Interview with Mayra Aixa Villar on Mobile Learning Design
Today E-Learning Council interviews Mayra Aixa Villar, an instructional designer from Argentina who is focused on helping organizations harness the potential of mobile for learning solutions. Mayra first came to our attention because of posts on ASTD's blog on the Fundamental Considerations for Designing mLearning solutions.
ELC: Mayra, can you tell me a bit about yourself?
Mayra: I started to research e-learning in 2009, the research was part of my M.A. thesis on Applied Linguistics (sub-field Computer Assisted Language Learning) and this allowed me to be appointed by the United Nations to evaluate some eLearning and instructor-led courses as an intern in 2010. That year, I also prepared some interactive presentations and I started to learn how to use rapid elearning authoring tools such as Articulate Studio and Adobe Captivate. Last year, it was pretty intensive as I could apply the knowledge and skills acquired to real projects, and I worked as a freelance Instructional Designer for two IT companies here in Argentina. So, ID has been a step-by-step process for me (I have also been teacher/instructor since 2004).
ELC: Last year you got interested in Mobile.
Mayra: Yes, at the end of last year.
ELC: What got you interested in mobile learning?
Mayra: I am finishing my MA thesis now and then I want to pursue a PhD in Educational Technology and I want to focus on mLearning for e-inclusion (M4D) in developing countries.
ELC: Great! I'm from India originally and have seen the explosion of mobile, especially low bandwidth mobile, in India. Is it similar in Argentina and South America?
Mayra: Absolutely! I have been reading local and international research papers that show that mobile technologies can help to improve people´s education dramatically in those countries.
ELC: Can you give me some advantages mobile offers for learning in developing countries? In the US we are are so focused on advantages of mobile over a robust existing infrastructure.
Mayra: I have noticed that many people in developing countries have more access to mobile devices than PCs, on one hand. On the other hand, many companies like Motorola are helping with different campaigns to deliver mobile devices to people in poverty-stricken areas in Africa. That´s on the side of access to technology . And as a pedagogical advantage, we can say that mobile learning allows us to reach the learners anytime and anywhere, offering a unique, ubiquitous and personalized learning experience.
ELC: That was a powerful statement that you made in your ASTD blog post--the ability of mobile to reach learners anytime and anywhere. Can you talk a little more about the concept of a ubiquitous and personalized learning experience--one that interacts with the environment
Mayra: Ubiquitous learning is a powerful concept that allows us to offer just-in-time information at the exact moment that the learner needs it. The environment itself offers the interactivity and the motivation to learn the new concepts or acquire the new skill because the learners need to solve a real problem at that specific time. This type of experience is also personalized in the sense that the learner looks for the information he/she needs it, according to his/her own needs, and consumes and applies it at his/her own pace.
ELC: Sounds like a great way to drive performance--learning at the point of need.
Mayra: Exactly! and there lies the power and the impact of mobile technologies to train connected learners, according to their needs and also considering their habits.
ELC: Mayra, you have done a lot of thinking around the unique design challenges of Mobile Learning. Could you talk a bit about some of the consideration when creating mLearning vs. creating eLearning.
Mayra: At the moment, I am working with RJ Jacquez on some mLearning projects and we believe that we need a whole new mindset to design the ultimate mLearning experience. Starting with different screen sizes, Natural UI, different device orientations, users/learners´shorter attention span, and some activities and interactions that are not possible in mLearning in the same way we used to do it for eLearning, there a great number of considerations to bear in mind. I just tried to draw the attention to some of the fundamental aspects when I wrote the four posts for ASTD. But one thing is clear : You cannot directly convert eLearning to be accessible through mobile devices and call it mLearning.
ELC: I am glad you are highlighting that you cannot convert your e-learning courses directly to m-learning. They have to be rethought and refocused. It is a problem similar to converting web pages for mobile access--you don't just reformat what's on the web page and call it a day.
Mayra: I couldn´t agree more! eLearning needs to be redesigned to provide effective and engaging mLearning experiences. We can learn from other industries and how they are approaching this transition from desktop to mobile devices and the web design industry is a great place to start.
ELC: Mayra, some people think of mobile learning as a simplified, somewhat inferior product to desktop learning. What is your view?
Mayra: It has to be simpler but that doesn't mean inferior or of less quality. In his book Mobile First Luke Wroblewski, affirms that mobile is simpler because it forces you as a designer to focus on the relevant aspects (content) and get rid of all the unnecessary actions/information/ artifacts that don't contribute to the mobile experience. And, I completely agree with him.
ELC: Agreed. I think Mobile learning can also be superior because it allows the learner to learn in the environment. It does require instructional designers to learn a new set of design techniques.
Mayra: Yes, and that might be a great challenge for instructional designers. After years of designing products for desktop, we have acquired some habits like developing flash interactions, using lots of text, etc, etc and maybe it´s going to be difficult at the beginning to understand that with mobile you need to approach your design in a different way in order to fully leverage the power of mLearning.
ELC: Mayra, I am really enjoying talking to you and could continue this discussion for another hour. Any concluding words for our readers?
Mayra: I think it´s important for us as learning designers to be open-minded and start researching what other industries are doing to harness the potential of mobile technologies to reach their audience/end users and offer them a unique mobile experience. mLearning is happening now, so the future is now. If we look around us, it becomes evident that, at some point, we all will have to design with mobile in mind.
ELC: Thank you so much for taking the time. I really enjoyed discussing mobile learning with you and hope we can continue the discussion soon.
Mayra: Yes! Thank you so much for this opportunity again. It has been great talking to you. Regards from Argentina.
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