The future of mhealth learning

The future of health and the future of learning share something in common. They both will include mobile devices as an integral part of knowledge management and performance support.

In a recent research2guidance whitepaper (a summary of The Global mHealth Market Report 2010-2015), 231 global companies involved in the mobile health market were asked about their perceptions of mHealth status, drivers, and barriers.

Mobile health education markets

The whitepaper identifies some mobile health education markets, reflecting both health care providers (HCPs) and patient needs.

  • Mobile health solutions for patients include medication compliance and health tracking tools. (“mHealth has the potential to prevent patients from being lost in the system after leaving the doctor’s rooms.”)
  • Personalized apps that allow patients to access and understand health records, to track health behaviors, and to access health information are highly desired.
  • Mobile health solutions for HCPs include remote monitoring and continuing education solutions (CME, CNE).
  • mHealth apps are seen as tools to improve communications between physicians and patients, including  point-of-care communication (e.g., during office visits, as physicians use tablets to share information) and remote, at-time-of-need, communications (e.g., telehealth applications)
  • Caregivers also are recognized as an important audience with mhealth learning needs

Diabetes is viewed as the therapeutic area with the highest business potential , followed by obesity, and hypertension. An  important goal of mhealth learning is to create awareness and to provide behavior-changing aids before these conditions become chronic.

Interestingly, despite HCP mhealth learning needs, doctors and medical practitioners are NOT viewed as leading the mhealth drive. “Clinicians are viewed as slow adopters of IT, preferring to ask colleagues, check their own personal libraries, and search for online information, in that order of preference,” according to one respondent. In contrast, patient demand is viewed as providing an important impetus for mhealth development followed by the development of patient-centered Medicare models.

Some additional opportunities I  note include the creation of platforms that support peer-to-peer learning, allowing HCPs to access other HCPs, and patients to access both patients (an increasingly important source of information and support) and HCPs.

As described on the Healthy People 2020 Web site: “Social media and emerging technologies promise to blur the line between expert and peer health information. Monitoring and assessing the impact of these new media, including mobile health, on public health will be challenging.” Building optimal health learning platforms that facilitate these interactions and  the dissemination of accurate, accessible, and actionable information will be an important part of this challenge.

Barriers to mhealth growth

One whitepaper  respondent noted that “ Lowering clinician resistance to anything that will put control in patients’ hands will be critical to [mhealth] success.”

Additional barriers cited include:

  • Lack of standardization of hardware and software (also true of mlearning generally)
  • Security and privacy issues (a concern of both HCPs and patients)
  • Regulatory issues—a medical device is defined to include an “instrument, implement, or machine, including a component part or accessory which is used in the diagnosis, cure, prevention or treatment of disease or affects the structure of any body function” and thus mobile device apps and certain devices may be subject to FDA regulation (Bradley, 2009)

Although most see smartphone apps as the main source of mhealth applications in 2015, it’s not clear whether this means most individuals will gain access to smartphones or simply that those without a smartphone will be left out of the mhealth and mhealth learning market.  Right now, as noted by 31% of  respondents, an important barrier to mhealth growth  is that the technology is not yet practical and affordable enough to serve  the target audience that needs it the most, e.g., vulnerable populations such as the elderly, the poor, and those with poor health literacy. ( I’m guessing that those in the public health field have a far different view of the relative importance of this barrier.)

Shift in mobile device and operating system emphasis

In 2010, respondents saw the best business opportunities as residing in smartphones, followed by cellphones and tablets. In 2015, respondents predict that smartphones will continue to dominate the market but tablets and medical-specific devices will be strong players, followed by cell phones. The lines between smartphones and tablets will blur.

Although respondents viewed the iOS as the best business opportunity in 2010, respondents view the Android OS and iOS as equal players in 2015. Interestingly, despite the fact that those surveyed currently operate in an app world, there were respondents who view integrated cloud-based systems as critical to the development of mhealth.  As one respondent noted “Even though individual apps can be very fancy and useful, they do not solve problems in the long term.”

Mobile health learning is just one part of health learning

As one respondent in the report noted, “Mhealth is just another mode [of communication]—it could be a better mode, but the true solution needs to use all types of communications from face-to-face to virtual healthcare delivery via a smartphone.” I think the same caveat applies to mhealth learning (and mlearning more generally), mobile devices are just one part of a learning system

As noted in a previous post, it’s important not to think of a mobile learning application as a repository of all possible interactions and content required for a particular larger learning goal, though it should encapsulate the interactions and content necessary to accomplish the goal that’s right for a particular mobile learning setting.

Ideally, a mobile health learning application, just like any mlearning application, is  part of a larger system of learning interactions which may implicate:

  • elearning (e.g., via laptops)
  • face-to-face (f2f) learning
  • some blend of these

It’s a good idea to think of mobile health learning design as part of a larger design process and to consider how mobile health learning integrates with other learning elements. As part of this consideration, instructional designers should determine what motivating factors will lead a learner to make use of the system rather than to focus on one element of the system. This inquiry should be guided by clear understanding of learner needs and as with all instructional design, target learners should be involved early and often in the design process.

If you’re interested in mhealth, I’d encourage you to read the research2guidance whitepaper. You might also want to take a look at this Slideshare by PFSK on “The Future of Health” to learn more about developments in mhealth learning and health elearning.


Bradley Merrill Thompson, FDA May Regulate Certain Mobile Phones, Accessories, MOBIHEALTHNEWS, July 13, 2009, available at

Research2guidance. (Dec. 2010). Global mHealth Developer Survey, Whitepaper: Summary of Survey Results. Retrieved from

One response to “The future of mhealth learning

  1. I need to read this again. Its very interesting…visionary is probably the right word. Thank you.


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