Kick-Start Your Digital HR Strategy: Mobile Learning

Part 1

By Deborah D. Waddill, Ed. D. September 4, 2018

This article is the first in a series of excerpts from Digital HR: A Guide to Technology-Enabled Human Resources (SHRM, 2018) Deborah D. Waddill, Ed. D.

Part 1: Mobile Learning

Part 2: Information Systems

Part 3: Social Networking

HR has a new role in the twenty-first century. The good news is that organizations finally realize that the human resources management function is vital to their overall success and profitability. Since employees are every organization's biggest asset and since HR interfaces with employees from pre-hire to separation, HR is involved from beginning to end with an employee's experience within an organization. That is a lot of responsibility. As a result, the roles of twenty-first-century HR professionals have changed to include new competencies including business acumen, ethical practices, leadership and navigation (with political finesse), HR expertise, relationship management, consultation, global and cultural effectiveness, communication, and critical evaluation. Communication and critical evaluation pertain directly to technology skills, and both of these skills can be supported and enhanced by mobile technology.

Mobile computing impacts the field of learning. Executives, small business owners, and those with HR responsibilities find themselves needing to use new methods to consistently incorporate formal learning, informal learning, and leadership development methods in the workplace. (Mobile learning, or m-learning, may be the answer to address all three.) In order to be effective, HR leaders must be aware of and use theories of learning and instruction that fit mobile technology.

We know that those without access to high-speed connections are increasingly at a disadvantage. This disparity has been labeled "the digital divide," referring to the gap in opportunities between those who have access to high-speed, high-quality connections and those who do not. This opportunity gap can be said to stem from the fact that most recent technologies are focused on network-enabled tools that are often reliant on broadband Internet. However, in many ways, mobile technology bridges the gap by making learning platforms accessible from mobile devices like cell phones. Now the leading-edge goal in business is to be mobile friendly. Top-quality learning and development products can be delivered to mobile devices, thereby reaching a broader audience than the desktop-based online audience and overcoming the divide.

M-learning refers to the use of a mobile device (smartphone, cell phone, or tablet) for learning purposes and provides learning beyond the boundaries of developed nations to many developing nations and people around the globe. This is no small achievement and it is one that you need to know about, especially with regard to the impact on employee learning and development. We address m-learning design guidelines, explaining what they are and how they differ from standard principles of instructional design. Additionally, we explain how augmented and virtual reality can be used effectively as mobile learning.

In 2016, an estimated 62.9 percent of the global population already owned a mobile phone, and it is forecasted to continue to grow, rounding to 67 percent by 2019. Given the exponential increase in the number of mobile phones and the increased hours of usage, forward-thinking HR professionals must realize the advantages of using mobile devices for work purposes, specifically for training or training support. If most people in the workplace are using mobile devices, why not incorporate mobility into learning activities? Or, better yet, why not deliver training to the mobile device?

For the last decade, instructional designers have been developing an approach to deliver training on mobile devices. One of these design approaches, Universal Instructional Design or UID, is impacting the design of all online instruction, not just m-learning. UID has many associated principles. UID principles provide an effective approach to the design of learning based on the technology, audience, context, content, and pedagogy. These design considerations can be further specified as follows:

  • Technology category. This requires a review of the technology for compatibility of the devices the intended audience uses, the access method, organizational policies to support the technology, and metrics for measuring the impact and results of the technology.
  • Audience. Requires knowing and being able to describe the intended audience, what their learning needs are, what interests them, and the technologies that they use for their workplace priorities.
  • Context. Requires examination and identification of the environmental conditions for learning, formal or informal learning opportunities, possible distractions, corporate norms for technology usage, and cultural norms regarding the technology.
  • Content. Addresses the match of the instructional design to the content, incorporating active, problem-based, or project-based learning that is both challenging to the learner and suited to the content.
  • Pedagogy. Requires determination of the role of the instructor and student and what must be accomplished. Otherwise known as the instructional goal. Ideally this approach assumes the instructor's role as guide-by-the-side rather than sage-on-the-stage, giving the learners more control by allowing them to analyze, synthesize, and construct their own, new learnings.


UID impacts the structure of the course and the curriculum. M-Learners need to know how each learning courselet fits into a whole course or curriculum. You can help them identify this by making the structure of the course clear with a content plan of the whole course at the beginning of each courselet. Similarly, it is important to make the objectives for each courselet clear at the start so that learners have an overall indication of what will be covered. Content that is applicable to mobile learning includes short, two- to three-minute videos, a few frames of content, and simple interactions such as polls or short quizzes.

HR professionals can use their power and influence to help others see the possibilities and think outside the box, especially in regard to mobile learning. The first step is to examine the technology options—including smartphones, cell phones, tablets, and hand-held computers—that provide alternatives to PC-based access to learning.

M-learning delivered to mobile devices allows students to learn from a variety of locations where online, PC-based courseware may not be accessible. Often, areas that have no broadband Internet will still have telecommunications capabilities. The availability of learning courses and courselets on mobile devices in situations where there is no broadband Internet extends learning. People can obtain information and learning materials on mobile devices almost anywhere and at any time.

Deborah D. Waddill, Ed.D., is an HR leadership and technology expert with extensive consulting and business experience with government, academic, nonprofit, and for-profit clients.

Please visit the SHRMStore to order a copy of Digital HR: A Guide to Technology-Enabled Human Resources by Deborah D. Waddill, Ed. D.



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.

Member Benefit: Ask-An-Advisor Service

SHRM's HR Knowledge Advisors offer guidance and resources to assist members with their HR inquiries.

SHRM's HR Knowledge Advisors offer guidance and resources to assist members with their HR inquiries.



HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.