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EdTech & E-Learning

Is Mobile Learning the Way Of the Future?

POSTED 09/30/2015
By Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson

Millennials and Gen Z/Gen Connected, generations that are native digital users, will be the largest portion of the workforce worldwide within the next five to six years.

Given this massive demographic shift, businesses need to have accessible and flexible learning approaches to meet the demands of the most tech-savvy workforce in history.

A business’ employee-focused educational content will have to be as digestible as a YouTube video. End users will want to be able to access and use microtraining in a way that advances their knowledge and allows them to be more effective on the job.

According to the 2014 study by Bersin Deloitte, US companies have invested as much as $70 billion in employee learning, and that number jumps to $130 billion worldwide. A significant feature of the study is the increase in companies that are extending their budgets to include easy-to-use training portals. Currently, about 18% deliver training through mobile devices, and even more use a combination of deliverables that include mobile.

Additionally, Gartner predicts by 2020 at least 20 percent of organizations will include mobile-driven employee engagement as a communal performance objective by human resources and IT.

“Mobile is still an experiment and it is fairly nascent,” said Dan Merritts, executive vice president of marketing at newrow, a video platform for large groups to interact online from anywhere and on any device. “And there are upcoming trends that are incredibly interesting to look at.” He sees the shift in workforce age demographics as a mobile motivator and supports the idea of building diverse training programs geared to those populations.

The space is remarkably flexible and expansive in its reach. Software can be developed and tweaked as organizations evolve. The ease of accessing content is a good fit for onboarding, updating and limited retraining for nearly every level of employee. An app gives a user the ability to do everything from filling out forms and familiarizing themselves with their employer to introducing a wide variety of complex ideas and skills.

Many companies use a blended approach to employee training. Over the last five years, business enterprise and government organizations have invested in different kinds of asynchronous and synchronous learning management technology in an effort to find the sweet spot that satisfies needs and guides their workers in the most effective ways possible.

Training programs, (teacher-led and otherwise), of varying levels of engagement can be accessed on the job or in the privacy of a worker’s own home. Longer sessions or brief ones that include short bursts of learning that can be accomplished throughout the day in a continual training and assessment loop are changing how employees integrate into an organizational community and get the work done.

Expanding mobile opportunities has added value as well, especially when rapid onboarding and assimilation is a vital part of a business plan.

Walsh Construction, Simmons & Simmons, Pfizer and Sodexo are just a few of the companies who use mobile for online onboarding of contract and part-time employees. They’re all currently using an online platform called Initiafy, which is designed to ensure that every worker who sets foot on a job site is pre-trained in regard to everything from company culture, HR policies, and customer care to safety requirements.

It’s touted for it’s ease on both ends. The app is mobile and desktop-enabled and can be accessed from any computer or handheld device. Customers can embed video, text, images and test questions. At the end of the training, end users are also able to rate their experience and give feedback that can help fine-tune the app and its content.

Julie Currid, co-founder and COO of Initiafy, said her individual customer requirements are quite different, but the benefits of a mobile, automated onboarding process helps companies save time and resources for other tasks.

“Mobile integrates the registration process into the orientation,” Currid said, “so that the entire process can be completed from home, before the new worker is due to start. This is particularly relevant for construction, utilities, retail, and hospitality.”

Merritts said mobile is a money saver. “What organizations are looking at is that instead of paying for flights, cars, and hotel rooms and losing the productivity of a day or week for training, learning is going to occur. Mobile won’t impact productivity or incur costs and outcomes and effectiveness are the same.”

Gilt’s HR manager Clare Finane said mobile is a fiscally efficient time-saver when introducing new employees to their company systems: “They’re able to hit the ground running and really understand the culture within Gilt.”

Its cost effectiveness has less obvious institutional depth as well. Baptist Memorial Health Care, a network of Tennessee hospitals, created an employee training and orientation app which they project will save them  $300,000 annually in handbook and brochure printing costs alone.

Another critical area for mobile growth is compliance. Across industries, sexual harassment training, managerial training and compliance training are essential, if not mandatory. Compliance with state and federal laws has become increasingly cumbersome—failure to meet requirements is not an option. It’s costly as well;  traditional systems often have professionals sitting in a classroom setting, whether in front of a computer or responding to a teacher.

Eduardo Cervantes, founder of Morf Media Inc., said, “We are developing personalized mobile training for companies doing business around the globe and particularly in highly regulated industries. Outdated technology doesn’t match how they need to deliver rapidly changing and critical-path industry information. They feel boxed in by expensive legacy systems.”

Morf is working in a pilot program with several companies in the mortgage industry, where the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule, TILA-RESPA (TRID), will soon go into effect and government compliance is an essential part of many job descriptions. Interviewing industry leaders about their needs, Cervantes found “not one person we initially interviewed about the current array of learning and training systems said, ‘We love developing and delivering training to our mobile workforce using our enterprise learning management software.’ Not one executive manager said, ‘Compliance training is a sales strategy.’”

LeaderOne Financial Corp. is part of the Morf pilot program. A.W. Pickel III, its CEO and founder, said their turn to mobile is a way for millennial employees to reach their training goals quickly and successfully. “Our staff is mobile, on the go, and currently originating nearly a billion annually and servicing over $600 million in conventional and government loans,” he said. “The mobile compliance training platform is an important way for us to help our workforce learn the foundations and meet key training goals without interrupting their workflow.”

Mobile is on its way to becoming essential in the workplace— no matter how the technology progresses, everyone still contextualizes learning in the framework of human interaction and it’s unlikely the human element is going away anytime soon.

Merritt said managers and team leaders have found, while mobile training works in a variety of settings, they’re losing out on some of the interaction between learner and instructor, and learner and other learners who are interacting with their peers.

To that end, one trend in training is that the role of the traditional instructor is changing. Many in the field envisage teachers as facilitators of how instruction is activated. Their role will depend on particular work scenarios and how that information can be triggered between peers who are trying to solve or replicate what will happen in real life.

“We’ve had tons of people come to us basically saying ‘We’ve moved into our basic learning platform and we’re seeing some success, but people aren’t retaining the skill the same way they are when they’re doing instructor-led training and in person’” Merritt said.

What he’s learned from the feedback is that learners who are using mostly mobile are somewhat isolated and don’t have the same motivation or accountability to learn or interact as those who also engage with other people.

“There’s a community knowledge that’s retained and stimulated when you’re working with other people,” he said. “Companies want to know how to enable a flexible learning environment. They want to know how to use their mobile, tablets and smartphones to be that gateway to people learning on the road, or jumping into a classroom setting to discuss or simulate a topic.”
As a demographically appropriate, fiscally prudent, time-saver that creates new paths for employee knowledge and integration, mobile training across platforms and devices will play a far greater role in the coming decade.

Jagged Edge Media JAcom Consultants