Take Advantage of the Many Facets of Mobile Learning

Repurposing content is good; merely converting it to HTML is not

By Dave Zielinski Aug 31, 2014
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To many, mobile learning means converting existing e-learning courses to HTML5 for quick delivery to field audiences like sales staff or repair technicians. Others think only of delivering short bursts of text-based content to tablets or smartphones.

But experts say mobile learning doesn’t have to be tied to HTML5—the popular content-authoring tool supported by a wide range of mobile platforms and browsers—and that a growing number of job types are good candidates for mobile learning, given the ubiquity of today’s devices.

Consultants and learning practitioners also say if your mobile strategy doesn’t include performance support tools, you’re missing an opportunity to deploy mobile for one of its best uses—delivering knowledge to workers at their moment of need.

Content Management Drives Good Practice

Organizations are often primed to start delivering mobile learning without even realizing it, says Sarah Gilbert, president of meLearning Solutions, an Atlanta-based mobile learning consultancy. “If you’re developing training-related videos, PDFs, documents or interactive e-books, many of those things are mobile-ready right now,” Gilbert said in a phone interview with SHRM Online.

Rather than trying to determine the type of mobile devices employees will use to access content—a difficult task given proliferating operating systems and devices as well as bring-your-own-device policies—Gilbert said companies are better off focusing on getting learning content in order and identifying formats that work well on multiple devices. The practice of responsive design, where software automatically adjusts content to the size of a device’s screen, can help ease reformatting challenges.

There’s more useful learning content than ever floating around organizations, said Gilbert, yet instructional designers often don’t know where things are stored or what format they exist in. Companies should think more strategically about how they organize, “tag” and store content like PowerPoint slides, videos, audio files or worksheets so these resources can be more efficiently delivered to mobile devices at the time of need.

Video, Gamification Gain Steam

Capitalizing on advancing video technology and responding to employee learning preferences, organizations also are delivering more video content to mobile users. At TELUS, the Canadian telecom company, research found employees favor short, one- to two-minute learning videos, says Robin Yap, a TELUS senior learning consultant in Toronto.

In one current use, a short video delivers just-in-time guidance to new TELUS field technicians prior to an installation procedure. “There are two cables that technicians have to connect to one another, but many cable types to choose from,” Yap explained. By scanning bar codes affixed to the cables, the technicians can call up an instructional video on their mobile devices that demonstrate the task.

Mobile learning for the sales force at the AutoTrader Group benefits from use of gamification and user-generated content, said Cory Colton, senior manager of learning technologies in the Atlanta-based organization. Delivery to salespeoples’ iOS devices has five levels, starting with knowledge assessments and product overviews, and advancing to exercises like a training-related scavenger hunt.

“As someone advances through the training, they have a series of resources available to them in our mobile application, and we built the scavenger hunt around those resources,” Colton told SHRM Online. “People move in and out of the app to find answers to questions posed in the hunt.”

Salespeople can achieve points and badges based on achievements at various learning levels. “We also have leaderboards and challenge boards that allow managers of each region and district to follow the progress of their teams in the app,” Colton said.

At level four, employees are asked to apply sales knowledge gained from prior learning, as well as that from webinars viewed on iPads, to generate their own content that can be applied in a real-world conversation with a car dealer.

“That user-generated content is uploaded directly through the app to their managers, who can review it and accept or reject it, as well as provide comments and appropriate coaching,” said Colton. “That’s one proof of application of learning.”

Redesign Essential for Learning Platform

Experts say there’s still a place for the structured, “click next to continue” type of learning course in mobile. “But you have to redesign e-learning courses for mobile, you’d can’t simply convert them,” said Lance Dublin, an e-learning consultant in San Francisco. “It doesn’t work to take an existing course and just run it through an HTML editor. The good news is you can design learning to be effective in any kind of environment if you design it well.”

Gilbert agrees on the need for thoughtful design. “Can you take your existing e-learning content and repurpose it for HTML5? It’s probably a waste of time to do that because it often takes more time to clean up the existing course content than to rebuild it,” she said. “With mobile you really should be trying to simplify and strip things down anyway.”

Furthermore, mobile learners won’t always have access to an organization’s server, reminds Dublin. In those cases tablets or phones should be able to store learning content locally for off-line access.

Since it’s vital to track employee completion of any compliance-related training, companies also need to ensure ways to create records of mobile learning when devices aren’t connected to servers. “You need a solution that creates a tracking file that can be uploaded when a user does log back on again to the server,” Dublin said.

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business journalist in Minneapolis.

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