What’s the mobile learning lesson for L&D?

Photo by MrBeck http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrbeck/In the world of L&D we talk a lot about mobile learning and it’s pretty much accepted that from shaky beginnings around 2007 (when we tried to squeeze training courses onto a two inch black and white LED screen) things have leapt forward. Think of everything that you can now do with a smart phone, tablet, phablet and any other smart device format.

Drill down a little, however, and the reality of L&D’s involvement with mobile devices is slightly more complex, and reveals a great deal about how we view technology.

And it’s not all good.

Training Magazine’s annual survey of US L&D professionals shows that just 1.5% of training was delivered via mobile devices. That’s right, after about 7 years of hype and discussion we’ve reached 1.5%. That’s not leaping. That’s trench warfare.

And yet of course we use smart devices for learning all the time.

Every time we Google something, check a map for our location, quiz friends and colleagues for the answer to a question we are operating exactly in the sweet spot of L&D: we are learning something, or using a performance aid.

Of course we don’t call it that.

We call it ‘finding something out’, or ‘doing our job’. The learning is almost invisible because it is embedded in our daily lives; it didn’t require us to go somewhere special, to do anything special. It happened at the best possible time – when we had a need for it, and were attuned to be receptive to new information.

The implications for those of us involved in Learning Technologies are profound.

There will certainly be some courses and resources that can be usefully deployed over mobile devices, but don’t let’s kid ourselves that that should be the future, or the limit, of our ambitions here. Rather than concentrating on writing courses, we should be establishing good practice in our organisations for finding information and experts and for sharing information. Where necessary we should be setting up the systems and then letting people get on with using them. We need to use this opportunity to move from being the gatekeepers of knowledge to the facilitators of conversations and learning

Mobile devices do not just set us free as consumers, they have liberated us as professionals to take on the role that L&D should always have had – to help others learn, when they need to, where they need to, from each other.

This was originally published as the introduction to Inside Learning Technology Magazine #44, October 2013. 

14 responses to “What’s the mobile learning lesson for L&D?

  1. This is a fantastic article that totally nails the current issues surrounding mobile L&D. Thanks for describing the situation so succinctly.

    The final paragraphs are really key. to understanding the next step. Mobile learning is more than ever a two way street. Not just a means of getting learning resources to the learner when and where they need it, but crucially also a way for the learner to take control of their own development. Mobile learning is about letting the learner source and explore their own learning experiences, but then go to the next level, by feeding that knowledge and info back into the wider organisational network and making it benefit everyone.

    • Thanks for the kind comment and for stressing the important piece about this being a two-way street, with individuals contributing to the general store of useful knowledge, a very important point.

  2. Usage is low because most courses are Flash based and the dinosaurs running L&D only think of costly conversion of offerings instead of converting L&D into facilitation organizations as your rightly point out

    • Well … not *all* dinosaurs, John! There are some examples of good practice out there of knowledge-sharing such as Black and Decker and BT, but you’re right – these aren’t new case studies. I suspect that mobile is still seen as primarily a delivery mechanism rather than a learning-support tool.

  3. Nice piece Don. Interesting that we’re still measuring training. If the question had been about learning, contextualised using the examples you provided, would it have been different? It may have been although, to an extent, it doesn’t matter. The counting matters for the organisation/provider/L&D team to justify the purchasing decision.

    However, for the user, it really doesn’t matter if it’s labelled as ‘mobile learning’ or something else. Steve Wheeler, Denise Hudson Lawson and I discussed this recently and identified that it’s a much more complex issue than just making a delivery system responsive to different screens. http://lostanddesperate.com/2013/10/17/a-martini-moment/

    L&D need to be the pivot point helping people translating information into knowledge – not just pushing or pulling content via a new channel.

    • All true Andrew. I think the speed, impact and ubiquity of mobile devices as knowledge-sharing tools really does – or should – make us question how exactly we pursue our roles in supporting workplace learning.

  4. Enjoyed your post, Donald. We’re developing our Learning Communities at Bromford right now with the ethos that colleagues should take more responsibility of their own learning and similarly take this knowledge and experience to help others with their personal development (a something-for-something relationship).

    Mobile is a tool that will support this solution as it enables those ‘further-a-field’ colleagues to feel very much a part of this community; it will give them a voice and allow them to contribute in a way that they may not have been able to otherwise.

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  7. sushant saraswat

    Hi Donald nice post, thanks for sharing. Mobile learning has emerged as the next frontier in eLearning and the benefits involved are immense in nature. However, one of the most glaring issue in mlearning is how to ensure continuous learning in an offline or limited connectivity environment. In my quest to find a solution for this, I came across a webinar on “Interactive eLearning in Low Internet Bandwidth Environments” which promises to present a solution that enables organizations to overcome issue of limited or no internet connectivity and offer anytime anywhere access to eLearning content. You can register Here: http://j.mp/1b9mfvg

    • Hi Sushant – I have no doubt that the webinar will be good, but please could you be open about your relationship with it. Did you ‘come across it’, or do you work for Harbinger Systems, the company using it to promote its products? Please understand, I am not against webinars being used in this way, and I think the content could well be useful. I would rather that people reading your comment know exactly your relationship with Harbinger.

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  9. Pingback: How to Integrate Learning into Work and Life #mlearning | Classroom Aid | Deep Ocean, Wide Sky

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