Following a great week in San Jose at mLearnCon, where for two and a half days I was the host of the Mobile Operating System Help Stage (MOSHPit), I now have had some time in the wine country in California and back in London to reflect on what we did, who we met, and the important conversations that took place.

I almost did as others have done and wrote an article the following day, but instead I shrugged off the urge. By allowing time for Kolb’s Experiential Cycle to work and to let the whole overpowering week settle, I now have some sense of what took place.

As one of the “experts” at mLearnCon I was motivated to find out where delegates are in the cycle to adopt learning to mobile devices. As “The Learning Coach,” I was also readily available to enter into discussion about not only how to implement learning to the mobile device but what to deliver, and to pose questions to many like, “Why are you doing this?” and, “What are you expecting?”

I am conscious that over the last 20-years of eLearning, the technology side of the industry has been led by (a) the vendor, (b) the content as reflected by the Authoring Tool’s ability to create learning, and (c) the LMS’s ability to deliver it. This is different from the strategy to deliver good learning modules and courses designed around great learning outcomes rather than some off the shelf template, masquerading as bespoke content.

I have in those 20 years watched four boom-and-bust cycles in eLearning. These were:

  1. The high-cost outsourcing model,
  2. The DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Model,
  3. The “offshore” model, and more recently,
  4. The Rapid Model.

Now comes Generation 5, the Mobile Model.

Two of these cycles were quite obviously DIY. These have always been the center of conversations that include a phrase similar to, “Well, of course ours never quite looks as good as the one created for us” – and then I ask, “Why not?” The answer often blames the authoring tool or the person creating the content. Of course, the person creating the content has probably never had media training, or real training in Instructional Design. Plus, of course, the author probably has another full time job in the organization. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I would love to have a dollar for every time I had this conversation.

So it was with some trepidation that I took a while to walk around the Expo of 25 suppliers peddling their wares. I was somewhat concerned that a few were the same vendors we see at other shows for eLearning. Same tools, smaller template! I asked whether this was the right tool for the job, is this what we are actually trying to do? The experts said no! The tool vendors said: “Buy my product; it’s the fastest, and the greatest.” Oh-oh, here we go again.

But I am also pleased to report that not all the vendors had the same message, nor were all peddling the idea that mLearning is a miniaturization of eLearning. Still, for some partygoers, it was quite obvious this was the underlying consideration.

So what did we learn at mLearnCon? Well, thanks go to a very lively chap I met called Alvin, who took me by surprise when I questioned him about why he wanted to deliver all of his eLearning shrunk onto a mobile. “I work with a large group of Gen Y’s, and that’s what they want. It’s their device, it’s what they know how to use, it’s in the format they want, and it’s in their pocket, not mine.” Thank you, Alvin! This started the session with a big bang, and the whole group listening started to talk in a different way and started to think about possibilities they had not thought about before.

This was the theme of two-and-a-half days: discover what you had not previously considered. For many, the question was, “WebApp or Native?” For others, it was, “HTML5 (“Whatever that may be,” said one person) or Flash.” That latter discussion in the MOSHPit drew a crowd too large to count; the argument will continue for a long time to come, I am sure.

For me personally, I learned we as the “experts” have to spend much more time explaining what you can do with the mobile device. My chats with Judy Brown, which involved much heated conversation and much laughter as we completely disagree on what actually constitutes a mobile device, will continue for some time. For Judy, the mobile device must fit in a pocket. For me the device just needs to not be tied to the desk or run from a power outlet.

In the week in San Jose there were so many conversations I lost count. Some were with people who were physically at the event. These took place over some great meals and in numerous places that plied us with copious quantities of liquid we would never consume at home. Other conversations engaged individuals who were following mLearnCon from every corner of the world, via a plethora of social media tools.

The interesting point is that everything we learned was in a conversation of one type or another. Thankfully this underpins my concept that the best learning method is still conversation. We need to talk.