The thought of allowing employees to “Bring Your Own Devices” to work in order to help them with their learning, usually fills employers with hope or dread in equal measure. Yet, this strategic approach to work-based learning is not going to go away and, therefore, deserves both attention and serious consideration. Here, Judith Christian-Carter takes a look at some recent research and discusses some of the issues for learning professionals.

There is a wide body of industry research and digital marketing studies which show that Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) is not only here but its use is growing exponentially year on year. 10 billion personal mobile devices have been estimated to be in use by 2020, with some employees likely to use more than one personal device for work. By 2018, 1.3 billion devices will have mobile security applications installed on them.

By the end of 2017, two out of three organisations will have adopted a BYOD solution or strategy for their employees. Plus, by the end of this year, the BYOD market is expected to grow to £181.39 billion, representing almost a 200% increase in just six years. Even more importantly, by the end of 2017, half of employers will require employees to buy their own devices, giving rise to speculation about how employees will react if BYOD because mandatory. As mandatory will, more likely than not, mean strict policies on security, the choice of devices, and limited or no budgets to purchase such devices and pay for data charges!

BYOD and L&D

Many people in the Learning and Development (L&D) field know much about the controversy surrounding BYOD, especially the concerns raised by IT departments and data security specialists. However, they also know that much learning content is now digitised, and made available to employees over global networks and through a variety of devices. Without a doubt, the current situation is a conundrum but one which cannot be ignored by just watching from the sidelines.

“There are strong incentives for businesses to invest in employee-facing apps and encourage their workforce to use their own devices. But understanding and minimising the … risks is pivotal for any success in doing so. While each challenge will take work — whether writing up new rules for device management or upgrading IT systems — the only risk not worth taking is eschewing the BYOD opportunity altogether.” (Revolutionizing the Workplace, Springwise, 2015).

The benefits of BYOD

Some of the main benefits of BYOD to employees lie in the areas of satisfaction and productivity, in that employees:

  • feel that they get more work done when using their personal devices (better productivity)

  • can combine their work and personal lives, and are able to access work content from anywhere (more flexibility)

  • may require specific functions which are provided better by their personal devices (more utility)

  • may prefer the interface or operating system of their personal devices compared to the one used by the organisation (more familiarity).

Perhaps somewhat ironically, BYOD also results in a reduced demand for technical support! This can be understood from a logical perspective, because when people use their own devices they usually have the skills to do so. Which means not only do they run into technical problems less often but, when they do, they have the skills to solve more problems without resorting to outside help. Given that 70% of a typical IT department’s budget is used to support existing infrastructure, this is a desirable benefit, as there’s not much left over for supporting employee-owned devices and software.

However, the key benefit, and one which impacts greatly on productivity and satisfaction, is that of improved mobility. Mobile BYOD in the hands of employees provides opportunities to expand and enrich the anywhere and anytime learning experience.

The challenges and issues of BYOD

“… BYOD is a disruptive phenomenon where employees bring non-company IT into the organisation and demand to be connected to everything — without proper accountability or oversight.” (Bring Your Own Device, Gartner, 2014). In reality this means that BYOD can expose organisations to endangering intellectual property, violating Government regulations and other business-critical procedures. Before adopting a BYOD approach, organisations, including the L&D function, need to address the following questions.

  • Is the help desk ready to deal with all the device types that accompany BYOD?

  • How will the IT/security department recognise data leaks?

  • How will the organisation protect against internet hacking threats?

  • How will the organisation’s senior staff face the auditor if critical information is compromised?

  • How can the organisation’s leaders assess the level of risk and quantify it?

  • How can the risks of BYOD be balanced with the need to maintain user experience, employee morale and productivity?

Challenges include proper mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM), meeting the expectations of employees, avoiding a negative response by employees to MDM such as controlling and locking down devices by the organisation, ensuring data is secure, the impact of network demand and bandwidth consumption, and managing potential legal exposure for both employees and employers.

Why L&D needs to understand BYOD?

It is absolutely vital that L&D professionals have a solid understanding of BYOD, including all its advantages and challenges, otherwise they will not be able to work successfully with other stakeholders, IT professionals and policymakers to ensure coherence in the multiple-device learning environment of today.

In particular, there are six considerations that L&D needs to be aware of with regard to BYOD.

  1. The need to create flexible learning experiences by implementing a learning-portal architecture that is mobile aware.

  2. Determine and document a well-defined list of mobile devices that learning content will support.

  3. Provide support for mixed learning approaches, eg blended learning solutions.

  4. Adopt strict mobile security policies and practices.

  5. Future-proof learning content, eg by using responsive web design principles.

  6. Tighten integration with L&D and HR platforms.

Most importantly of all, L&D must be an equal partner with the organisation’s IT and legal groups, in order to ensure that the interests and concerns of L&D professionals are reflected in BYOD policies and the practices used to manage all the various devices.

Looking forward

Clearly, although BYOD is here to stay and its use will continue to grow, there still remains the need for further research, and the identification and sharing of best practices. To date, when implemented properly, BYOD has demonstrated improved employee mobility and flexibility when it comes to work-based learning, plus enhanced employee privacy, morale, job satisfaction and productivity, together with reduced costs and, possibly, reduced security risks.

However, security concerns remain top of most people’s list when thinking about or implementing BYOD in their organisations and understandably so. In addition, it is also important to identify any inhibitors to adopting BYOD in the organisation, in order to ensure that sufficient focus can be placed on these so that any resistance can be addressed and eventually overcome. Likewise, with risk management, a process to which everyone must have buy-in, which can range from the need for all employees to be clear about BYOD policies to configuration controls on both hardware and software.

The ultimate goal should be that BYOD buoys up L&D and doesn’t sink it!

Last reviewed 6 September 2017