The Profits and Pitfalls of Learning Anywhere.
It goes without saying that the growth in mobile technology has revolutionised just about every aspect of our daily lives. More and more people are becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of accessing internet content, products and services through their smartphone or mobile device. For example, in Ireland 71% of the population own a smartphone, while 82% have researched a product or service on a smartphone. 36% of people have actually made a purchase through their smartphone. It’s clear to see: mobile technology has changed the way we live our lives, and the habits and behaviours that it facilitates are fast becoming second nature to more and more people.
So, what does that mean for business training? How has mobile learning been adapted into the traditional business training model? How might it go on to be adapted further? And the big question for us here at Seams: how does it affect overall business performance? Talk to an instructional designer and you’ll find their eyes light up at the prospect of mobile learning – the possibilities of personalisation (allowing maximum accessibility to learners at their own convenience), contextual learning (adapting QR codes or geo-location) and even the format of learning content all have to be adapted to this brave new world. For us, specifically for business training, here’s what we consider the most important potential benefits and the elements you should be most mindful of.
1) Staff accessibility
This is probably the most immediately obvious benefit of mobile learning. The advantage of allowing your staff access training content and courses from anywhere at the time that best suits them is one of the most useful aspects of the mobile learning revolution. Training that required companies to bring their staff away from their duties in blocks to sit in front of computer screens seems totally inefficient in the light of modern mobile learning systems, which allow staff to judge the best time to take their training for themselves. Each staff member can find the most appropriate time to sit down in a quiet space and simply log on to the training system through the most convenient device they have to hand.
The benefits of mobile learning systems for productivity should therefore be obvious, but it still has all the advantages of standard elearning – 50 to 70% cost saving on instructor-led learning, proven increase in knowledge retention by 25%, generally shorter than traditional training (by anything from 25 to 60%). All this info and more is available here; traditional instructor-led learning has its place but statistics like these suggest how it might be adapted and restructured in the world of mobile learning. Which brings us neatly to:
2) The Flipped Classroom
You’ve probably heard of this model of instruction; it has its origins in the academic world, but that’s no reason it can’t have a real payoff for businesses. There’s a good summary here, but in essence, the thinking is that in a standard classroom model information is delivered to learners who then go off and do the practical application in their own time (homework, essentially). The flipped model works differently: learners access information through mobile devices in their own time, then the classroom time is spent on the practical application and group learning.
The academic and business worlds aren’t necessarily focused on the same outcomes, but again, it takes very little imagination to see how a mobile learning model like this could be useful in business training. At Seams, we have a mantra that training should be about improving the business performance of our clients – working through the practical application of previously accessed training content in a group environment would be one very practical way that this could be achieved.
That’s all good, but here are some of the pitfalls –
3) The first is the importance of responsive design.
Training content built for access through standard elearning channels is not necessarily going to be suited to mobile learning. If your staff is going to be accessing training information from multiple different devices – all with different technical specifications – then not every device will be suited to displaying the training content that you’d previously only used on the dusty old training room PCs. It’s obviously impractical to build different device-specific content, so it’s essential that your training content be optimised to work correctly across multiple devices, otherwise you’re not getting the full benefit of a mobile learning system.
Bring Your Own Device is another of the popular mobile learning buzzwords. The benefits in access and engagement we’ve covered, but there are also difficulties to work around. First of all, while the statistics I mentioned in the opening paragraph suggest a proliferation of smartphones and a comfort with the devices among the general population, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every device will be immediately compatible with all training content. HTML5 is normally a minimum standard. Most devices will support that, but there are no doubt some clunky older-model smartphones still being gainfully pressed into service. There are also obvious security issues around allowing web access to training content – it’s essential that the system be hidden behind a proper security wall (like ours) and that proper data security policies and procedures should be put in place to cover users accessing the material.
All told, it should be clear that there are enormous advantages to adopting a mobile learning element into your training procedures; the figures speak for themselves and the possibilities for increasing employee engagement and reducing the impact on workflow are clear. While every new system brings its own set of potential disadvantages, a little foresight and future planning (ensuring content is responsive, ensuring employee device compatibility or providing an alternative where needs be, and of course a proper consideration of the new data security requirements) can allow you to leap those pitfalls and reap the benefits of the mobile learning model.