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Learning on the hoof

Having just reviewed contributions from the first 100 HR directors, L&D experts and training managers to participate in some research, findings suggest that when it comes to actually devising and deploying a mobile learning strategy, most players are still waiting on the bench. Vicky Jones, Managing Director at Redtray, explores.

When it comes to mobile learning, most HR experts are still watching from the side lines. By this time next year, more people will be accessing the internet through a mobile device than on a PC1. In the HR world, by 2015, the global market for mobile learning products and services will have reached $9.1 billion2. And by 2016, the number of tablets shipped out to enterprises (not consumers) will be close to 100 million (seven times today’s figure)3. With numbers like these to back us up, it’s pretty simple to make the business case for mobile learning. Growth is so fast it’s no longer feasible to expect learners in the workplace not to want mobile access to the company’s training materials. But while no one in L&D seems to be disputing the untapped potential of mobile learning, the latest figures emerging from our new crowd sourcing research programme, LMSwishList, suggest that most L&D leaders are talking the talk, but not yet walking the walk.

Half of all respondents say that absolutely none of the learning support they offer staff is currently accessed through a mobile device. The other half estimate that little more than 10 percent of the course content they have to offer today is ever accessed via a smartphone or a tablet. Things are developing all the time and the really interesting facts and figures are undoubtedly still to emerge from the project. But the input we’ve received over the first days of the programme make the current outlook for mobile learning crystal clear: While the big vendors talk up its potential, real learners on the ground are sticking to the PC. Even when we ask L&D professionals to speculate on the future, less than one in five of them believe that the majority of learning will be accessed over a mobile device anytime soon.

In the current business environment, the fear of being left behind is overshadowed by the fear of making the wrong move. At the vendor end, suppliers are racing each other to develop the breakthrough mobile strategy that everyone’s looking for while in-house, L&D leaders are getting increasingly panicky at the prospect of falling behind: it’s a volatile cycle of product development fuelled by panic buying which most L&D experts are more happy to watch than to participate in. So far the focus point for most mobile strategies seems to be the app. Usually, it’s some kind of bite-sized learning module that sits on a smartphone or an immersive serious game that learners can use to reinforce training points while on the move. But the common failure that keeps the HR industry cautious is the absence of a really convincing integration strategy. Mobile learning is bolted onto what’s there already when really, its place needs to be defined in the new blend of learning that mobile will contribute to. Technology’s role is to support our learning needs – not dictate them, and the early adopters creating all the buzz at the sharp end of our industry ignore this at their peril. Until just a few weeks ago, those of us in the UK who owned a smartphone were actually outnumbered by those who didn’t. Issued in Feb 2012, the most recent research estimates that smartphone ownership in the UK currently stands at 50.3 percent 4, so it should come It It comes as no surprise when half of all L&D experts participating in our LMSwisList research say that none of the learning support they offer staff is currently accessed through a mobile device. Until February this year, most of the staff they need to support didn’t have one. Yes, mobile learning is unquestionably set to become an ubiquitous part of the training mix, and yes, the shift from desktop to handheld device will come sooner rather than later. But the real pace of change will be dictated by the learners in the workplace who try these technologies when they’re offered, and use them again as they come to see their benefits.

1 According to idate
2 Ambient Research
3 According to Infinite Research’s new Worldwide Enterprise Tablet Market Forecast Report
4 Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, as reported in The Guardian

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