Despite the fact that the iPhone has now been on the market for more than a decade and during this time, smartphones of all kinds have taken off, several recent studies suggest that mobile learning has yet to gain the same traction as mobile entertainment and communications. A 2014 survey by the Brandon Hall Group found that 27% of companies reported “no mobile interaction with learning.” By 2016, this number had only dropped 2% to 25%. The same survey found that half of companies surveyed were only using mobile delivery in a limited way. Only 13% of companies surveyed reported full mobile use.
Given that all signs point to the fact that mobile use is now ubiquitous across demographics, the fact that mobile learning remains somewhat sluggish across sectors suggests that the problem may have less to do with employees’ willingness to embrace mobile learning and more to do with organizations failing to adopt mobile learning as a viable alternative to existing online and onsite training programs and/or with yet to be resolved technical challenges. This post considers some of the possible reasons why mobile learning has not yet fully taken root and how to inject heightened speed into the transition.
1. A Program for Every Device
The first and most common question employers ask when contemplating a move to mobile learning regards devices. In most workplaces, one can reasonably expect their employees to rely on Androids and iOS devices and when it comes to tablets, Windows-based devices too. While some employers supply employees with phones or tablets for work-related reasons and this simplifies the problem, in most cases, the cost of supplying every employee with a standardized device would far exceed any ROI gained by rolling out a mobile training program. Despite the widespread perception that most learning management systems are device-specific, in fact, there are currently several learning management platforms on the market that have been developed to work with Android, iOS and Windows devices. What is important is to ensure that whatever LMS you choose to adopt, it has the capacity to work across these systems.
2. Integration Barriers
Few organizations rely entirely on mobile learning, and this means that integration is a key concern. For example, can the system be integrated with other in-house software programs used to keep track of employees’ progress? Depending on the workplace, the ability to integrate any new mobile learning platform with legacy programs may also be a concern (e.g., to avoid duplicating course development that already took place on an earlier e-learning platform). Among other challenges, you will need to consider the following questions as you move from e-learning to m-learning:
- Do you plan to reproduce existing content?
- If so, will you adapt both the textual and visual content for mobile use?
- Are you planning to maintain video content as well?
- Can existing quizzes be migrated to a mobile platform
- What will you have redesigned for use on mobile devices.
- Will you create any new content that is mobile specific (e.g., game-based learning module)?
To avoid integration challenges, it is important to adopt a learning management system that can easily accommodate the migration of existing videos, course modules and other materials.
3. Network Issues
While this may not be an concern for organizations with a workforce concentrated in a specific region of the United States, today, a growing number of workforces are spread across vast geographic distances and may even include workers stationed around the globe. This means that employees may in fact be working on different networks. Since network performance varies from location to location, poor network conditions may be a consideration, especially in cases where one seeks to give a time quizzed or other temporally bound exercise. For this reason, anyone with a remote and globally dispersed workforce should take their workforce’s network access into consideration prior to rolling out a mobile training program.
4. Security Concerns
While mobile is no longer synonymous with less secure, there is still a perception among some users that mobile devices are less secure than home computers. Assurance that one’s data is just as secure when accessed via a mobile device is something that some employers may need to address, depending on the age and level of technological experience and comfort of their employee demographic.
5. Perceptions of Play Versus Work
While gamification continues to gain traction in many workplaces, especially those populated by Generation Y and even Generation Z employees, for others, the play versus work dichotomy remains firmly in place. For employers hoping to roll out a mobile-based training initiative that utilize games for training purposes, it may be necessary to put some effort into selling the value of games as a training tool to their entire workforce. Bear in mind that data is often the best way to tell a story; if your employees are skeptical, share results with them as a means of persuasion.
6. Videos Streaming
In the late twentieth century, video became a major source of training materials and remains so to this day. Assuming that video-based training modules are not going away, however, it is critical to adopt a learning management system that is set up to deliver streamed videos on a variety of devices, including mobile devices. You may also need to adapt existing courses to ensure they can stream properly on a mobile device. Among other things, this may mean turning longer videos into shorter units (to help with streaming speed and match the typical attention span of a mobile user). It may also mean turning some narrated elements of your training videos into text, since mobile users may or may not have earphones on them at all times. In short, while videos are also a key part of m-learning, it is important to adapt one’s existing course library to the mobile device context.
7. Making Mobile Learning Part of Your Training Mandate
The single most common reasons that mobile learning has yet to fully take off is that organizations have yet to make mobile learning a key part of their training mandate. Indeed, while many organizations continue to dabble in mobile learning, it has yet to appear at the center of most organizations’ training mandates. This may point to the fact that either organizations and/or their HR managers are out of touch with employees’ needs. As of 2014, more than 90% of American adults owned a mobile device (one can assume that this number is now even higher) and mobile use was reported to cut across every demographic with high use being reported by both genders, people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, and people of all working ages. With the exception of the elderly, who are also less likely to be the target of workplace training, mobile use is widespread and for many people, it is considered the preferred point of access for acquiring information of all kinds. Ramping up the mobile learning revolution will depend a great deal then on organizations and HR managers recognizing and prioritizing it as a training resource.
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