Mobile Learning Lessons From the Audible App

Rethinking platforms.

August 15, 2013

My goal is to read a book a week. You?  The majority of my book reading is audio, and nowadays my preferred reading platform is an iPhone 5 and the Audible app.

The Audible app is interesting because it demonstrates both the advantages and limitations of a mobile and app-centric approach.  There may also be some lessons in how Audible has designed the app, and how audiobook listeners interact with the app, for mobile learning.

The most important advantage of the Audible app is that I can utilize the device (the iPhone) that I always have with me. Consuming audiobooks from my phone means I never need to remember to take another device, never need to worry about syncing, charging, or managing yet another piece of technology.  

We might be worried that the smart phone has become a new appendage, a technology that we have become so addicted that in its absence we feel naked, exposed, disconnected, and incomplete.   

The edtech lesson here is that the phone is quickly becoming our preferred screen, our default technology.  This is not a new argument, but it takes on added force for all of us every time we transition yet another task or action to our phone.  What used to happen on our laptops, or our TVs, or our e-readers, or iPods, or our wristwatches, or our movie theaters, or our video rental stores - we now do on our phones.

If I ran Blackboard, or Instructure, or D2L, or Pearson, or whatever LMS platform provider the first thing that I would do is create a small team to build a mobile first-LMS.  

Take clean slate to the LMS idea, and ask what sort of platform would be designed if the primary interface was an app on a phone? 

Then I'd bring that alternative LMS to market, and let the market decide if they wanted to license the existing (legacy) browser-first LMS or the new mobile-first LMS.   This is something more than having a mobile division.  I'm suggesting a separate mobile company within the company, one not bound in anyway by the technology, culture, organizational structure, or assumptions of the parent company.   

The second most important advantage of the Audible app is how the new opportunities for reading that the app opens up.   I like that the app tracks my and reports on my reading habits, my own reading dashboard.  I can quickly see how much time I spend listening for today, this week, this month, and across time.   

The app gives me incentive to read more by providing badges.  I'm a recent convert to the app, and so far I've only collected badges for "Stenographer" (more than 40 bookmarks), "Audible Obsessed" (for using the app for at least 7 days straight), "Binge Listener" (self-explanatory), and "The Stack" (more than 200 books in my library).   I have 12 more badges that I can earn, and I'm motivated.

The phone seems like the perfect platform to combine a push into mobile learning with analytics and badging.   Think of all the rich data generated by individual learning behaviors, and aggregated class actions.  A good mobile learning app should expose all this data to the learner.  Letting them know where they stand in their personal learning plan, how their fellow learners are interacting with the mobile learning platform, and what they should be doing to reach their goals.  A badging system, driven by the analytics, would make a terrific addition to the mobile learning experience.

Where does the Audible app fall short?

The biggest deficit is of course a result of Apple's licensing terms.  No in-app purchases.   Since Apple would take too big a cut for each book purchase, Audible does not allow me to search for and purchase books in the app.  This is crazy, frustrating, and ultimately self-defeating for Apple. This is also one of the (many) reasons why Amazon (which owns Audible) will eventually come out with a smart phone.

I'd also very much like if the Audible and Kindle apps were combined.   Why do I need to switch apps to move between listening and reading, particularly now that Amazon has enabled Whispersync for Voice.

Mobile learning platforms should have an advantage of commercial platforms when it comes to usability.   A mobile enabled course does not have the problem of the "in-app" purchase.  A good mobile-first LMS should enable the full downloading and syncing of all course materials.  

Offline capability is a must.  And this offline capability should extend not only to curriculum (text, videos, and other files), but to collaborative tools.   The key is that the mobile learning experience not feel constrained or cramped.  That the design leverages the small screen and the capabilities of the app.  

What apps that you use have got you thinking about where mobile learning could go?


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