You may know about eLearning, where knowledge transfer happens over digital channels. You’ve probably consumed some form of eLearning, whether watching a YouTube video on how to replace a bicycle chain or taking an online course in history. eLearning began with teachers creating digital copies of readings with no enhancement over the paper version. Educators have learned much since then, mainly that there are more effective methods than porting courseware from one medium to another. Yet, the same thing happened with mobile. It is not imperative to develop learning material specifically for mobile. However, when the context of using that material changes as a result of being in a new environment, the way to deliver that information must also change.
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Mobile devices, to which more than 75 percent of the world now have access (World Bank, 2012), are quickly becoming the device of choice for both personal and business use. This presents an opportunity for enterprises to deliver learning to their mobile employees. Mobile learning (mLearning) met the same initial fate as eLearning, where digital courseware was ported to mobile devices. Why is this an issue? Three reasons are prominent:
- Time. You often have less time to access information while you are mobile than when you are in the office. While mobile, your free time is not continuous, so you may have 10 minutes, three times in a day, but not 30 minutes at once. eLearning is often designed for longer periods, resulting in a mismatch for the time-sensitive needs of a mobile employee.
- Form factor. Your mobile device is much smaller than your laptop. Delivering information designed to be consumed on larger screens results in a poor mobile user experience. Mobile devices tend to be used more for consuming content, such as watching a video or reading an article, rather than producing it, with the notable exception of sending short messages.
- Context. You are mobile for a reason, and the environment you are in often influences how you use your mobile device. This differs from a stationary office setting where your location often has little bearing on the tasks you perform. When mobile, getting access to just-in-time information that will aid in a decision is valuable.
Why is it important for enterprises to be aware of mLearning? A growing number of workforces are mobile, with sellers, consultants, managers and executives being the most mobile. It is in an enterprise’s best interest to enable mobile employees to develop personally and have access to resources that let them do their job better from wherever they are.
IBM conducted a study with Columbia University to better understand how employees use mobile devices in the workplace. The main finding indicates a higher interest in access to performance support and just-in-time information than in traditional courseware whose teachings may not be applied immediately. While some factors have changed since the study, including the presence of tablets and greater user knowledge of mobile devices, others remain constant, including time, context and, to a lesser extent, form factor.
Are you interested in implementing mobile learning but don’t know where to start? Consider these tips:
- Ask. Feedback is a gift, so ask your mobile users what they would like to have access to. Getting input from the user may increase participation in mLearning.
- Process. Focus on the process you are trying to improve instead of the technology. Beware of the person who says, “We want an app!” Mobile is not the solution to every problem.
- Pilot. Find an interested party and conduct a pilot with them. Outline what success looks like and identify key metrics. Reassess after the pilot to see what worked well.
Mobile learning in the workplace is an opportunity to develop employees and improve productivity. The ones at greatest risk are those who do nothing. Be bold and you will be great.