Co-Founder Pacific Blue Solutions
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Who’s doing what with mobile learning right now? Part 2

28th Sep 2011
Co-Founder Pacific Blue Solutions
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In part two of his series on mobile learning, Andrew Jackson looks at how mobile technologies can be used to extend learning.

More than ever, organisations are looking for ways to make their learning more effective. They want to develop learning programmes that bring about significant performance improvements and a lasting boost or change to skills.

The traditional training approach is to provide a one-off classroom event. This is relatively easy to organise and schedule and provides a (seemingly) quick fix.
 

One-off versus extended learning

Yet, research study after research study has shown that a single-hit of training is largely ineffective. Frighteningly, without continuing practise or reinforcement, learners typically forget 80-90% of what they have learnt within three to four weeks of a training event.

Training is much, much more effective when it happens over an extended period with spaced practice activities built in to reinforce and embed learning.

"Compelling people to attend a one-off event is manageable. Getting people to attend a series of events over weeks or months is much harder."

Given the compelling evidence from this body of research, you would think organisations would be falling over themselves to dump the one-off training event.

But not so, because there are a couple of big issues to overcome. First, there is the additional time, money and effort involved in creating and scheduling an extended, multi-step programme. Second, there is the greater commitment needed from participants. Compelling people to attend a one-off event is manageable. Getting people to attend a series of events over weeks or months is much harder.

So in many organisations, the budgetary, administrative and scheduling difficulties are considered too great. One-off training events have remained the order of the day. Until now, that is.

A breakthrough with mobile learning?

Mobile learning, it turns out,  is providing the opportunity for significant change. It is proving to be a very cost-effective and relatively simple way to reinforce and extend learning carried out in other delivery channels. For some organisations, this has been a breakthrough moment. The reasons for this breakthrough are clear.

First, mobile content is provided in small chunks so it is quick and easy to create. Compared with e-learning, most people can master the technical and production aspects of mobile learning content development very quickly.

Second, it is easy to deploy. Once a learner is set up in a standalone mobile learning system or an existing LMS, content can be pushed out at pre-determined points, or simply made available for a selected period of time. Provided learners have compatible devices (more likely than not nowadays) content is immediately to hand.

What are the issues?

There are a couple of significant issues to consider. Just because chunks of content are short and screen-sizes are small, it is easy to overlook the importance of good content writing, sound instructional design and overall usability and screen layout. These elements are just as important in mobile learning content design as they are for e-learning.

The rules of engagement are a little bit different for mobile learning, but the underlying principles are not difficult to grasp. Experienced instructional designers can be up and running in no time. Subject matter experts with little or no previous learning design experience can quickly be trained to produce good quality mobile learning content.

Finally, you need to be clear which topics or skills will benefit most from reinforcement or extension. In cases where the learning is largely procedural, repetition of key content and simple questioning or testing may be enough. For more complex learning (where the application of skills is less predictable) it’s likely you will have to think more about providing varied scenarios, structured reflection activities and detailed feedback.

Reinforcement learning in practice

So what does reinforcement of learning look like in practice? As an example, a transport company which had traditionally used classroom training and e-learning follow-up to train their drivers (with mixed results), decided to experiment with mobile learning.

They took their existing e-learning content and re-purposed it into small chunks, making it suitable to access on a range of mobile devices.

This was made available to the drivers while they were out on the road, the idea being they could access small bites of content during quiet moments. Additionally, the drivers received short quizzes to test their knowledge and aid retention and were asked to complete surveys sent to their mobile devices, giving feedback on the whole initiative.

The company was able to track, analyse and collate all the data from the training, quizzes and surveys using online, real-time reporting.

Overall, the results were extremely positive. The drivers worked through the mobile learning chunks more rapidly than the e-learning equivalent. Knowledge retention improved and as a result, so did job performance. Productivity also increased because even with taking time out to complete the mobile learning modules, drivers were out on the road for longer each week.

In another example, a sales training company recognised that delegates attending its open courses would arrive, take the course, feel appreciative and satisfied at the end of the day, but would never be seen or heard of again. They had little idea of how delegates managed after the course and no real opportunity to offer follow-on products or services.

Using mobile learning, they developed a series of small, follow-up modules to send to delegates every 2-3 days for up to four weeks after the course. The modules focus delegates on concepts and tasks covered during the course. They consist of short videos and podcasts from the trainer, slides summarising key content  and short quizzes and questionnaires.

In addition, delegates receive weekly surveys, asking them to indicate how they are managing to apply their new learning. At the end of each survey, delegates can select ‘I’d like to talk to a trainer’ as an option. This has opened up dialogue with significant numbers of delegates and has led to additional, higher value, one-to-one coaching.

Mobile learning has enabled this organistion to add significantly its success. Overall delegate satisfaction levels have increased, more delegates are referring colleagues and a new stream of post-course, one-to-one coaching has opened up.

In summary, the attraction of the one-off training event is still strong. It’s seen as a quick fix to a skill gap or a performance problem. In some situations it is an appropriate solution.

But as our examples illustrate, reinforcing learning with mobile content can have a significant impact on a learning initiative. As more organisations experiment with mobile content, it’s likely those stuck in the rut of providing single training events will be the losers in the race to success and improved performance.

Previously in this series:

Andrew Jackson is co-founder of Pacific Blue, specialists in developing innovative learning solutions for clients. To find out more about how to get started with mobile learning in your organisation visit: http://www.pacificblue.co.uk/get-going-with-mobile-learning-toolkit.
 

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