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Starting Small With Mobile Learning

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Not long ago, I attended a presentation on mobile learning. We were seeing some impressive examples of using mobile devices in workplace settings—from use of the GPS and camera, to RFID and barcode scanning. Then someone in the audience said, “This is all great, but I’m not a VP and training isn’t the highest priority in my organization, so there’s NO WAY I can get $20,000 to spend on a mobile learning vendor to do something like that.”

My first thought was there’s NO WAY a vendor built any of these apps we’d been looking at for $20,000. The skill sets were too specialized and the project durations too long.

Then I was struck by the person’s real question: for most organizations, mobile learning is still in its infancy. Most are exploring the possibilities and options, and few of us have the perfect use case that really makes mobile the perfect technology for improving workplace learning and efficiency.

Indeed, most of us are still trying to figure out where mobile fits in with our overall learning and development strategy, and how an increased emphasis on performance support can make a difference.

That means many of us don’t have the ability to spend a lot of money on an exploratory project. Even if we did, we would be nervous to put our necks out on something without an obvious use case and a known ROI.

How do we start small?

So, how can we dip our toes into the waters of mobile learning without getting in so deep that we drown in the details and complexities—and spend a lot of money getting there?

My recommendation: Build a mobile website.


A mobile website is simply a website built to run well on mobile devices. Sure, you can get into some very fancy HTML5 programming to take maximum advantage of the mobile device, but if we’re starting small, think of it as just a website.

Many of us learning and development folks have built a website before. But if you haven’t, there are tons of tools that will help you (Wordpress, Weebly, and Dreamweaver to name a few). Also, I’d be willing to bet that if you call your IT department asking for resources to help build a small website, it will go MUCH better for you than if you say you want help building a mobile app.

Where do we begin?

First, you must find your use case: When will people want to look up workplace content on a mobile device? This may be in the course of their work or at home after hours. Whatever the case may be, you need to know when that time is and what people are looking for. Use the Mobile Learning Decision Path (MLDP) to help you with this needs analysis.

Collect that content and begin to organize it. Organize the content well so people can find what they’re looking for quickly. Bob Mosher recommends such content be found within three clicks or 10 seconds. When using a mobile device, the faster the better.

Then take that well-organized content and create a small, simple website. Work with your IT folks to put the site on your intranet or the Internet. Test your site from a number of mobile devices (various phones and tablets) and make sure the user experience is strong.

Pilot the content with a small group of people who fit your target audience or use case. You’ll help them to find value in using mobile for workplace improvement, and likewise, they’ll help you learn how to meet their needs even better in your next project.

If your use case is strong and you meet it well, then your target audience will find value in that website and ask for more resources to be available from their mobile device. You can continue to build out your simple website, or you can use that interest to gain support to fund a fancier website, or even an app.

For now, start small, and keep in mind that the simplest of websites can get you there.

About the Author
Carla Torgerson has more than 15 years of experience as an instructional designer and instructional strategist. She is a senior instructional designer and the owner of Torgerson Consulting, where she teaches workshops on topics such as designing e-learning, mobile learning, and microlearning. Carla also teaches workshops about e-learning and mobile learning for ATD. In past roles, Carla has consulted with numerous Fortune 500 clients, including McDonald's, Netflix, Facebook, Express, Fidelity, Cargill, Medtronic, Merck, and Best Western. She has designed solutions ranging from $15,000 to more than $2 million. Carla has a master’s degree in education focused in technology-based education. She also has a master of business administration (MBA), which helps her to see training through a business lens. She has authored numerous blogs and articles, including a chapter in Michael Allen's 2012 e-Learning Annual.
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