How much mobile learning have you done today?
Think hard before you answer; you may not have used a formal learning app or your company’s learning management system. Chances are you used a mobile device to listen to an informative podcast, read an article or look up information related to your field.
When it comes to personal technology, the use of mobile devices is one of the fastest-growing segments. Yet according to the Brandon Hall Group 2014 Learning and Development Benchmarking Study, only 10 percent of companies are harnessing our growing use of mobile devices for formal mobile learning.
Chad Udell, managing director of Float Learning, a mobile learning solutions company, believes the reported number is low because so much mobile learning happens under the radar.
“A lot of organizations are probably already doing mobile learning, but they don’t even know it yet,” says Udell. A learning organization may not have put training programs online, but if a company is using a program like Yammer, Sharepoint or Dropbox to allow employees to access “just-in-time” information, Udell says, it’s still mobile learning.
The potential for mobile learning is enormous, and savvy Learning and Development organizations are catching on quickly. It’s estimated that the worldwide market for mobile learning products and services will reach $8.7 billion by 2015, and grow to $12.2 billion by 2017.
Why Mobile Learning?
The structure of many companies is changing the way their employees learn. With teams made up of remote employees, flexible schedules, and travel commitments, it’s not practical to expect all training to take place at in-person workshops. “We have to acknowledge that learning takes place outside of the classroom all the time,” says Udell.
Udell believes that this shift is driving the way learning programs are evolving. “Because the user is always on the go, mobile is a much more personal experience,” he says. “It’s no longer sufficient to expect your worker to come into a workshop on Tuesday at 9 a.m. to take a training. The learning and the content has to be adapted to different situations so that it can be used in context.”
Organizations have found value in mobile learning aren’t tied to a specific industry or field – rather, it’s primarily organizations who have mobile workers, whether that’s an outside sales force, on-call repair team or a software company with a flexible team structure.
“The interesting thing is mobile learning isn’t really unique to any one vertical market,” says Udell. “Float does work with leaders in financial services, within pharmaceuticals, within manufacturing, within software and technology companies, as well as major retail brands, and almost any of those organizations, because they have employees who are out of the office and on the go, they’re seeing significant wins and advantages to embracing mobile learning.”
Rethinking How Employees Learn
Mobile isn’t just a new way of delivering old learning – it needs to be thought of as a completely different, and complementary, learning experience.
A mobile device is more than just an electronic sheet of paper. Equipped with cameras, GPS, clocks, messaging, and more, they provide a unique opportunity for course designers to create rich, engaging content to support the learner.
“Simply viewing these devices as just another screen to push content to is a rather short-sighted way to view how they change your workers’ day-to-day,” says Udell. “Never before have we had the capabilities to have a uniquely addressable, always-on, ubiquitous way to reach our learners. If we simply look at this as just another way to intrude upon their day and force training content on them, we are operating a very myopic kind of view that learning only happens when we tell them that learning happens. ”
One of the most important ways mobile learning is being used is for performance support. Roles that require vast amounts of information aren’t easily learned. The number of workers who need quick and reliable access to this “just-in-time” company information will grow as the complexity of jobs does. “As workers, we’re not expected to know less about our day-to-day and the organization,” says Udell. “It’s continuing to increase.”
Since much of this content is created organically from multiple departments, many organizations no longer have one authoritative source of data. “Learning organizations may say that all their content is in one location on the LMS,” says Udell, “but then when you probe, they say oh, yeah, there’s that Sharepoint server, and that workgroup over there, they’re using Dropbox.”
But an employee’s smartphone can be the central hub to access learning content, no matter where it may be.
How Can Organizations Harness Existing Mobile Learning?
Mobile learning, both in its informal incarnations and as part of formal training applications, exist seamlessly with an organization’s existing learning initiatives. “You don’t have to disrupt what you’re already doing,” says Udell. “This can be viewed as an augmentation.”
He suggests that Learning and Development departments embrace the informal learning that’s already happening, rather than trying to corral it all into a formal program. “The more structure and reporting and analytics that you do, the more types of rules and rigidity that you put on it, the less usage you’ll end up getting,” he says.
Rather, organizations need to ensure their existing content is mobile compatible, so tech-savvy employees are able to review and brush up on content while they’re away from their desks.
“Mobile learning isn’t just a shiny penny that’s burning a hole in your pocket,” says Udell. “But understanding your business, and whether there’s a performance gap that’s occurring when someone’s not able to access content at their computer, then you have a strong business case for mobile.”