The Expanding Definition of “Mobile”

I remember having a fairly passionate discussion with some industry peers around the question “What qualifies as a mobile device?”. While everyone agreed that a smart phone was a mobile device, the level of agreement started to drop as the conversation started to spread to other technologies. Some didn’t think that tablets had the form factor to qualify as “mobile”, since they can’t fit into your pocket. Others argued that we’ve had mobile technology for ages, as laptops enabled you to take the desktop experience with you wherever you went.

What’s amazing to me about that conversation isn’t about who was right or wrong; what I find amazing is how incredibly small in scope our definition of “mobile” was as compared to today.

The Expanding Scope of Mobile

Those conversations took place over the last two years or so, and the major technologies that were part of the “Is it mobile?” discussion were phones, tablets, and laptops. Those were really the only devices that fit into the mobile conversation, but the scope is poised to explode in the very near future.

fitbit_2776467bIt starts with wearable technology, which is close to a tipping point in evolution and adoption. The technology most people associate with mobile technology is Google Glass, but the scope of wearable technology extends well beyond that.

Wearable technology isn’t just worn on your head. It’s on your wrist, or in your shoes, or even in the very fabric of your clothing. This technology collects data, and enables us to interact with our environments in new ways, combining hardware capabilities, software possibilities, and shared connectivity to deliver one of the most powerful aspects of quality learning: Context.

Wearable technology is barely in it’s infancy, but if you looked at the technology on display at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, you know wearable technology is poised to explode at the consumer level. Should wearable technology go mainstream as expected, it will change consumer behavior in day-to-day life. If that happens, how could it NOT affect learning?

Is it the Device that’s Mobile, or the User?

Here’s another wrinkle. We tend to focus the conversation around mobile on the capability of the device. That makes sense based on the technologies we’ve been dealing with. But we need to be careful in that conversation. It’s really not about the device being mobile; it’s about the individual being mobile.

For many that may seem like splitting hairs in a world where the device is tethered to the user. The thing is, technology is continuing to evolve and in a world of The Internet of Things, where just about every device, object, or individual can be connected to the internet, we have the ability to shape a mobile experience around the mobility of a user instead or around a device. For example, consider moving around a museum in which each exhibit recognizes your visit and contextually interacts with you. It’s not that far off, and it could once again reshape how we look at shaping mobile learning.

What is “Mobile”?

I’ve never been a fan of labels, as I feel people tend to look at the label as a binding definition rather than just a guide for understanding. For me, it’s not about defining any one piece of technology as “mobile” or “non-mobile”; it’s a matter of asking if a technology needs to be part of your mobile conversation, and if the technology needs to be included in your organizational learning strategy.

xl_Google-Glass-7-624At the very least, we need to pay attention to the changes that are going on around us so that we can better understand how they affect the work we are doing. Wearable Technology, the Internet of Things, and other new technologies are going to change the consumer mobile experience in the near future, and we need to understand the impact, and possibilities, that these new technologies will have on learning.

At this year’s mLearnCon Conference and Expo, we’ll be exploring the expanded definition of mobile in detail. We’ll have a keynote session from Larry Irving discussing the ways mobile technology is changing learning on a global scale, a featured session from Sean McCracken exploring wearable technologies and their potential for learning in detail, as well as a number of additional sessions that dive into mobile technologies (of all types) and the innovative ways that organizations are using them to create engaging learning programs and improve performance. Make your plans today to be in San Diego this June, and join the discussion exploring the expanding definition of mobile.


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