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Book Review: Designing mLearning by Clark N. Quinn

— by Bill Cushard

What I wanted to learn when I read Designing mLearning: Tapping into the Mobile Revolution for Organizational Performance by Clark N. Quinn was specific tools and technologies that I could pick up and start designing mobile learning – or mLearning – right away. However, Quinn would not let me fall into that trap, as he reminds the reader that it’s not about the technology. In fact, he tells the reader that even if it was about the technology, the technology will have likely changed between the time he wrote the book and it was published. Quinn does a nice job getting the reader to think at a higher level about the what, how, and ultimately why of mobile learning.

Quinn addresses the “why mobile learning?” question early on by saying that mobile learning is about performance. It is not about being able to do mobile learning, it is about enabling people to perform in their job more effectively. That is an obvious, but important point that us technologies geeks can sometimes overlook. Many of us want so much to be able to try out the newest, coolest technologies, and we forget that our job as learning professionals is not about helping people learn, but helping people do their jobs. It’s about performance.

The book starting to get cooking for me from Chapter 6 through 9. Here, the reader learns about concrete examples of mobile learning implementations, models for thinking about how mobile learning could be applied, and then how to design mobile learning, which by the way is definitely not about converting the training you already have. In fact, in most cases in the book, mLearning is not about training courses at all. Quoted in the book is Kris Rockwell, CEO of Hybrid Learning that in order to “get” mobile, you have to think different. And this is what chapters 6 through 9 help you do … think differently about learning in the context of mobile by showing example after example of how it is being implemented by real-life practitioners.

Accordingly, my favorite chapter in the book is Chapter 6: “Getting Concrete,” which contains stories from people who are actually “doing it” in all areas from large corporations to independent consultants with their clients to primary education institutions. Reading these stories gets the juices flowing about how mobile could be applied, and it becomes obvious that it does not have to be about training. Once you have read chapter 6, you will find Chapter 9: “Mobile Design” very useful. You will find yourself thinking of ways you could actually design the ideas that you learned in Chapter 6 in your organization.

This book helped me in the sense that I tend to get excited about a technology and focus on how to use that technology to create something. However, Quinn writes in such a way that helps me think not about specific tools but about what I want to accomplish. If I can accomplish it [improve performance] without mobile learning, then don’t do mobile learning. However, if mobile learning will help improve performance, then use it. Simple, right?

If you are a learning consultant or internal practitioner who is looking for a solution to your growing mobile workforce, you should spend some time learning about the potential of mobile learning, and you should start with this book. Remember the point made over and over is that mobile learning is about performance. If you want to help your clients and stakeholders improve the performance of a mobile workforce, which is always a huge challenge, then learn how mobile learning could help and read this book.

More about employee training and retention on the Mindflash blog.

Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.

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