We know that mobile learning presents an unprecedented opportunity for learning & development professionals, a potentially revolutionary platform that can enable L&D to reach that part of the learning experience that our previous structures and genres have largely left untouched.
Mobile learning is an interactive artifact within the flux of work, and life. The question is how to leverage it in a manner that is strategic and useful. This requires honing the beneficial qualities of mobility, as well as unlearning and rethinking longstanding instructional design practices. With the advent of mLearning, many of the old assumptions about online learning no longer apply.
Here are five guidelines for implementing a mobile learning strategy in your learning organization.
Don't be the L&D professional who just attempts to transfer the whole eLearning curriculum to a mobile platform and then calls it a day. The early history of mLearning is rife with ruminations from learning pros who wanted to apply existing structures and expertise to this emerging technology... but for the most part, it didn’t work. Mobile calls for smaller chunks with a clear purpose.
Offering a course simply because it is required is a less-than-inspiring use for a mobile device. Instead, think of ways to maximize the mobile environment: how can a particular audience make use of an mLearning experience, integrated into the flow of their day and life? It’s a new opportunity to reconsider the initial questions of instructional design from a beginner's perspective.
An initiative to convert a corporate university to a mobile platform might seem at first to be leading-edge, but more likely, it illustrates a misunderstanding of technology and learning that ends in a frustrating waste of resources. Start small with your mobile initiative. Keep it close to the ground, and think of how it can become a meaningful part of work life.
Consider, for instance, the intrinsic pull of the text message. Studies show that people are likely to read text messages soon after received; it nags at us to see the little icon indicating a new text, and the curiosity of who sent it and why is compelling. This power can be marshaled for learning—you can expect that a push notification will be read. That said, multiple messages a day from the company will inspire annoyance. A single daily message with a key learning point to remember, a safety tip, a piece of good news, or thanks for a job done the right way will prove more effective over the long run. Limited use of the mobile platform may be sufficient, especially for a productive start.
It could be counterproductive to embark on an mLearning strategy if company policy forbids the use of mobile devices on the job.
Similarly, it's important to think through logistical issues and expectations. Consider the company that rolls out mobile learning with the unstated assumption that employees will run the app or portal on their personal devices; are the employees wrong to expect to be compensated for data usage? Mobile learning needs to align with company culture and logistics, and it’s probably not the optimal occasion to force cultural change. It can, however, strengthen a working culture, add another key piece in alignment with existing structures.
Once learners have completed the core curriculum, perhaps the mobile app is a place to summarize its tenets, add in changes, and provide key resources to access in the flow of the job. Mobile might also be an effective way to deliver a compendium of policies or procedures that is with them at all times and easy to access. Ask what knowledge or insight the team needs with them, always or in the moment.
Performance support is already a tried and tested function for mobile technologies on the job. When shopping at a big box retailer, you might ask a staff member about an item that doesn’t seem to be on the shelf, and he or she looks it up on a handheld device and finds that it is available at another store in the next town. The associate then places it on hold for you through the system.
Likewise, consider the engineer on the job site who can now access plans, codes, and other resources at a moment’s notice from his company’s mobile Intranet site. We have a connection to our mobile devices that is physical and intellectual—they are the extensions of us. How can we feed the brains of the people to help them perform? What support do they need that mobile can provide?
For companies with a far-flung workforce on the go, mobile may be uniquely suited for communicating change. A single text to the workforce may be more reliably read and digested than an email, or asking managers to convey the message at a meeting or in conversation. We've all experienced how messages can become quickly garbled, causing misunderstandings and spurring a cycle of debriefings and corrections. Mobile probably isn’t the place for “official” notices, but it can be a great way to get an informal message out quickly so people can adapt. Again, however, alignment and culture count: who is authorized to send change messages and for what ends? Clutter leads to important meanings being lost.
Mobile calls on learning professionals to unlearn preconceptions, consider new possibilities, and above all, to (re)think strategically.