What is Mobile Learning and Why Is It Important in Employee Training?
It’s not often you leave the house without your phone. Perhaps you can’t go on a long trip without your tablet. You work on your laptop on your commute to the office. If you use a mobile device for many other everyday occurrences, why not use it for learning, too?
Mobile learning is the newest (and fast becoming the most popular) way of accessing learning content. It’s also one of the best ways to engage employees near and far, because you’re meeting them where they’re already converging.
Still not sure why mobile learning is your key to engaging and empowering employees on their learning pathways? We’ll walk you through just how and why you need to nail the mobile learning environment.
What is mobile learning?
A large proportion of learners today can’t set aside the time needed to travel to a learning centre, study in person and then travel home and revise. An even larger number again are physically unable to. This is where mobile learning comes in.
mLearning, as it’s also known, is essentially a form of both distance learning and online learning, whereby learners can access their coursework wherever they are and on whatever device they have available (usually a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer). Learning is then not reliant on changing schedules or compromising priorities. Though the name implies a link to phones, the ‘mobile’ in mobile learning refers to any device that supports a learner’s freedom of movement; AKA, is portable.
Mobile learning vs traditional learning
Being able to use any device to engage in education lends itself to instant knowledge sharing and feedback; the former is important for internal transparency and improving decision-making, and the latter for recognition and getting ahead of detrimental behaviours or beliefs. But is this really any different or better than what learners could experience in a face-to-face environment?
One could posit that mobile learning does what conventional learning cannot and capitalises on the pervasiveness of devices in everyday life. Sheer prevalence of mobile devices aside, there’s a growing shift in preference for mobile learning over a traditional classroom environment:
- 71% of millennials say they engage more with mobile learning than learning and development activities delivered via desktop computer or face-to-face methods.
- From the same study, 64% of learners say accessing training from a mobile device is essential.
- Another study has shown teachers appreciate the online storage capabilities that mobile learning offers, especially since it can also improve content delivery both in and out of the classroom.
What’s more, mobile learning facilitates instant sharing of knowledge and feedback and provides ample more room for exploring and asking questions than a classroom environment. And aside from the benefits for learners, it cuts down on paper consumption, travel expenses and venue costs for employers. (That’s what they call a win-win.)
Benefits of mobile learning
Just why is mobile learning experiencing a sharper rise in popularity than “Come on Eileen” did? It’s effective, convenient, useful, engaging and motivating. And unlike Dexys Midnight Runners, mobile learning has longevity—because it allows employees to learn at their own pace, which gives them the time needed to grasp new information (which is less likely in time-managed and fast-paced interactive methods). On the other hand, the opportunity for discourse is even greater in forums and instant messaging chats, considering these are not limited to a one-hour time slot like a traditional class. And these aren’t even the only benefits of mobile learning.
Anytime, anywhere, any device. It really is possible to have it all. Mobile learning encourages greater rates of engagement simply by allowing learners to engage from wherever they’re most comfortable or is most convenient. There’s no costs for travel, nor is there a need to actively carve out time in one’s schedule. This makes education a wholly more enticing endeavour, because it puts control back into the learners’ hands.
Why accessibility is important
Aside from sheer convenience, easy access also means no one is excluded from learning. Take remote workers, who may have patchy internet access or no way of travelling to a learning centre, or those with disabilities who require certain mobile devices and system features to access the same materials as others.
To be enticing, content needs to be short, sharp and concise. Trimming large amounts of information into digestible, bite-sized formats is one of the biggest drivers behind the success of mobile learning. Think about it: not only are you trying to avoid information overload or long, dry content that might push learners to check out, but your real estate for content is small to begin with.
Why microlearning is important
Where our attention spans have decreased, our ability to multitask has peaked. A large proportion of your workforce will have been raised in the digital age. This subset processes information more efficiently, but especially so in small doses (games, quizzes, short videos). It also effectively saves organisations time and money; study may take place during the day, but as it’s in short chunks, it likely won’t hinder productivity and it’s nowhere near as time or cost intensive as traditional training.
No two learners are the same. Some prefer to study a little every day, others want to knock it out in a day. Some are visual learners, others prefer listening and others still are tactile. The classroom environment rarely reflects all learning styles, but mobile learning certainly can. Videos can be embedded, forums created for interaction, reading materials downloaded and even video chats and virtual classrooms accessed.
Why dynamic learning is important
Take the lecture as an example. Being spoken at is not all that engaging, least of all because it’s not an intimate one-on-one conversation. People like to feel special and heard, which is why the mobile learning environment is so good. And while admin are able to create content that appeals to all learning styles, they’re also able to push learners out of their comfort zones by combining multiple formats in a single course (because the outer realms of comfort is where the majority of learning happens).
Mobile learning speeds up the delivery of feedback in learning and assessments. This is important for a couple of reasons:
- People love recognition. It motivates by validating the way in which a learner has approached a task or problem, sparking a flame to replicate and build on that approach.
- It allows learners to establish self-evaluation skills. The more one is exposed to instant feedback, the more they are able to appraise their own method of inquiry and problem-solving, and course-correct quicker.
- Instructors are able to identify knowledge gaps and course correct much quicker, and likely before any adverse behaviours or thought processes are solidified.
Why instant feedback is important
It’s a non-intrusive, contextual and regular method of assessment that seeks to reinforce newly attained knowledge by correcting mistakes, affirming capability, and validating a learner’s thought process. It forces learners to engage and modify behaviour in the moment, making the learning experience active rather than passive. Basically: it makes learning autonomous and imbues information better.
Gathering employees from multiple locations to attend the same training in the same room by the one instructor is arduous, time-intensive and expensive. Within mobile learning environments, you can host guest instructors with no cost for travel. This allows more employees to access training at a much lower cost without inhibiting productivity and profitability in the process.
Why cost is important
We’ve seen many clients whose training and development budgets are largely consumed by the sheer cost of face-to-face training. While it still has its place, it’s also not accessible for many employees. Whatever costs are saved on a lessened travel budget and impact on day-to-day productivity can be reinvested into the mobile learning environment to, say, bring in more subject matter experts.
Immediacy of technology
Unlike face-to-face training, mobile learning software can quickly, efficiently and often autonomously update to reflect new content, technology or information to thousands of users. This saves the hassle of manually updating resources for large cohorts and then having to manually notify the entire cohort of new information available, which are tedious tasks for L&D leaders to perform.
Why innovative tech is important
Automation is the best thing that could have happening to the eLearning industry. For example, you could maximise efficiency using a template from a previous course to create a new one. This decreases administrative workloads, removes the monotony of replication and has all the benefits of robotic accuracy. Plus, it speaks to a learner base who are already largely familiar with technology that does a lot of the work for them.
Challenges of mobile learning
Where there are many ways mobile learning makes the learning experience much easier, there are also some challenges we’d be remiss to leave out of this guide.
Lack of focus
Alas, one of the biggest challenges mobile learning champions admit to is how easy it is to get distracted while using a mobile device. Unlike a work computer or laptop, on which certain apps and websites may be restricted, a personal device is often full of tantalising games and enticing social media apps that can cause learners to lose focus.
Combating lack of focus
On the other side of this coin is self-discipline, which is essential to the success of mobile learning. Giving employees the freedom to learn in their own time conveys trust, which may help them want to focus. We’d also recommend creating personalised learning pathways so that employees know that their education is directly tied to their own growth and development, thus encouraging them to self-motivate.
Reliance on internet
It’s not a topic that can be avoided; mobile learning is fully dependent on having an internet connection. This could exclude:
- Employees in remote areas with patchy service.
- Workers who travel frequently, and cannot always rely on having a connection.
- Those who may need to share mobile devices at home.
Combating connectivity issues
Many software developers consider that not everyone has easy or consistent access to the internet. Offline access is frequently offered by eLearning vendors so that content can be downloaded and accessed at later time on a device that is readily available to learners, without the need for internet access. Progress statuses are updated when a user is back online, too, so there’s no need to worry that won’t be tracked.
While mobile learning meets learners more than halfway, the problem with learning in your comfort zone is you might not be tempted to move outside of it. Those who acclimatise to an online environment may not be open to face-to-face or longer training sessions. You may also be concerned about issues with certain types of content not being appropriate for different screen sizes, such as graphics or technical topics with detailed images.
Combating limited scope
Enter the responsive screen. The content formatted for many eLearning solutions is done so with responsive design in mind. This means a single master course is created with elements that automatically adjust based on screen real estate, resolution and interface. And as for lazy learners, any good LMS content is designed to keep testing their skills and focus. Integrating mobile learning and experiential learning means employees will have to take knowledge off screen, keeping them engaged.
The pedagogy of mobile learning
Wondering just how mobile learning can be integrated into an employee training program? It’s not just about learning on a smaller screen on the commute home. There are limitations to consider when tailoring learning to mobile devices, but there are equally as many unique opportunities.
Clark Quinn, a leading learning technology strategist, posits five main affordances of the mobile device in learning:
- Content: Delivering instructional materials that can be accessed anywhere.
- Compute: Leveraging device capabilities to assist in manual tasks, e.g. language translation or a mathematical solution.
- Communicate: Reaching either a classmate or instructor via a chat feature.
- Capture: Recording sound, images, video or ideas from the surrounding environment as part of the learning experience.
- Context: Combining the first four points to assign meaning to coursework that is interesting to the learner.
Why you need to consider this
We’re not saying you need to stick to Quinn’s outline word for word. But it does describe the way in which students need to be cognitively and behaviourally supported in mobile learning. The main challenge is the absence of face-to-face interaction; but one of mobile learning’s greatest strengths is the offer of an intimate, spontaneous and pervasive style of learning. It remedies its own challenges by asking the learner to use their device as a tool to engage with their fellow learners, instructors, environment and coursework, thereby making it part of the learning process. This is inherently learner-centric, a sure-fire way to increase engagement and motivate employees to be invested in their own learning pathways.
Optimising the mobile learning experience
The groundwork is already laid for you with the mobile learning experience. The societal saturation of devices, apps and trends makes the mobile learning experience already a rather enticing one. That being said, there are still ways you can optimise your mobile learning tool and environment to engage employees better and more efficiently.
Discussion plays an important role in eLearning, not least because it brings a little humanity to a technological environment. Beyond that, it also encourages learners to explore a topic further than their own understanding and sharpen their inquisitive thinking skills. This can create a social learning, which is a pretty big deal since social learning is a massive driver behind how we see things and how we act, and if we change either of those frameworks.
Amplify discussion by:
Employing a mobile learning app. This enables real-time communication and feedback, notify learners of new information and reflect the informal chatter one has in real life.
The art of evoking competitiveness and motivation through learning is known as gamification. And it is an art form, because it encourages learners to engage better with content and view it through a new lens. By imbuing an element of competition into coursework, you’re giving employees something to discuss, something to intrigue them, and something to drive completions—because it could be, if they don’t complete the course, they don’t rank on the leader board.
Introduce gamification by:
Encouraging competition. Imagine a regular, mandatory course. It’s filled with videos, quizzes and even a forum. At base value, it’s engaging enough. Add some elements of gamification, however, like points and a leader board, and suddenly it’s a race to finish the course before anyone else.
Supplement formal training
While mobile learning allows you to create simplified versions of courses, not every kind of training is suitable for a mobile delivery. Sometimes supplementary and experiential training is needed to reinforce learned skills in a contextual way, especially because formal training can contextually augment the social learning process of affirming and challenging one’s own beliefs against others’.
Supplement formal training through:
- On-the-job training, to solidify manual and collaborative tasks
- Role playing, specifically to cultivate soft skills such as active listening and conflict resolution
- Team bonding activities, to strengthen communication skills.
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