Rethinking Learning and Development in the Age of Mobile

Mobile is changing the way businesses are run and HR is affected as much as any other sector, if not more so. This article looks at what does the future of learning and development look like in our mobile age while showcasing how m-learning can benefit your company and L&D strategy.

When the internet and web services started to become more mainstream and accessible, it completely transformed the way the world works. It shifted how we interact and communicate with one another. It altered the way businesses run, and changed the entire corporate and consumer landscapes.

It happened again with mobile, and it’s still happening now. Mobile has had a profound impact on the world because suddenly, we can do everything on-the-go, streamlined and from anywhere. In fact, I would argue that mobile has had a much greater impact on society and various industries, and here’s why.

Mobile has not only changed the way we operate on a regular basis, but also the way in which we reference, research and acquire new information. Where once you had to physically look for it in an almost archaic way, now you can simply conduct a web search from anywhere. Just pull your phone out of your pocket or handbag, do a quick web search by typing in your query and boom — the information is right there in front of you in an instant.

It’s no wonder, then, that mobile is also taking hold in the learning and development (L&D) industry. It’s not a mystery why the field has already changed so much — and will change even more as time goes on.

Introducing m-Learning

A new form of learning and consumption has been introduced as a result of mobile’s rise, called m-learning.

As the name might suggest, m-learning does not expressly mean electronic or digital learning via mobile platforms. It does indeed stand for mobile learning, but it’s more about on-demand, self-paced formats that can be consumed quickly and efficiently.

Consider this, for instance. A corporate entity decides to adapt its onboarding and educational content for a new m-learning platform. To make things easier, it simply takes the videos, text content and various formats and uploads them for viewing on authorized mobile devices. There’s no reboot or revision involved. The content is simply made available, digitally.

This will not work in most cases. Employees — even new hires — don’t have the time to browse hours and hours of content in a traditional format. An employee manual that spans hundreds of pages, even in digital form, would take dozens of hours — if not entire days — to read.

If that content were to be revised into more of a bite-sized format, so it could be consumed in chunks or parts, suddenly many more opportunities are presented. Employees can listen to or view content during their morning commute, on lunch or work breaks, at home before bed and many other places.

According to the 2015 CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personal Development) annual report, three out of four organizations are now using learning technologies. Especially mobile learning technologies are becoming increasingly prevalent inside most organizations.

This is exactly the foundational concept behind m-learning. It’s not just something that is simply presented on mobile platforms. It has also been revised for more efficient consumption, as well.

Because m-learning is so effective as a means for content delivery, it will account for nearly 60 percent of all learning technologies.

Rethinking L&D Processes in the Age of Mobile

As popular as it is, m-learning still needs the support of the industry at large before it can become successful on a wider scale. That’s not to say it hasn’t already been making strides when put to use, but it definitely requires HR teams and corporate planners to revisit the idea of modern learning and development.

Also referred to as ‘microlearning’, it’s a process that encourages smaller, broken-down forms of content delivery. That also means the content must either be created or adapted from its existing formats.

Teams must learn how to present on-demand, flexible and yet accurate forms of content and information — and all of it must still drive home the major points being conveyed. It can be quite difficult to take something that fits into a 12-page manual or two-hour video and condense it for consumption in as little as two to three minutes. Not only must you be able to cut any fluff, but you must also convert the message and content in a way that still honors the original point(s).

When you consider mobile or on-the-go consumption, there are varying forms that occur in separate scenarios. Presenting content on a tablet or phablet device, for instance, can be worlds different than presenting on mobile or smartphone. Designing for a tablet often involves designing applications and content for a laptop or desktop. Ultimately, this can have a huge impact on text sizes and fonts, graphics, navigation and user interfaces.

Since this content will be viewed in quick, almost timed situations, it’s also vital that the experience can get users in and out with little to no obstacles posed. You don’t want to spend most of your lunch break, for instance, fighting with your mobile device trying to get a document displayed in a viewable format. It just needs to work.

Wake up to the digital skills gap!
Wake up to the digital skills gap!

Only one in 10 adults in the United States feel they have sufficient computer and internet skills to use the digital tools they need for their daily work. It’s clear that proper training is crucial to improving work quality and general performance, but it must also be handled appropriately.

Benefits of m-Learning

Knowing most of this information, it seems an insurmountable challenge to develop and prepare the kinds of mobile-based systems and content delivery networks we’re exploring. It is difficult, and it can even be time-consuming or resource-intensive in some cases. However, it’s absolutely worth the trouble because there are many benefits offered.

  • On-demand learning means instant access anywhere, anytime.
  • Better information delivery means a more educated and informed workforce.
  • Improved accessibility means more workers will complete training courses and tracks, resulting in better overall learning outcomes for an organization.
  • Mobile also introduces several new opportunities, such as collaborative and social media-based learning, open discussions and shared experiences.
  • Most everyone already owns a smartphone or mobile device, so you can deliver content without having to issue or purchase new equipment.
  • It’s easier to manage employees and workers across a universal mobile network.
  • The flexible and always-on nature of mobile platforms makes for some incredibly convenient solutions. You can deliver real-time and remote information to personnel who are currently traveling, for instance.
  • No additional training is required to use proprietary equipment or systems, which saves additional time and money.

It’s evident, at this point, that m-learning is lucrative and useful. That’s true across many industries, not just traditional enterprise and business settings.

Building Omni-channel Experiences

Alongside developing mobile-friendly and on-the-go experiences, it also becomes critical to provide systems and processes for shifting from platform to platform. For instance, you want people to be able to start consuming content via their work desktop and then seamlessly move to mobile as they leave their station. Suddenly, a waterfall of devices enters the equation, from mobile and wearable tech to more conventional computing solutions.

M-learning and microlearning users will be jumping between platforms and services, including even a web-based application that could potentially be accessible from anywhere. This includes devices that are not traditionally owned. Imagine sitting down in a coffee shop on your day off, pulling up a work portal and finishing some training you have left to do on a public computer. In the past, this would have been absolutely outlawed due to security concerns. However, today it’s possible to deliver highly secure and protected web applications that are streamed to various machines.

In this regard, many modern learning experiences are not just being adapted and created to work on mobile, but also to disparate systems that workers and users will be leveraging.

Personalized and Modern Instructional Design Take the Lead

A Dale Carnegie survey highlighted the importance of engaged employees, something achieved through personalization and more relevant experiences. Companies with engaged employees regularly outperform those without by up to 202 percent. That’s insane.

Carnegie knew 100 years ago how to motivate people to strive for success

You could argue that past educational and training experiences were rigid, rote and somewhat devoid of personality. Users would be presented with a wall of text or digital manuals, several screens of information, boring videos or formal material. After perusing the necessary content, they would then be presented with a quiz, which they either passed or failed, and then moved on — or didn’t.

This no longer works, nor is it efficient — especially in the age of mobile and on-demand experiences. We’re seeing a huge shift in the way educational and instructional designers put together training content. Instead of delivering the same training programs to each and every worker, the content can now be tailored to their strengths and weaknesses. Custom content is suddenly possible, not only because the technology is improved, but also because you can understand and collect more data about your workers.

Maybe one worker had a serious chemical spill in the past. You could put more emphasis on chemical and hazardous material safety during their training sessions. Maybe another employee doesn’t have the appropriate heavy machinery credentials and will not be working with said equipment. You could entirely remove this part of their training, which would otherwise be a waste of time since they won’t be handling the related systems.

Of course, these are just a couple of basic and general examples. Personalized training and educational context could become much more complex in the future, which is definitely a good thing — it adds direct relevance to a user’s training.

Incorporating Innovative Technologies

Outside of mobile platforms and m-learning, there’s also the potential to incorporate some of the newer, more innovative technologies available — such as virtual reality. Virtual and augmented reality involves immersing users in a digital experience that is not unlike the real thing. Suddenly, your workers and personnel have direct experience working in their assigned environment, without the latent risks and potential for failure.

You could, for instance, allow workers to experience a day on the product line — operating machinery or collaborating with other personnel — and all of it is presented via a virtual experience, almost like a video game through VR.

Augmented reality is similar, but digital content is presented in the real world. Smart glasses, for example, might highlight hot surfaces or present real-time stats while a worker is moving through a plant or area. This technology can be used to augment your average worker’s duties by providing information on-the-fly. This would work incredibly well in scenarios or situations where on-the-job training is best, but it’s still dangerous. The AR systems can provide the necessary content and information, keeping workers safe and allowing them to experience real-world situations.

2018 Augmented and virtual reality survey report
2018 Augmented and virtual reality survey report

A March 2018 report from Perkins Coie indicates that education and training — alongside gaming and health care — is expected to garner the most AR and VR investments over the next 12 months. This just shows how valuable these two innovative technologies are in the world of L&D, particularly when it comes to providing real-world experiences for trainees and inexperienced personnel.

Both technologies work great as an extended form of m-learning, because the content can still be on-demand and bite-sized. Not to mention, both AR and VR can be used as an extension of mobile devices.

Changing L&D for the Better

Conventional L&D and training techniques were successful in many ways, so it’s not necessarily appropriate to claim they were shoddy or broken. However, the state of modern technology, the way workers and managers operate today, and our reliance on innovative platforms means that — for better or worse — L&D solutions definitely have to change. They have to adapt to meet the requirements and limits of the modern landscape, and that’s exactly what is happening thanks to m-learning solutions.

Through the concepts discussed — instructional design changes, incorporating new tech, omni-channel support and mobile-friendly design — we are actively changing L&D for the better. Ultimately, this will lead to more efficient and more streamlined solutions that deliver higher-quality results. We’re already seeing this happen as a result of m-learning, which professionals and personnel can access and experience on their own time, and in their own way.

Mobile technologies, microlearning and m-learning are the future of learning and development. If you haven’t already, it’s time to jump on the bandwagon.

Nathan Sykes enjoys writing about how the latest innovations in technology affect business. He has been published on Simple Programmer, Best Techie, and TNW among other business and technology blogs. To read his latest articles check out his blog, Finding an Outlet.

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