Co-Founder Pacific Blue Solutions
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Who’s doing what with mobile learning right now? Part 3

5th Oct 2011
Co-Founder Pacific Blue Solutions
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In the third part of his series on mobile learning, Andrew Jackson looks at using mobile to improve performance support.

If you work in learning and development, you’ve probably been faced with the following dilemma more than once in your career.

Your organisation needs people to have specific skills and knowledge - right now. But it can’t afford lengthy, formal training to provide the level of knowledge desired.

The performance support solution

In response, it’s likely you would have turned to performance support to help plug that knowledge gap. Instead of extensive training, it’s likely you would have found ways to make key information available to your learners at their moment of need.

Some worry that performance support is just training on the cheap. As our introductory dilemma illustrates, sometimes performance support does replace formal training completely, but in many cases it is used to complement the learning that goes on elsewhere.

"Mobile makes it possible to get your hands on support information moving around the office, waiting for meetings to start, even during meetings."

In fact, many experts in the field recognise performance support is not just about providing for the moment of need (sidekick support), it can also be used for more reflective learning - just before and just after completing a task (planner support).

Performance support solutions

Traditionally, sidekick support has been achieved through solutions like online help systems, paper-based job aids, laminated checklists and online or paper-based reference materials.

As that list indicates, using technology to provide performance support is not new. But it has always required a laptop or desktop PC and network or web access to a company intranet.

Mobile and performance support

By contrast, mobile learning for performance support changes the game. It offers the opportunity to extend existing, successful performance support to more employees, in more locations, more of the time.

Optimising help systems and reference materials for access from mobile devices makes it possible for employees to get the support information they need while they are on the go.

Interestingly, even people who are in the office, but away from their desks can benefit from this on-the-go availability. Mobile makes it possible to get your hands on support information moving around the office, waiting for meetings to start, even during meetings.

Making checklists and job aids available on mobile devices has the obvious advantage of them being available anytime, anywhere. It also makes them more robust. Some work environments can be very unkind to paper-based materials – even the laminated variety.

In the case of checklists, if you need a record of completion for compliance purposes, this is easily achieved on a mobile device. User input can be stored for as long as required on your mobile learning management system.

Beyond the predictable and routine

There are clear advantages to using mobile learning performance support for routine, predictable tasks and scenarios. But what about fast changing, unpredictable or even emergency situations? Here, mobile really comes into its own. Let’s look at a couple of examples in action.

An oil and gas company has a large number of employees working in the field around the globe. Their location and the nature of their work means employees are often working in challenging conditions. Conditions that are not conducive to paper-based or traditional online materials. Mobile devices, however, are small enough and robust enough to be viable support companions.

Checklists and information on emergency processes and procedures are frequently updated. Employees receive short videos, audio clips and presentations on their mobile devices explaining and highlighting updates. Additionally, they receive emails and text messages with links to relevant documents they need to look at.

Because this information is critical and has to be viewed, the organisation tracks who has looked at the updated content and sends out reminders to people who have not.

Previously, the company had communicated updates through paper-based documents and standard email with limited success. After just three months of delivering updates and content to mobile devices, they saw a significant decrease in problems and errors.

Serious emergency, no drama

In an emergency or crisis situation, normal channels of communication are often knocked out of action or are not accessible. A serious computer virus attacking a corporate network could render email and web access unusable. An extended power cut could cut off web access, email and phones. A security alert might require a rapid evacuation of a building with everyone suddenly removed from fixed means of communication.

In all these situations it is  quite likely that mobile will be the only reliable communication channel available to everyone.

So what about if you are routinely in the business of dealing with crisis or emergency situations. Can you use mobile performance support  to your advantage?

A global insurance company that frequently has employees out in the field in the wake of emergencies and disasters has discovered using mobile is a great way to support, update and communicate with its employees.

In the aftermath of a hurricane, assessors were out in the field dealing with immediate damage and dislocation.

As a first step, they received surveys on their mobile devices to help identify problems and gauge damage. These surveys were completed immediately and the results instantly returned to staff at head office.

Based on this real-time reporting, head office staff sent out relevant, instant  support in the form of audio, video and (in some cases) diagrams detailing appropriate tactics to resolve specific issues.

The employees on the ground were working in a stressful environment. In this kind of  situation, it is easy to lose focus or miss key points. To help avoid this, head office staff also sent job aids and checklists to mobile devices. Again, using real-time reporting, head office staff were able to monitor who had viewed what and send reminders to those who had missed or failed to view items.

After-the-event analysis indicated that employees on the ground were able to assess damage and resolve problems faster than in similar, previous situations.

Conclusion

The success of performance support over the years is down to the fact it works. We know that if it is well thought through and well implemented (two important caveats) it will improve job performance and produce better results for organisations. And, incidentally, well supported employees usually enjoy greater job satisfaction and feel more engaged with the organisation and its goals.

The message for organisations is clear: up your performance support game through use of mobile and the improved results you desire will follow.

Also 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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