The Importance of “Mobile” in Learning

When you’re dealing with a technology that evolves at breakneck speeds, the conversations around that technology will often shift course often as well. Such is the case of mobile technologies and how they should be used for learning.

CaptureYears ago, when mobile learning was a new concept that organizations were considering, the phrase that was often used was some version of “We need to plan our mobile strategy”. As time passed and the use of mobile technologies for learning began to mature from an abstract concept to a proven method of supporting performance, the conversations around mobile learning shifted accordingly. More and more we realized that we really should not be talking about building a mobile strategy; we should be discussing a single strategy that includes mobile.

In fact, that concept could be extended to all aspects of learning. All of the methods an organization uses to support learning and performance should be part of a single cohesive strategy. It’s for this reason that some might conclude that mobile learning is getting too much focus, and that there’s no need for an organization to have a separate conversation dedicated to mobile learning.

And you would be completely wrong to think so.

There should only be one strategy in place to support learning and performance in an organization. But once you add mobile technologies to that strategy, there does need to be a separate and isolated discussion related to the implementation of that part of the strategy.

Here’s a few reasons why it’s critical for learning and performance professionals to follow and participate in the mobile learning discussion.

Mobile Usage Continues to Rise

Photo from Ed Yourdon http://bit.ly/1jdQ2VP

Photo from Ed Yourdon http://bit.ly/1jdQ2VP

Internet browsing from smartphones and tablets grew 35% year over year from Q4 2012 to Q4 2013, when it accounted for 31% of all web traffic (according to Walker Sands). There is an ongoing change in human behavior as it relates to technology, and our methods to support learning and performance need to adapt accordingly.

Mobile Requires Different Skills

I have a friend that lives in New York City and until a few years ago he didn’t own a car. I recall being at dinner with him and him telling me many of his friends had cars and that he was thinking of getting one. We chatted for a bit and explored the “business case” of him having a car, and how it would enhance his life. In the end, he decided having a car made sense for what he wanted from life.

That was the easy part. Once we shifted the conversation to “What would it take to make that happen?” he started to appreciate what it would take to make his car plans happen. For one thing, he didn’t have a driver’s license. He needed to learn an entirely new skill set to drive a car, along with a whole new set of associated rules. He needed to decide how best to acquire a car from all the options. Once all of that was settled, he needed to make the daily decision about when to use the car as compared to the subway, the bus, or any other available transportation option.

I often think about that my friend and his car when I think of mobile learning. Making the decision to add mobile to your strategy is in many ways the easy part; building the skills needed to make it happen takes time and dedicated focus. Mobile is a new frontier for most organizations, and playing in that space will require learning professionals to upgrade their skill sets to be effective.

Mobile Continues to Evolve

Photo via Simon Hayhurst http://bit.ly/1ftOgAE

Photo via Simon Hayhurst http://bit.ly/1ftOgAE

Any time there is change, it helps to have conversation around the change so people can understand, contextualize, and adapt accordingly. Mobile technologies are evolving at incredibly fast speeds. In order to use this technology effectively for learning and performance support, we need to follow the evolution of both the technology and how people are using it. It’s only by staying in tune with how these technologies are changing everyday human behavior that we can really use these tools effectively to support learning and performance.

Mobile Opens New Possibilities

Knowing that the workers you need to support have access to a smart phone opens a huge array of learning and performance support possibilities that were previously unavailable. No longer is the paradigm of what is seen as “learning” tethered to a desk or a classroom. Mobile technologies provide an outlet to provide learning and performance support in ways that were only possible in science fiction films even a short decade earlier.

If we don’t take the the time to focus on the unique affordances of these technologies and how they might be used to enhance learning and performance support, we are dooming ourselves. Without an awareness and understanding of the possibilities these technologies present to us, organizations will default to applying old methods to new tech – and that is a recipe for failure in the mobile space.

Mobile Changes the Learning and Performance Conversation

This last category is the most important one in my mind. As more organizations find success with mobile technologies, and the technologies continue to evolve and open new possibilities, what we look at as “Learning” and “Performance Support” will evolve accordingly. The more we are able to provide learning and performance support opportunities that do not require individuals to stop working so that learning or support can be delivered, the more valuable we become to an organization. Mobile technologies provide us an outlet to do more of that.

For most organizations, interrupting work for learning is the norm. Mobile technologies provide a huge opportunity to change the default, and that will take the learning and performance conversation into new directions in the years to come.

Join the Conversation

MLC_500These changes are already taking place. I invite you to join us at the mLearnCon Conference and Expo in San Diego this June. You’ll hear stories from organizations that have redefined expectations of learning and performance support through their usage of mobile technologies. You’ll see examples of mobile learning in action as members of the Guild Community share their projects at mLearning DemoFest.

Join the conversation this June and discover the new possibilities that are enabled by mobile technologies, and explore the new directions organizations are taking with their learning and performance support strategies.

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