Last reviewed 21 March 2019

The latest research points to a future where mobile learning is key. With nearly 47% of organisations worldwide using mobile learning, due to its ability to improve knowledge retention and increase employee engagement, it has now reached a point where it’s no longer regarded as a nice-to-have but, instead, a must have. Here, Judith Christian-Carter looks at the ways in which mobile learning is currently being used in learning and development (L&D) and some aspects to consider.

Mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, are not part of a new age, they are the here and now. Today, most people of all ages and occupations own and use not one mobile device but several. Research shows that the average person spends two hours and 51 minutes on their smartphone each day, looking at it roughly 221 times and touching its screen more that 2600 times! In addition, 89% of smartphone users download apps, 50% of which are used for learning and 27% are mobile-only users, surpassing 14% of desktop-only users.

All the above supports the reason why mobile learning is being viewed as the future of learning. Mobile devices have taken over the way in which people consume content, which means that learning and development professionals in both large and small organisations need to ensure that mobile learning is deployed effectively. For example, if more people are using mobile-only devices than those using only desktop devices, providing learning content mainly on the latter will prove to be counter-productive. It is far better for L&D professionals to go with their learners, and to incorporate into the organisation’s learning strategy the platform and devices people are using already.

Using mobile devices for learning

One of the main advantages of mobile devices is that they can be used anywhere and at any time, and this even applies if connectivity, such as Wi-Fi, is an issue. This means that when used for learning, mobile devices are not constrained by time or place, thereby allowing all employees access to learning when they need it. Learning on-the-go becomes a reality as does learning in the field, wherever that may be. To a large extent, mobile learning makes workplace learning possible.

A popular use of mobile devices is for video-based learning at all levels. Video-based content is not only engaging, it can also convey information quickly and more memorably than other forms of learning. Another use, linked to the previous use, is for performance support, ie on-demand and point-of-need learning. Using mobile devices for performance support is no different to using them to access maps, finding takeaway food outlets or online shopping. The use of mobile devices for learning and that of micro-learning are also closely connected, in that the former encourages the breaking down of learning content into bite-sized chunks of typically 2-10 minutes where applicable.

Another use is for knowledge-sharing and to enable user generated content (UGC). Some L&D professionals call this collaborative learning, where employees are encouraged to share their knowledge (which is often considerable) with others by creating their own content (UGC), be this in the form of an audio clip, a minute’s worth of video, a checklist or so on. Not only goes UGC provide an opportunity to tap into a wealth of employee knowledge, it also provides a new and engaging way of developing other employees.

Finally, mobile devices can and are being used to help people to guide them in their learning and to personalise their learning. Much has been made recently of personalised learning, whereby related content is suggested based on that previously accessed. Not only are mobile devices capable of guiding and personalising learning paths for people, they are also capable of providing these paths across all devices, allowing learners to pick up from where they left off.

LMS considerations

A key component of using mobile learning successfully and effectively in all organisations, is the provision of a Learning Management System (LMS), which is fully mobile-responsive and designed with a mobile UX (user experience) in mind. This means that regardless of device, be it a mobile smartphone, a tablet, a laptop or a desktop, people will enjoy a seamless learning experience.

LMSs which meet the “fully responsive” criterion have a simple design, images and fonts are optimised for all screen sizes, load content quickly to the device and are logical to use. The latter means that it is easy for people to access the content they need because the LMS has a logical design and the route to accessing the needed content is clearly signposted. It goes without saying that a well-designed, responsive LMS will cope equally well with any device, regardless of brand, screen size or operating system.

To BYOD or not to BYOD?

Indeed, this is probably one of the most important questions to be asked by all organisations. Essentially, are people to be allowed to use their own mobile devices for learning (hence Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)) or will the organisation provide the mobile devices? While there are success stories on both sides of this debate, there are also a number of pros and cons on each side as well.

For example, while BYOD does help to cut down on hardware costs as people will use their own mobile devices for learning, by supplying mobile devices organisations can cut down costs for ongoing development in the long run. In the end, it is a matter of deciding whether or not BYOD is the right strategy for the organisation, a decision which will influence a large part of the organisation’s mobile learning strategy.

Devising a mobile learning strategy

While this needs to be organisation-specific, there are some essential components that all mobile learning strategies need to include, some of which have been addressed above.

  • In line with the organisation’s key performance indicator-based objectives, what are the objectives for mobile learning? For example, what are the desired impacts on workplace learning culture, self-directed learning and continuous self-development and how will they be measured?

  • How will field-based and remote employees be catered for, particularly where there are bandwidth or Wi-Fi connection issues?

  • When and how will collaborative learning be encouraged and supported by making the most of the platforms employees are using already?

  • How is micro-learning to be provided (eg simulations, videos, animations, quizzes) and for what subjects, work roles, etc?

  • Are people going to use their own mobile devices or is the organisation going to provide them? How are these devices going to be managed by both the user and the organisation?

The most important thing to keep in mind when devising a mobile learning strategy is to remain grounded in the aims of the organisation and the role of L&D in that organisation. It is not about using the latest learning technology, it is about how the organisation manages people’s learning.

Using mobile learning in L&D

Mobile learning has a number of benefits, regardless of how it is used, ie stand-alone, on-demand, informally or formally, as part of blended learning provision, for performance support and so on. Mobile learning can also be delivered in many forms, eg video, simulations, animations, podcasts, documents, quizzes, checklists to name but a few. However, making the flexibility of mobile learning a priority is an important first step, because mobile learning is all about flexibility and tailoring learning experiences to meet individual needs.