Mobile learning – few making the connection

There are four billion mobile connections in the world, according to the GSMA, the organisation that represents the interests of the worldwide mobile communications industry. A connection is defined as a SIM or a unique telephone number that has access to the mobile network. Nearly 100 million of these are mobile broadband connections.

While knowing the state of global mobile communications may not seem like a priority for learning and development managers, it is worth keeping a watchful eye on such matters. Although there have been plenty of innovation and research projects on the subject of mobile training, it hasn’t yet converted into full-blown learning strategies within many organisations.

“It’s been slower to take off than people thought,” says Mike Alcock, managing director of mobile learning provider Atlantic Link.

“There are always pilots going on here and there but I think at the moment it has more legs in the business-to-consumer sector – for example, you could easily see someone sitting on a plane and learning French. It may well open up, though, especially now the 3G networks have rolled out.”

Jan-Jilis van Delsen, UK sales director at online and mobile learning content management systems providerGiunti Labs, predicts huge growth in mobile learning.

“We’ve seen a shift in mobile learning from the days of podcasting and it being a one-way information stream,” he says.

“It is also earning its place in the blended learning mix and is being used for business-critical learning like compliance training.”

If corporate clients have been slow to fully embrace mobile learning, they may soon find they are forced to take it more seriously with the mobile-loopy Generation Ynow in the workforce.

And any learning and development managers who are still sceptical should check out the raft of mobile learning projects in the further education sector that have gained funding for 2009 via the Mobile Learning Network (MoLeNET). The Learning and Skills Council and consortia, led by further education colleges, have together invested more than £10min the network.

Projects are aimed at a diverse audience including 14 to 19–year-old work-based learners and apprentices, 14 to 19–year-olds not in education or employment, adult learners and returners to work, ex-offenders and learners with disabilities. Subject areas being addressed include dental nursing, business administration, customer service, warehouse and distribution, engineering, health and social care, and catering.

Geoff Stead, a technical director at learning technology company Tribal, sits on the MoLeNET advisory board and says that while it used to be a case of finding out whether it is possible to learn via mobile methods, there is now widespread acceptance that you can.

“I’m certain we are going to see growth in this area,” he says.

“But people have to understand that mobile learning will never be like e-learning on a PC. You simply can’t have the same media-rich experience on a mobile phone so you have to think more laterally about how to use it.”

Tribal has been active in mobile learning since 2001 and is also one of those involved in BLOOM, (Bite-sized Opportunities On Mobile devices), a project funded by eTen, a European Community Programme. BLOOM aims to demonstrate that workplace learning via mobile devices is viable, and focuses largely on the EU passenger transport sector.

Another company that has worked hard on developing content for mobile devices is Skill-Pill M-learning, which has produced a collection of engaging two-minute training videos across a range of areas.

“Two minutes is as long as you can expect people to spend looking at something on their mobile device so we make sure we cut to the chase,” says Skill-Pill founder Gerry Griffin.

“[The use of mobile devices in learning] could help to refresh what an individual has learned in face-to-face learning. On a more profound level, it puts the individual learning at the centre of the dynamic.”

Global index company FTSE Group has been involved with Skill-Pill for just under a year and Mark Rivera, head of learning & development, says while the majority of employees access the courses via the intranet, a small group have them delivered to mobile devices and there is a band of avid iPhone users who are keen to download them.

Skill-Pill courses form an important part of the learning strategy for FTSE Group’s technology-savvy workforce, and Rivera says he wants to encourage them to become part of an individual’s development plan, while keeping the approach open rather than mandatory.

“The two-minute approach works – it’s bite-sized and handy. It’s ideal for things like top tips or as a refresher,” says Rivera.

Across the Skill-Pill client base, courses that have proved popular are those that relate to more personal skills such as managing stress, confidence and work-life balance.

Griffin says: “Mobile learning as an innovation is here but now we need to demonstrate to customers what difference it can make to their organisation – can it help save on training budgets? Can it raise staff productivity?”

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