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Seven trends make mobile learning inevitable


Mobile learning is an unstoppable force that stems from the coming together of seven trends, says Martin Addison. Here he guides us through each trend.

With such a wide range of options for delivering learning already available, do we really need another?

The simple answer is yes, if we want our learning to have more impact. Utilising handheld devices to access and enhance video-rich learning is, for me, not only a logical progression, it’s actually an unstoppable force that stems from the coming together of seven trends. These trends are:

1. The demand for just-in-time learning

Learning departments have long been under pressure to deliver learning quickly and not to take people away from their desks. This has led to an increase in demand for bite-sized, just-in-time interventions that support individual learners. Rather than a whole training course, it might be that the individual just wants the convenience of learning (or refreshing their learning on) a specific, salient point.

"With the likes of YouTube, BBC iPlayer, iTunes, LoveFilm and BT Vision, we’ve all become much more comfortable with watching video online."

2. The increased take-up of mobile devices

Smartphones and tablet computers such as the iPad - with touch sensitive, full colour screens - offer a dynamic, new way for individuals to consume learning content. Other providers are racing to launch rivals to the iPad, featuring Android, Windows and other systems. With the addition of cameras, slide-out keyboards and enterprise capabilities, tablets are definitely on the rise. For organisations, the ubiquity of handheld devices, such as these, presents a great opportunity to deliver performance support and learning content to employees whenever it is needed.

3. People like to learn via video

Video has always been a popular and effective means of training. It stimulates, engages and entertains people, triggering them to think, feel and do things differently. It allows quite complex ideas, particularly ones around soft skills behaviour, to be put across in a short space of time.

Commercial video libraries are now available which offer flexible online access to thousands of individual video clips, each of which lasts a few minutes and focuses on a particular topic, everything from customer service to leadership. These clips - which can include "wrong way-right way" scenarios - make an ideal "learning grenade" for demonstrating behaviours or reinforcing a key message.

4. The growth of online video

Technological developments have changed the delivery of video in training, from 16mm reels, VHS, CD-Rom and DVD through to digital video streaming.

With the likes of YouTube, BBC iPlayer, iTunes, LoveFilm and BT Vision, we’ve all become much more comfortable with watching video online.

For trainers, online video has the huge advantage that you no longer have to move physical resources around. If you were using a DVD in Newcastle, your colleague couldn’t use it in Birmingham at the same time. However, when you stream video clips over an intranet or the internet, anybody at anytime and anywhere can view them.

5. The desire to ‘mash’ content into a custom experience

It’s easier than ever to create your own content. However, it is not so easy to create context-specific learning. Content may be king but context is the kingdom and more and more organisations are now taking content from publishers and mashing it up with their own expertise and insights, or adding their own branding, to make their content more engaging and memorable.

6. The demand for exciting learning

Learners have always cried out for humour and personality in training. However, the humour has to support the learning. You can’t just shoe-horn gags in, for the sake of it. The essential principle here is that people learn nothing when they’re asleep and very little when they’re bored. To learn, we have to be engaged. When learning is fun and interesting, we become emotionally involved. So, by stimulating and engaging people, humour can make learning much more memorable.

7. The availability of apps

A key development stemming from the above trends is the creation and take-up of apps. From free, to a few pounds, the app is provocative in its size and versatility. Apps are being developed across different platforms, to run on desktops, tablets and smartphones. They’re easy to create and intuitive to use, which makes them ideal for either just-in-time skills development or refresher training. As new roles or projects are assigned to employees, you can imagine video-rich apps providing targeted functionality at the point of need.

Four tips for successful m-learning

These seven trends are impelling the market towards m-learning. But a word of caution before you rush out to commission your own customised apps. My advice is:

  1. Remember, m-learning is about learning, not about technology. Technology is merely an enabler in the learning process. The questions to ask are: what skills do people need to learn in the organisation? What are their preferences for learning? Why should they be willingly to acquire the necessary skills and how can technology assist in that process?
  2. Support your learners. M-learning can be an effective way to provide supplementary hints and tips at the point of need. However, simply making m-learning available to unprepared and unsupported learners will not work. It must be appropriately presented and adequately resourced.
  3. If you’re incorporating video, frame it. Like paintings, video clips need a "frame". Always set your video in context, so learners know what they are watching and why - and what they’re meant to do as a result.
  4. Recognise that a change of role is required. Your role is no longer to provide learning at specific times. Instead, it is to help individuals to make the best of the learning that’s available to them and to access it on-demand.

M-learning is already happening and its evolution is inevitable. You may be able to resist the pull of technology but can you really resist the pull of learner expectations? Quite simply, this is what people want. Will your organisation be able to deliver it?


Martin Addison is CEO of Video Arts, which runs the world’s biggest library of online video clips for corporate training. He can be contacted on [email protected]

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