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Why Should You Care About Mobile Learning?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

To be sure, mobile learning has been quite the buzz in the industry for the last year. But one comment that I hear frequently is, "Yeah, mobile learning sounds interesting, but I'm not sure if it will catch on in my company—soon, in the future, or ever." 

According to the 2013 ASTD State of the Industry Report, 39 percent of formal learning hours are available via technology-based delivery methods. However, only 1.64 percent of that was attributed to mobile technology in 2012—that was less than the percentage of training available on DVD and audio CD (2.13 percent)! 

Interestingly, a 2013 eLearning Guild research report, How Mobile Learning is Done: Nine Case Studies from Around the World, indicates that 70.6 percent of the workforce reports using their personal mobile devices for work purposes. This means that our industry is missing a huge opportunity to take advantage of a platform that the workforce is already regularly using! 

So, aside from how we prefer to use our mobile devices, are there are other reasons why mobile is important to workplace learning professionals?

1. Mobile changes how you and your organization views data and information.

We are at a point in time when data storage is cheaper than ever before In addition, there are massive amounts of information and content flowing through our organizations—some of which is relevant, some isn't. Regardless, we have the new challenge of finding the right information when we need it. 

Mobile learning is heavily focused on the process by which we are able to quickly retrieve necessary information. In order to do this, on a very basic level, it has to be categorized, classified (tagged), and easily retrieved by a user. It also must be formatted in such a way that it is accessible on a variety of devices. 

Achieving this level of accessibility requires thinking strategically about content management in your organization: 

  • Where will you store the content?
  • How will you categorize it (taxonomy)?
  • What tags will you use to improve searchability or the flow of that content to interfaces (such as your app or website)? 

Answering these questions will help you on the road to mobile learning. But remember that it also helps you manage information for other purposes. Slide decks, images, white papers, reports, worksheets, videos, podcasts or audio files, and so forth all need a method of organization that goes beyond a naming convention or file structure in your shared drive. 

2. Mobile will change how you view design. 

Mobile is challenging our industry more than ever to practice thoughtful design. Over the years, instructional designers have been exposed to all sorts of practices and methodology. We have experienced everything from avatars to flash animations. However, when all of that desktop computing power was squished into a hand-held device, designers had to revisit what was really important and cut the fat. 


You may have noticed the trend of "flatter" and lighter design for mobile. Although we have become accustomed to seeing the flashy, high-fidelity graphics, the concept of "less is more" has begun to hit us hard. Check out information-loaded sites like Google or Wikipedia, which are text-based and highly structured and organized. 

Also, searches are far more intuitive than they've ever been. We have different expectations of what it means to use technology to learn something new, and it doesn't begin with, "the learning objectives of this session are XYZ." 

  • How does this affect the way you design? 
  • Are you looking for ways to scale-down and customize your training solutions? 
  • Do you think about the way that associates would realistically need to access information in their moment of need?

3. Mobile is the way to "be there" when they need you.

Learners come to class, take notes, and then return to their jobs. Do you know what happens next? 

Take a walk through your learners' workspaces. Do you see post-it notes everywhere? Observe workers carrying-out daily tasks. Are they asking co-workers for assistance? Do you notice opportunities for efficiency in how they are accessing frequently used notes or information housed somewhere on the company intranet? These are all perfect examples of where mobile could help. 

  • Are you empowering your associates by giving them a way to access the right information quickly and easily, just when they need it? 
  • Do you provide support outside of the classroom—whether it is reinforcing processes and procedures or adding value by making additional resources available? 

Think about establishing ways to empower associates and help them be more efficient and self-sustaining so that they can spend more time being successful on-the-job.


About the Author

Sarah Gilbert specializes in training strategy, design, and development at meLearning Solutions. In her PHII Academy director role at the Task Force for Global Health, she leads a team to create global solutions for public health informatics training challenges.

Sarah is an ATD facilitator (Mobile Learning Certificate and Essentials of Mobile Development using Adobe Captivate). She also serves on the Greater Atlanta Chapter of ATD executive board and board of directors as 2015 president.

Sarah's work has been published in The Book of Road-Tested Activities (2011), 68 Tips for eLearning Engagement and Interactivity (2013), TD magazine, and various other training and workforce publications. She regularly speaks at conferences and business events on the practical application of learning technology.

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