While some transactions still occur on business premises, many day-to-day operations take place away from traditional desk, factory, or office settings. Yet companies still need to provide training, news, and support to their staff – wherever they may be.
The Move to Mobile
More than 91% of people in the US currently have a 3G or 4G mobile subscription. And recent figures suggest that smartphone ownership in the UK will top 90% by the end of this year. By 2016, smartphone-enabled Internet connections are expected to be available to over half the population of the globe.
And with the increasing popularity of Net-connected tablets and phablets (an amalgam of phone and tablet), mobile is set to grow, and grow.
Learning, on the Move
The mobile platform provides new opportunities to distribute educational material, and has given rise to a new term: mLearning, or mobile learning. As with traditional and eLearning forms in the past, commercial enterprises are warming to the idea of using mobile technology as an adjunct to their operations.
Companies are looking to mLearning to provide their workers with greater access to training materials, regardless of time or location. They are hoping to use the technology to improve business efficiency and the productivity of their staff. Best practices, communication of changes in the structure of an organisation, and rapid responses to changing market conditions are also anticipated, as a direct consequence of mobile learning.
Benefits & Drawbacks
Mobile learning gives workers the freedom to take in new information at any time of day, and wherever they are. Formal training sessions and traditional lecture rooms can be dispensed with, as training materials can be made available online, or as specific applications on workers’ smartphones and tablets.
The immediacy of Internet means that workers can receive and respond to information from their mobile devices in real or near real-time. This is an aspect of mLearning where new data can be used to solve problems as they occur – a real boon for customer service and technical support.
By bringing educational materials as close as possible to the place where new principles need to be applied, learning becomes more practical and effective. Costs are also reduced, as workers don’t have to travel to the knowledge bases they require. Companies can enjoy a reduction in hardware costs too, if training materials are made available to their workers’ personal phones and tablets.
Bring Your Own Device or BYOD – the practice whereby companies allow workers to use their own devices for work purposes – has been a beneficiary of the mLearning ethic. But BYOD policies will need to adjust to accommodate mobile learning. Policy documents will have to spell out what employees can and cannot do, while using their personal devices for work-related training.
Security is also a concern. Allowing access to online resources from BYOD machines potentially exposes sensitive business data to the threat of hackers. So too do phones and tablets which are lost or stolen.
In terms of usage, finding or developing material that can be easily read on mobile devices is a challenge. A lot of the information already out there was designed for desktop or laptop systems, which have much larger screens than the typical phone. When reduced to mobile size, the content can become meaningless.
eLearning courses are often designed for twenty or thirty-minute periods – longer than a mobile phone user may have available at a given sitting. The location of a remote or mobile employee may also make it inconvenient or inappropriate for them to be staring at a device for extended periods. It may be necessary to reduce course lengths, accordingly.
Techniques & Technologies
Cloud computing resources like Google Docs and ebooks or other online documents may be used to disseminate course materials. So too can content generated by users, themselves – in the form of notes, recorded dialogue, or pictures.
Podcasts and videos – either from streaming sources like YouTube, or generated in-house – can be used to increase learner engagement, or to illustrate specific points.
Social media platforms can be used to stimulate feedback, and to promote collaboration and interaction between learners.
Operating system-specific apps (e.g. from Apple’s iStore, or Google Play) can be used to distribute materials, but may raise security concerns. Some organisations get around this by developing their own mobile apps, which may be loaded onto their workers’ machines directly, without the need to expose their online presence.
Gearing Up, for mLearning
Begin by planning, and setting priorities. Establish what you hope to accomplish by making mLearning resources available, and how they will most likely be used, in the field. This will influence their content and design.
Consider using tablets, as a starting point to scale down existing (desktop or laptop-based) learning materials, for the mobile medium. Test it out on a control group, and get their feedback. Work up, to deliver your course content across a wide range of platforms and device sizes.
Mobile devices and multimedia go hand-in-hand, so don’t skimp on the videos, podcasts, and other audio-visual elements to increase learner engagement. Use social media, to encourage collaboration and feedback.
Use the feedback you receive to tweak and augment your programme. Set formal exit surveys, when courses are completed, and encourage comments from your workers as they use the mLearning materials.
Don’t forget that mLearning is just a part of your overall business strategy. It should be designed and implemented, as such.
And remember to adjust your BYOD policy, to set out your company’s conditions, for using mobile learning resources.