our attention to the theory, instructional systems, instructional design, and practice that are behind properly using technology to facilitate learning.


Ideally, learning would occur without the recipient experiencing tedious or unexciting teaching practices that so often plague a learning environment, whether in a physical space or online. As Plato (427-347 BC) is quoted from The Republic, Book VII:

“No compulsory learning can remain in the soul…In teaching children, train them by a kind of game, and you will be able to see more clearly the natural bent of each.”

With proper planning and preparation, educational technology can be used in this way to motivate students and stimulate their interest.

A Very Brief History

There’s no question that the application of technology has played an important role in education for centuries. The study and implementation of educational technology began rapidly evolving during the latter part of the twentieth century when the microcomputer became a common device. In 1979, Barette envisioned that “teachers as well as students would be accessing huge machine readable files from their school library media centers and from home.” In the 35 years since, the use of computers for educational purposes went from being a novelty to now being a necessity that has been embraced by the academic community.

learnerToday’s educational technologies can enable participatory learning that benefits from interactivity and social construction of information via networked programs and systems. Combining the benefits of technology with online social interaction, McLoughlin and Lee (2007) state that not only do social software tools support social interaction, but they also support collaborative learning through the sharing of concepts, ideas, and services. The latest educational technologies have issued in a new and evolving realm of education that involves community-based learning and the co-creation and coalescence of knowledge. This semantic web continues to unfold.

An Issue

educational technologyTo my dismay, all too often the interest in adopting educational technology is driven by a conference presentation or a media trend rather than a fully assessed need. In the past year I’ve had conversations with various school administrators about their educational technology. In in each case they were mainly concerned with the technology and were either unaware of or unprepared for its level of acceptance or support. This all too common approach frequently comes with much frustration and expense, and results in mediocre outcomes at best.

The Challenge

Simply stated, the task is to have learning needs and users of the educational technology drive its selection and development. This should be done after stakeholder (instructors and learners) buy-in has been established and the necessary support and resources have been secured.

Reflection Point: “The Semantic Web is not a separate Web but an extension of the current one, in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation.” ~Tim Berners-Lee


Association for Educational Communications and Technology (2008). Definition. In A. Januszewski and M. Molenda (Eds.), Educational Technology: A definition with commentary. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Barrette, P.P. (1979). Microcomputers in education. Compute! 1(1), p. 33.

McLoughlin, C. and Lee, M. J. W. (2007). Social software and participatory learning: pedagogical choices with technology affordances in the web 2.0 era. Proceedings Ascilite, Singapore 2007, pp. 664

Continuous Improvement Work Culture

Continuous Improvement Success

by Mark Sivy

As an employee, how many times have you sat through an irrelevant and impersonal professional development presentation to then go back to work and keep doing the same as before?

As a leader, how often have you gone through the motions of arranging for a training or development event that was seemingly “good for the team”, but was not directly useful to individual employees or had no after-event follow-up?


Many professional development efforts do not result in the hoped for or intended outcomes.

Sobering Findings

Searching through job descriptions for professional development managers during the past few months, I’ve shockingly found that very few actually require people with a academic background in learning development or some form of education. Most are seeking individuals with degrees in business administration, subject matter expertise, or human resources. In many ways, this is similar to having a car dealership financial officer or a race car driver diagnose and repair a car engine.


There is much more to creating effective continuous improvement than using popular off-the-shelf learning products, hiring a high-priced external “expert”, making employment contingent upon attending a required amount of development, or offering non-relevant learning. This slide set that I placed on SlideShare presents fundamental considerations that I prescribe in creating a work culture that supports a beneficial continuous development program.

Reflection Point – “My main job was developing talent. I was a gardener providing water and other nourishment to our top 750 people.” ~ Jack Welch

Unified Learning

Unified Learning – Combining Academic and Corporate Strengths

by Mark Sivy

So here’s the first post for my latest blog. With this blog I hope to deviate from my somewhat formal approach to other blogs by providing posts that are based upon my heartfelt perspectives and opinions about education and learning matters, whether academic or corporate. Now this doesn’t mean I’m going to contrive or fabricate ideas to suit my personal motivations, but rather I will speak candidly based upon my experience, practice, education, and research. I won’t take the position that I’m correct or that issues and stances are black or white, but I do hope to give readers reason to pause, contemplate, and form their own opinions or to positively impact their attitudes and beliefs.

Having something like 22 years tinkering in high school, higher education, and adult education, mixed with another 8 years spent in the corporate world, topped by about 5 years as an education and business operations consultant, I’ve had time to form a few education viewpoints. Additionally, my Bachelor’s degree was completed with industry work in mind, my Master’s was pursued with the intention of excelling in the academic realm, and my doctorate done with the goal of merging the best of corporate and academic approaches into a unified learning strategy.

Corporate LearningAcademic Learning






My rationale for coalescing the two is that the cultures and learning programs in each environment has unique strengths that can be brought together to create a fortified, practical, theory-supported, effective, and financially sound learning model. I realize this is MUCH easier to think and write about than it is to actually accomplish. I don’t intend to develop or present a working model at this time, but I do want to establish some working constructs. Thus, I’ll begin my approach to the formulation of such a learning program by analyzing the two differing outlooks created by two key players – the leadership and the adult learner. At this stage it should be noted that some statements I make will be generalizations or oversimplifications and that a deeper analysis of a given organization would be necessary to create an optimal unified learning program.


In terms of leadership, I refer to a study done by the Witt / Kieffer executive search firm, titled Leadership Traits and Success in Higher Education. I found that the findings of this research study exemplify what I’ve discovered in my personal experiences as well as what I’ve read in other articles on higher education and industry leadership. Three personality assessments used in the study examined leaders’ “normal” personalities, “stressed” personalities, and personal leadership preferences. Both leadership camps had many similarities in qualities such as ambition, initiative, attention-seeking, self-promotion, and power. Differences exist in a variety of areas. Overall, higher education leaders have greater levels for interpersonal sensitivity, overt cooperation, and altruism. On the other hand, private-sector leaders had higher levels of mischievousness, daring, commerce, and hedonism. These differential traits have likely been strong drivers in the historic development of learning opportunities and cultures in the respective areas. Being aware of and compensating for these character differences can significantly and positively impact the creation of a productive learning program. For instance the higher education leader could be less altruistic and more focused on commerce, whereas the private sector leader could be more in tune with individual needs and less concerned with personal pleasure and gain.

The Learner

On the learner side it’s generally accepted that an adult learner is an individual who is 25 years of age or older, but some consider them as being 18 years of age or older based on additional criteria. Often in the past and in many cases still today, learning that targeted this group was and is based largely upon what subject matter experts generically and in an all-encompassing manner pre-determined as the knowledge and skills that an individual should possess. Even though the content and focal points of educating the adult learner in higher education and industry are likely different, the fact remains that these are adult learners and the theories that apply to them are the same regardless of the venue. Commonly accepted work in this area was that done my Malcolm Knowles (1980) concerning andragogy, which states that:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected

Additional considerations are that adults have differences such as learning approaches, emotional intelligences, responsibilities, motivations, cognitive schema, and backgrounds. These adult learning characteristics and others, along with higher education and corporate best practices and current learning theory should be considered when creating a talent development, training, or learning program.

Unified Learning

Motivations for Unified Learning

This is a time of change in educational processes. Government offices worldwide are expecting public academic institutions, whether P-12 or higher education, to be more fiscally frugal and guided by both learning outcome measures and by private sector demands. On the other hand, industry training and development experts are now being expected to develop programs that utilize learning theory and that are more in tune with individual learner’s needs. A unified learning agenda based upon adult learning needs, modern methodologies, and learning technologies can facilitate the winning academic or corporate advantage.

Reflection Point – The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one. ~ Malcolm Forbes



Knowles, M. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: Andragogy versus pedagogy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Cambridge Adult Education.