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When you have a hammer, not everything is a nail

January 13, 2010

I was reading the 2010 predictions from elearning magazine and Roger Schank says “Bye bye phone”.  He is frustrated by people asking to convert the learning experiences he designs to work on a phone (make an “app” for that).  

“It was seriously suggested recently in a full year all day every day course I was building, that we needed to make it available on mobile phones. I don’t know about you, but staring at mobile phone for an hour makes my eyes hurt. Try doing it all day for a year. It makes no sense. We don’t learn anything instantly. Real learning is not done on a train or a bus.”

Really, he should be perturbed by that request.  The request is wrong on so many levels.

This is a classic case of Maslow’s hammer (see title of blog post – omit the word “not”).  As learning designers, we know that not everything is meant to work in every situation or on every device, it’s just that clients sometimes don’t want what’s right, they want what they want! 

Now reader, you and I both know that these apps could be very helpful in performance support situations and mobile phones are not going to go away anytime soon, but as real instruments of learning, Roger is right – who would want to look at their phone for an hour and how long before a study is done telling us we’re all going to get retinal cancer from excessive screen-time?  Learning is a lofty goal, but it’s a process and our insta-culture has a hard time with patience.  If people don’t learn from the learning experience you’ve designed then the whole exercise is a waste of money anyway.  And, you risk people become cynical about the learning experience you’ve designed (“it was an awful course, we spent an entire day looking at our iPhones and my optometrist has diagnosed me with Screen Fatigue Syndrome, I’ve had to be off work for a month recovering”).  

So, say bye bye phone if you need to.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2010 9:59 am

    It is not mandatory for anybody, yet, to use cellphones in education.
    But you should be aware that:
    – new generations (that digital natives of Prensky) use the cell phone more often and for more purposes that we do. They don’t get headaches.
    – a lot of countries con’t have infraestructure and money to support one computer per person, but they will get soon to one cell per person. Have you heart about a continent named Africa?

    Fortunatelly there’s something called interoperability, that most platforms whish for, using that we will be able to have non cellphone enabled teachers at their old good LMS or so, while some students will access PARTS of the content and services on their phones or ipods while going to school on bus.

    To conclude:
    When we consider making a course mobile, we should consider 2 things:
    – maybe we don’t need EVERYTHING To be mobile enabled (like not everything should be digital)
    – if some content / services is not suitable for cell phones… then its for sure that is not accessible. So you only create content for rich students, with big screens and without any handycap…

    ps. today our students need to be knowledge-able more than knowledgeable, so when they use diferent tools and thechnologies, they learn new ways to comunicate, get information and stay connected… thats not a waste of time

    • hollymacdonald permalink*
      January 25, 2010 11:38 pm

      Thanks for your comments – I’m actually quite a proponent of using phones to deliver learning, but the point of the post is that sometimes people ask for learning on a phone when it is really ludicrous to do so. We need to be strong enough as instructional designers and say no when need be. However, if we are good at analyzing our learner, their environment, etc (as you’ve pointed out), then we can make better design decisions.


  1. bye bye phones for learning, really? « vicent's blog

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