With smartphones becoming commonplace and new devices such as tablets skyrocketing in popularity, the interest in mobile learning has begun to heat up as well. Many organizations see the promise of mobile learning, but actual implementations are still rare. Multiple platforms, shifting standards, and concerns about mobile devices’ speed and security have kept many organizations from jumping into the mobile game.
Is now the time to take the plunge into mobile learning, or should you wait for a more stable mobile landscape to emerge? Tim Hildreth, director of Product Marketing at SkillSoft, outlines some basic issues organizations should consider before making this important decision.
1) What does “mobile” mean?
When planning your “mobile” strategy, be sure to keep your thinking broad enough to include a number of devices that can support your learning objectives. A laptop is an ideal platform for most kinds of e-learning, and many employees carry them wherever they go.
Increasingly, laptops are equipped with wireless capabilities and unlimited data plans enabling fast broadband connectivity from anywhere with a mobile signal. Most iPods (and other MP3/MP4 players) don’t have the interactivity of smartphones, but are capable of receiving audio and video programs that learners can consume at their convenience. E-readers offer an attractive form factor for learning content, but like the MP3 players aren’t designed for extensive interactivity. Most support PDF, Word and other file formats, which can be useful for reading and studying primarily text-based learning resources. Find out what devices employees use and adapt your training accordingly.
2) What problem are you trying to solve?
Mobile is still only a component of an overall learning strategy. You need to give thought to where it is most appropriately applied. One way to approach this is to think about the audiences that are most dependent on mobile devices, such as sales people, executives and field technicians. Many companies provide formal training when a new employee starts, but the actual moment of need may not arise for months or even longer. So being able to deliver short refreshers or job aids via a smartphone can be very helpful to field-based employees.
Reminders can also be delivered to employees via the text and SMS functionality to keep them on track when they’re involved in a longer term effort. Further to that, data can be collected through mobile surveys to understand what situations employees are encountering in the course of their jobs and where skills gaps exist.
3) What devices will you support?
While we have been seeing signs that the mobile space is maturing, we are still not living in a world where standards prevail. Form factors, operating systems and limitations of various phones and tablets make it difficult or impossible to “build once” and then deliver to many devices. Common file formats that your company may be using for your general e-learning simply will not work on one or more popular mobile devices. To a large extent, many companies are making their decision on what devices to support based on the success of those devices in the marketplace. Nobody wants to make a major investment in building content for one platform only to see that device fade from use. This also has to be balanced with the capabilities and constraints of these various devices.
4) Do you have the necessary organizational support?
Your mobile learning strategy needs to be aligned with overall organizational strategy, with the I.T. department involved throughout. Your I.T. department may have already arrived at a conclusion about what devices it will and will not support. Communicate with them and understand what the dynamics are in your organization around providing mobile devices to employees.
Some companies want their employees to be “always on” and therefore supply smartphones to virtually all employees. Others restrict phones to those audiences who are deemed to have the greatest need.
Because not all learners will have access to mobile devices or the desire to use them for learning, it is important to ensure any assets you want to use for mobile learning will also be available through whatever systems your learners normally use to access training.
5) How does it fit into your existing learning strategy and ecosystem?
Mobile learning presents an opportunity to improve employee performance, productivity and engagement, but it isn’t right for every need. To be successful you need to understand how m-learning fits within a broader framework, which will be driven by the maturity of your learning program and systems, your goals and your workforce.
Adding m-learning to a well-established learning program is easier than bolting it on to a program still in its nascent stages. Consider your workforce as well: Are your most mobile employees ready and willing to adopt m-learning?