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The Rising Importance of Mobile Learning


Wed Jan 23 2019

The Rising Importance of Mobile Learning

Walter Davis, global learning and talent technologies manager for Aggreko, writes in his December 2018 TD article that his company historically “did not allow smartphones during technical training sessions because they were distracting. Today, it is quite the opposite. We use apps to bring into the classroom the mobile-based operational and social behavior that we encourage in the field.”

As a fellow talent professional, you probably already know the importance of technology in the workplace today, as well as the need for continuous learning.

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According to ATD Research, “For talent development professionals, \[the\] relationship between mobile use and learning effectiveness provides motivation to work more aggressively on improving and expanding mobile delivery. The need to support greater individual and organizational agility, in which learning on the go can play a constructive part, provides an additional impetus to expand mobile e-learning capabilities.”

So, how do you brush up on your skills—or get started in developing mobile learning assets in the first place?

The Big Deal About Mobile

Mobile learning, or the delivery of content specifically using mobile technology such as smartphones and tablets, is increasing in importance as people expect to use tools on the job that they use in their personal lives, and the way we work changes.

Google research reports that 80 percent of people use smartphones. And according to Tecmark, we look at our smartphones 221 times a day. Mobile learning can provide information and answers to questions that workers—many of whom are already mobile—want when they want them, just as Google provides the answers to our questions in our personal lives.

It’s Still About the Learner

As we are frequently reminded as TD professionals, just because the technology is there doesn’t mean we should use it. While there are many benefits to mobile, if learning doesn’t happen, using the technology doesn’t make sense.


Thinking Strategically. A sound learning strategy must be in place before you begin your mobile learning endeavors. Determining who and where your learners are, and what they need to learn, are part of a strategy.

In ATD Research’s Next Generation E-Learning report, Rose Le, director of learning and organizational development at Carolinas HealthCare System, explains, “Most of our employees use desktop or laptop computers to access e-learning, but clinical settings are very different environments. For example, in hospitals you can’t have audio playing on an operating floor. That’s why we want to move more to mobile. We have to think about the environments learners are in as we’re designing our content.”

And, as mentioned earlier, Aggreko uses mobile learning to simulate the types of behavior participants need to exhibit in their regular work routines. So, these are some of the issues and challenges that L&D professionals need to keep front and center as they think about developing mobile learning.

Further, what technology do learners use? What are they comfortable with? Will mobile be the best method for what participants need to learn?

Designing and Deploying Effectively. In beginning to design mobile learning content, Margaret Driscoll and Angela van Barneveld suggest using learning theory, which describes how learning takes place, to select instructional theories. In “Applying Learning Theory to Mobile Learning,” they recommend that you personally try out programs on your mobile device. For example, download learning apps designed for drill and practice and look for programs that offer clutter-free interfaces, ease in manipulating input, and feedback using both positive and negative reinforcement.


For learning that requires participants to grasp complicated procedures, an L&D professional may want to use apps that allow for the behavioral technique of chaining. This teaches the first step, and then allows the learner to move on to the next step once the first one is mastered. Backward chaining can be used for even more complicated procedures.

Apart from the theory and content, L&D pros will need to decide on technology. “There are many new rapid development tools that claim to be your mobile learning savior,” writes Sarah Mercier in her TD magazine article. “Some tools may be easier to use than others, and some more or less expensive, but there is no one-stop shop for mobile learning.” Though that article was written in 2013, those tenets still hold true, as do Mercier’s recommendation to research different tools, use free trial periods, and use multiple programs that are individually best suited for a specific purpose. Finally, “the tools that best meet your needs may not be the same tools that your peers rave about.”

Overall, Robert Rymell suggests the following best practices relative to mobile learning: Discuss your proposed program with potential end users, design a small pilot, involve IT early on in the process, get high-level support, and set a policy for the use of employees’ mobile devices.

Bottom Line

Developing mobile learning requires a new mindset on behalf of L&D professionals, but doing so and creating effective content for learners are its rewards.

“By stepping outside the box of traditional instructor-led training and e-learning, HR and training departments can provide tremendous resources to employees,” write Chad Udell and Gary Woodill in Mastering Mobile Learning: Tips and Techniques for Success. “But doing so will require a commitment to thinking differently and trying new ideas.” Are you game?

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