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mobileIt's not just generation Y who are hooked to their mobile devices, smart phones have taken the always-on concept mainstream. So what's a trainer to do when faced with a room full of delegates spreading their attention between the course and the flashing light that tells them a new email has arrived? Mike Morrison ponders how L&D can appeal to multi-taskers.

A recent survey by conference centre Wyboston Lakes - see A week in training - suggests that while delegates may physically attend conferences and courses, they are only partly listening. The poll found that almost 50% of delegates not only keep their mobile devices switched on, but actively check and reply to messages during events.

This survey struck a chord as when I was at the CIPD annual conference I too noticed a number of people more focused on their mobile than the session itself. How can participants ensure that they are really taking away the best from the session or event if they are always online and actively checking emails?

Photo of Mike Morrison"As communicators and developers have we really adapted and added, or just changed the medium we provide information in, still in a serial rather than parallel format?"

As a profession which is being increasingly asked to increase return on investment (ROI) and to do more with less in these challenging times, L&D does not appear to me to be taking the leadership role. Our task should not only be to lead change but to lead by example and offer events which are engaging and ‘overcome’ the stressors which push some people to access their mobile devices every 10 minutes.

Why are delegates so anxious and feel the need to check email messages every 10-30 minutes - do they really feel the world will stop without them? Or is this a bigger issue that we as a profession need to look to addressing with our organisational development (OD) hats on? If its is cultural we need to address it – if it is our style we need to make some changes.

This was an issue as long ago as 2005, this article on TrainingZone raised concerns about delegate behaviour. We could ban mobile devices or even buy the ‘jamming’ devices sold in the US (illegal in the UK), or maybe we just need to offer a good reason for people to keep listening and engaged.

Is the problem that people are being sent on events that are irrelevant in the eyes of the attendees? Are the events too long? Or has learning and development ignored the way fact that that digital connectedness has changed the way we spread our attention?

Over the past 15 years research from the Develop the Developers survey has shown the decline from five-plus day residential events through to one day workshops and now 90 minute ‘injects’, so we are changing – but are the changes the right ones for the right reasons?

Dare I say it, but how long will it be before people use products like “Power2Exhibit” which gives you the ability to display a custom ticker tape message using your own text or live RSS web feed within a presentation, or some of the PowerPoint add-ins that do this for you?

Is it time to introduce multiple plasma (or LCD if you are environmentally concerned) screens around the room, each one changing and showing different information every two-to-three minutes (relevant to the learning) much like changing posters we see on bus stops? If we do this we need to maintain the main ‘screen’ for traditional (but engaging and value adding) visual aids.

If we stop and think about it, let's look at what other communications sectors have done:

  • The film industry has added clips, out-takes and behind the scenes information to DVDs

  • The TV companies have the ‘red button’ feature

  • The advertisers have added websites to their offers
  • As communicators and developers have we really adapted and added, or just changed the medium we provide information in, still in a serial rather than parallel format? Sure many offer pre- and post-event ‘blended’ solutions – but is that adding to the experience or replacing elements that have been taken out?

    Learning and development are we leaders or followers?

    Mike Morrison is director of RapidBI Ltd, a consulting and training company specialising in organisational development and the development of high performing teams and individuals. For more information go to


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