mlearning.jpgWhat’s the longest you’ve ever stared at your smartphone or tablet? I think I once watched an entire hour-long episode of the Sopranos on my phone. I’m sure many of you use your tablets to watch movies on airplanes or in bed. So I think we can safely put the practical limit of mobile screen time to about two hours, and that’s for highly engaging material and a captive audience. How much time would you be willing to devote to that same screen for a training program for work? Could you sit through an hour-long presentation?

If your organization is deploying mobile learning – and Brandon Hall Group’s research says that 73% of you are — chances are they are asking you to do just that – and more.  According to Mobile Learning 2013: Gaining Momentum, the average length of a course module deployed on a mobile device is 159 minutes. That’s 2 hours and 39 minutes. Die Hard is only 2 hours and 11 minutes, and most of that is guns, fire and explosions.

How about a virtual classroom session? It is a great technological advancement that we can participate in a virtual session from anywhere, but how much engagement can you expect from someone staring at a 4- to 5-inch screen for 80 minutes? That’s the average length of a mobile virtual class, according to the survey of 278 respondents.

Even videos, which were rated as the most effective mobile tool in our study, are far too long. The average mobile learning video is about 10 minutes, but many companies are deploying videos of 20, 30 and even 60 minutes. The length of the average sitcom without commercials is 22 minutes, and I doubt the last training video you watched was as engaging as an episode of Big Bang Theory or Modern Family.

There is a pattern here. We’ve been talking about chunking since George A. Miller coined the concept in 1956. The idea is that the brain only has so much “working memory” that allows it to deal with simultaneous bits of information, so breaking learning into chunks makes it easier to digest. Now, in the mobile era, it is even more critical to begin breaking content down into its essential elements. In the study, organizations that said their mobile performance support content was either highly or extremely effective had chunks that averaged about 9 minutes. For respondents who said their mobile performance support was either slightly or not at all effective, the average was 13 minutes.

If there was ever a time to take a second look at ways to break up your organization’s learning content, it’s now. Chunking can be effective for traditional learning modalities, but it’s critical for effective mobile learning.

David Wentworth

David Wentworth has been a senior research analyst in the human capital field since 2005 and joined the Brandon Hall Group in 2013. He has authored reports and articles on various human capital subjects with an emphasis on workforce technology. He has contributed to several reports published by ASTD, including authoring Mobile Learning: Learning in the Palm of Your Hand, The Rise of Social Media: Enhancing Collaboration and Productivity Across Generations, and Instructional Systems Design Today and in the Future. His work has also appeared in Compensation & Benefits Review and T+D Magazine.

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