Much like the corporate world is seeing a decrease in cube dwellers, learning organizations are experiencing a decrease in training session attendees. The solution for some companies? Mobile learning, or training via a 5-ounce electronic device. Is this really a step in the right direction or just another distraction until something better comes along?
We’ve all heard the phrase “if you can’t beat them, join them.” Well, that’s where m-learning seems to be positioning itself. Learning professionals are forced to shed the last vestiges of the idea that learning must take place in a classroom with “real” teachers and “real” materials.
M-learning: the future of e-learning?
A little while ago, I was asked to do some research on mobile learning (m-learning) and was really intrigued by the concept. Not only have some universities experimented with the technique, but some companies have tapped into it as well.
At first, this seemed like the perfect way for companies to train their remote employees. At second glance, however, it began to seem like a distraction from the actual training content. I’ll get to that a little later because first, m-learning needs to be defined.
With gadgets and toys like the BlackBerry and the iPhone, it’s no wonder some companies have experimented with m-learning, and have succeeded. According to Wikipedia, mobile learning is “focused on learning across contexts and learning with mobile devices.” Think about how you can avoid the limits of learning locations using the mobility of portable devices and you get mobile learning.
Not only is the element of the classroom removed, m-learning goes beyond the usual implementations of e-learning, as (1) a way to reach employees that aren’t in a fixed location and (2) a mode that is in tune with the younger generations entering the workforce. There are still aspects of learning that require face-to-face interaction. This will depend on the content and whether it can work in short bursts (think 2-3 minute video and/or podcast). The most common courses implemented relate to sales training, i.e. communication, branding, and messaging techniques.
Not your average cell phone
I mentioned above that BlackBerrys and iPhones are the most common smart phones used for m-learning, but this training is not limited to smart phones and is more common on iPods and the like. CorpU has utilized the power of iTunes and have put our entire CorpU TV collection out to the iTunes world. The digital and music application also has an iTunes U channel for colleges and universities to post lectures and other classroom materials.
Rather than using iTunes as a distribution source, corporations distribute their podcasts and other company-specific m-learning training content via a web portal. This gives them the same on-demand functionality of iTunes, but on a more customizable and personal user experience.
Higher educational institutions have started to respond to the sophistication of their students and put the use of phone and iPod learning to the test. Abilene Christian University provided Apple’s iPhone 3G to two-thirds of their incoming freshmen. Those who receive the phone are to use it for brainstorming, as well as getting virtual handouts and podcasts during class.
Duke University pre-loaded 20GB iPods with information each freshman would need to know – freshman orientation information, an academic calendar, even the Duke fight songs. Upperclassmen have the option of borrowing an iPod for courses that incorporate them into their lesson plans.
The corporate world is definitely finding that they can effectively train in short bursts.
Ericsson originally focused on producing mobile content, but quickly realized the organization and distribution of that content was also critical. They found they could provide their sales and employees with just-in-time training in the field. The company is currently working to provide content according to an individual's location. You can watch this exclusive CorpU TV interview (and others) via iTunes, or visit CorpU TV.
Merrill Lynch found it was rare for employees to finish any online training they started, mostly because of time constraints. They looked to m-learning and implemented training courses via BlackBerry. The result was a 100% course completion rate. Full article
Homewood Suites (by Hilton) unveiled mobile training by providing video iPods in every location in an effort to improve performance and development in areas likes sales communications and brand messaging. Each iPod program contains a variety of two-minute modules highlighting specific brand skills that are both essential and valuable. Full article
Accenture uses m-learning to reach busy executives whose schedules rarely allot a 30-60 minute window to complete training programs at their computer. (Training At Your Fingertips)
Capital One provided iPods to employees in the U.S. Card College New Hire Program, augmenting existing programs and/or creating new ones. Full article
Is m-learning a good fit for my company?
To me, finding that perfect training tool or technique is equivalent to finding the perfect employee – you’ll never know until you try. Just be sure to keep your workforce in mind, as well as who you want to join your team.
If you have a team filled with the younger generation (Gen Y), m-learning is likely to be welcomed with open arms. Speaking on behalf of Gen Y, we are used to getting information via cell phones and iPods, and are accustomed to accessing what we need when we need it. Not exactly the definition of your typical classroom training! With its real time format and flexibility, m-learning is just too good to be true for us!
For a company whose team is filled with mostly older generations, it’s possible they will have a hard time adapting to this technique because they are not familiar with the devices. Part of the mobile training will have to include how to use the technology before they can even access the real training. That doesn’t mean it can’t work. In the Accenture example above, the target was executives – most of whom are not likely to be Gen Y.
Effective or just another distraction until the next big thing comes along?
Here are some of the issues to consider before jumping on board:
M-learning may not be for everyone and, personally, I am a hands-on learner. While I am a part of Gen Y and am in tune with new technology, I prefer the face-to-face interaction with someone who is physically present to help me right then and there. Besides, I would prefer to work off my 22” monitor rather than my 2.3” BlackBerry screen! However, if there are compelling training issues that can’t seem to be handled using other modes, it might be worth a try.
Kortny Williamson, CorpU Research Analyst
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