Thursday, September 20, 2012

LPI Learning Live 2012 - Is Mobile Learning finally here?

Following on from my presentation at the Learning and Performance Institute "Learning Live" event last week, I wanted to provide a summary of my thoughts and provide access to the presentation.
Is it time to get Mobile?
There is little doubt that our view of computing and what it means to be connected has changed dramatically over the past 5 years.  The increased availability of wi-fi along with higher mobile network data speed and the rise of the smart-phone and tablet pcs, have and will continue to shape and change our expectations, of what and how we use computers.
So, what has changed in step with these developments in the corporate learning world?
In so many ways, very, very little.
Corporates are generally slow to adopt technologies, (except where the leadership team want the latest gadget) and Learning and Performance development teams are typically slow to innovate content delivery, or how they facilitate Learning overall.  In the case of Mobile Learning,  innovations are frequently led more by content providers and solution vendors, rather than a broadened view of the entire learning process, and the opportunities that “mobile learning” can bring to the table. 
Elearnity are never advocates of rushing to adopt new "tech", just for the sake of it, and in the case of mobile learning there is a lot of hype and not necessarily a lot of substance…  And the combination of hype and substance is just the just the time when you should be most cautious about adopting new technologies and new approaches.  
But, equally there are distinct trends and real shifts in consumer behaviour that will change our expectations about how we interact with media, and these will certainly impact learning and performance management over the next 5 years.
For some, however, there may be some timely opportunities in much shorter time-frames, that smartphone and tablet based learning may deliver.  And those opportunities can be very different from the traditional e-learning of the past…(if it's right to chose to use them).

So, how do you start to identify mobile learning opportunities? 
It many ways, it’s a simple audience review that will help highlight the potential.  Whether mobile learning  is right for your organisation, or an audience within your organisation, will probably be driven by a combination of factors.
  1.  Is there a mobile device?   For most, the first item on the checklist will be the availability of device.  If it’s not there already, very few have pockets deep enough to furnish audiences with the required hardware.  And even when they do, it may not be used as intended.  So, does the device already live within your IT estate?  For many the answer will be no.  But, already this picture is being made all the more interesting by trends in BYOD - or Bring Your Own Device- where employees are using their own tablets and smartphones in a work context.
  2. Is there an tangible opportunity to raise business performance with that audience?    And does the improvement really matter to the business?
  3.   Are the audience operating remotely or off-site?  
  4.  Can they / do they need to be supported just in time? Or need remote or off site support?
If you have 4 Yes’s to those questions, then you probably have a tangible need, that would be worthwhile  validating with your key stakeholders.

So, what sort of support for learning can mobile provide?
Broadly speaking, there are three areas that mobile has the potential to contribute to.
  • Content
  • Process 
  • Collaboration.  

For content, the subject is much bigger than what appears to have dominated the discussions to date – Formal Learning.  Whilst Formal e-learning is certainly a slice of the future, it is by no means the only, or potentially most important part, of the Mobile Learning equation.  The learners of the future will expect that any content will be accessible on any device, in their multiscreen world, as they step from tablet, to PC, to Smartphone - depending on their situation.  In this world the standard e-learning course of the past will need to do more than flex its screen size, and reliably handle interactivity, to be effective across platforms. 
A road less trodden is the whole arena of workplace learning, and here mobile has the opportunity to re-define some of our expectations, about what mobile learning really is. Let’s think about coaching, mentoring, social performance management, gathering feedback, performance support.  Mobile enabled devices with their ability to be present, at the point of recognition, or the point of need, add immediacy to developing performance in ways that traditional views of learning simply can’t deliver.  When we think about agility, supporting workflow and making a difference..  the mobility of mobile can be a real differentiator… for the right roles, with the right business imperatives.  
Equally interesting is the impact on process and the power of collaboration. 
Many of the transactions we have in the Learning, Performance and Talent world are easily enabled via mobile devices, and most of the platform providers have created mobile ready approvals, feedback, assessment, and other elements of the Talent Development and talent management workflow enabled for mobile.  
The use case scenarios around on-the-job assessment and manager evaluations is a simple area to consider.  Gone is the paper process, and learning programmes can be tailored by an analysis of on the job performance automatically - speeding up the process of developing performance.  
Collaboration via mobile devices is also potentially a high impact area.  There is a real precedent for this, from for example Microsoft SBN and the social behaviour of consumers through mobile devices.  Here, the inherent focus on connecting shouldn’t be under-estimated. Especially for expert communities of practice, where it is married with a compelling context, video, innovation projects. 

So, is mobile learning finally here?
For me the ability for organisations to use Mobile Learning is here,and it has been here for some time.  The more interesting question is ...  Has it made an arrival?  In my view no.  Mobile is still far from  mainstream and to me that’s because we are still slavishly following models that value learning delivery over learning facilitation, and instructional design over Learning and Performance design.  
But ultimately, it’s also because the corporate reality for most employees is that the PC is still dominant, and that smartphones and tablets have still to reach the corporate masses.  If these change significantly then Mobile Learning will be here and be much more recognised as a critical part of the learning mix.  But, until then, it potentially is an under-used and under-rated option - dominated by a discussion about content delivery rather than diagnostics, process facilitation and collaboration.

If you'd like to download a free copy of our analyst presentation please use the following URL.