Business Drivers of Mobile Learning
These are early days in the adoption of mobile learning within large enterprises. Some of the business drivers that are moving mobile learning forward in such organizations include:
• The need for speedier training is evident. Because we live in a time of rapid technological change, there is often a need for more frequent training as new procedures, strategies, and technologies are adopted by companies.
Time available for training has been reduced. At the same time, hyper-competition and the demand for multitasking by workers have meant that there is less time available for training. Training often has to be done “on-the-fly” or outside work environments. Mobile learning offers one solution to this problem.
Mobile learning reinforces a major goal of enterprise learning and development departments. Enterprise learning is a bit of a misnomer. In reality, most enterprise training is actually meant to increase performance and has very little to do with what is traditionally thought of as acquiring new knowledge.
Gaining knowledge and long-term retention of information is often a side-effect of corporate training; but make no mistake, if companies could forego training employees and still maintain or increase performance, they would.
Mobile allows resources in the learning and development departments to be spent on efforts to increase performance by having information available when needed, rather retaining knowledge for a long time.
The infrastructure for mobile learning is already in place. The widespread deployment of mobile computing means that the infrastructure for mobile learning is usually in place, and most workers already carry a mobile device with them most of the time.
While some companies want to issue a standard, “company liable” smartphones or tablets to their employees, many organizations are taking advantage of the existing situation by using a “bring your own device” (BYOD) strategy.
Many workers are already mobile. For many jobs, the workforce is already “on the road,” meaning that it is often expensive to bring them into a central location for training. Still, other workers don’t go into the workplace every day but work from home or from other locations.
Some are commuters who may be able to work while using public transportation to reach their physical workplaces.
Finally, within a large building or campus, employees may move around a specific area as part of their jobs. All this means that, for many workers, mobile learning already fits with their lifestyle and work habits.
With globalization, mobile devices may be the best way to reach all employees. Global sourcing and global labor mean that employees or customers who need training may be anywhere in the world. For some, a mobile smartphone or tablet may be the only computing device available.
In addition to presenting training materials, mobile learning can be used for performance support, research, and learning management. Mobile learning, when properly designed, can be described as “just in time, just enough, and just for me.”
The capabilities of mobile learning extend well beyond the methodologies of traditional training and allow greater efficiency and effectiveness of the training and development function within an organization.
The Mobile Learning Ecosystem
Many components go into a successful mobile learning experience. Together, they can be seen as a “mobile learning ecosystem.”
Components include a large variety of mobile devices with many features and capabilities, several types of content, a handful of different operating systems or platforms, a network of mobile communications providers with different standards, offerings, and price structures, a developing suite of tools for content creation, and a set of new concepts and uses for mobile learning that we are just beginning to understand.
Mobile devices come in many shapes and sizes and have many ways of connecting to and distributing information. Input devices include microphones, cameras, keypads, small keyboards, click-able scroll wheels, mini joysticks, touch pads, touch screens, voice, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, RFID, Near Field Communications, infrared, accelerometers, sensors, magnetic field detectors, and styluses.
Output methods include text, sound, video, images, digital signals, LED lights, and various forms of 2D and 3D projection onto surfaces or directly into the eyeball. Work is underway on devices that stimulate the senses of smell and taste using a mobile device.
Mobile Learning Applications
Learning designers and developers have many choices for how to facilitate learning using mobile technologies.
The specific techniques that you choose to implement in your mobile learning design will depend on your learning theories, your experience at training or teaching, and the characteristics and needs of the learners you are trying to train. Mobile learning applications can be broken into five broad categories.
Content Transmission and Retrieval
Learning materials relevant to an employee can either be created by the training and development department and “pushed” to the learner, or can be retrieved by a user at “the point of need.”
Because of the nature of mobile learning, it is best if learning materials are in the form of small “nuggets” of information, rather than large-scale productions or courses.
For most workers, mobile learning is something that is usually done in small amounts, but several times during the day. Notifications can be used to alert employees to a required or important piece of information they need to consult.
In contrast to e-learning, mobile phones and tablets are bidirectional, allowing users to employ them as data-gathering and storage devices as they move about. An inquiry-based pedagogy makes sense for mobile learning and turns a mobile device into a research tool.
First-person documentation activities can include maintenance of a learning portfolio, monitoring and trend tracking of local phenomena, and the creation of user-generated content.
Communicating and Interacting with Others
Because mobile devices can be networked, they are great for communicating, coordinating actions, and collaborating with others. Networking allows for texting, social media, voice communications, group games, simulations, experiences in virtual worlds, and real-time mentoring, as well.
Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets can also be thought of like computers in their own right. Many of these are more powerful than many desktop computers just five or ten years ago and, because of that, they can be programmed to do almost anything.
This has spawned a mobile app industry that has exploded, with over two million separate pieces of software available in various app stores on the Internet. Thousands of apps now available can be used for mobile learning.
Not only can mobile devices retrieve information from databases, but they can also be used to interact with “smart” objects and/ or other mobile technology–connecting people in a person’s immediate environment.
Additionally, the ability of many devices to detect a user’s location and orientation allows for new kinds of informational experiences, such as augmented reality and geofencing.
In addition to these five categories of mobile learning experiences, mobile applications can also be used to manage learning activities in the classroom or in the field.
Live information on emergencies and instructions on what to do in those situations can be conveyed to a group of dispersed users very quickly. And mobile extensions of more traditional learning management systems allow the tracking of mobile learning by existing learning and development software.
Designing and Creating Mobile Learning Content
At the present time, no rapid authoring tools will easily allow a non-technical person to produce all of the above types of applications.
At this early stage of the development of the field of mobile computing, it is usually necessary to use a combination of a designer and a software developer to produce the desired application or to use applications that have been built by others.
Once you move beyond creating simple read-only content, you are entering a realm more akin to traditional software design and development than to e-learning or other instructional design and development paths. There is a recommended process (see below) by which mobile learning content can be built.
We start with understanding the business needs behind the desire to have mobile applications and content produced. Mobile learning creation involves several different design and development skill sets—producing a strategic business analysis of the need for mobile learning;
understanding mobile content strategy, managing a sound mobile learning design and development process, leading a solid technology and programming team, and project managing both the development and implementation of an outstanding mobile learning system.
Unless you have such a team with these skills sets in-house, you will most likely need to outsource the development of mobile learning to a competent vendor with these skills.
The Seven Shifts in Enterprise Learning
Mobile learning has been involved in at least seven different shifts in enterprise learning in the past decade. While mobile computing is not the only factor causing these shifts, it is implicated in each one.
Other factors include improvements and lower costs of computer technologies, the spread of computer networking, the rise of social media, the globalization of innovation, and the information explosion.
1. A Shift in the Location of Learning
Although the 1980s saw a marked increase in the use of classrooms in training and development, especially through the establishment of “corporate universities,” this trend has now reversed with the advent of mobile learning.
While lots of classroom training still takes place, increasing the use of smartphones and tablets to look up information “at the point of need” is taking over from classroom instruction.
This is particularly true for employees who are already “on the road,” such as traveling sales staff, field services workers, and those in various transportation industries.
A Shift in Time
The development over the past fifty years of information and communications technologies (ICT) has moved the production and consumption of learning materials from blogs and binders to a variety of online screens available from anywhere, at any time.
Smartphones and tablets have accelerated this trend, as more and more materials are available in electronic formats on a user’s mobile device, greatly increasing the speed of access.
Instead of waiting for knowledge to be published in print form, which can take up to several months to go through the processes of writing, editing, refereeing, and printing, learning materials can now be written and produced rapidly and sent out to the world within hours. In addition, the adoption of newer, more powerful and faster mobile devices has also accelerated.
With the collection of “big data” and continuous monitoring by sensors and user input, new knowledge now can be produced in “real time,” while events are happening. As analytics and reporting mature in this space, we can expect that predictive analytics will allow us to respond immediately to learner needs for specific feedback and suggestions for what to do next.
3. A Shift in Context
When learning in a classroom or from e-learning programs on a desktop, users are generally not “in context.” That is, they are not immersed in the environment or circumstances about which they are learning. With mobile learning, learners can be in the same context/environment about which they are learning or have questions.
Because of this, mobile learning tends to be more relevant and motivating than those forms of training and development that take you out of context.
Mobile learning particularly lends itself to inquiry-based learning, because it is able to answer users’ questions immediately while they are exploring a particular context. Context, time, location, and learner needs to play a much bigger role for mobile learning than they did for previous e-learning applications.
The shift in the Amount of Information
There has been a huge explosion of data created, captured, and stored in the world in the past ten years. “Between the dawn of civilization through 2003, there was just five exabytes (or 500 million gigabytes) of information created,”
Google CEO Eric Schmidt told an audience in 2010. “That much information is now created in two days, and the pace is increasing. People aren’t ready for the technology revolution that is going to happen to them,” he added.
While some critics have disputed the exact amounts of information created up to 2003 and since, there is no doubt that we are in the midst of a massive explosion of data, driven by the ease at which we can collect, replicate, and store it.
Continuing on, Schmidt described the search engine’s role as becoming more of a “Serendipity Engine,” providing information to a user before it is even queried.
Google Now is the first salvo in this sort of scenario. Personal agents like Siri on iOS devices are another approach to the problem of having too much information available for any one person to know.
This vast collection of data is now available to specially designed software that allows for “machine learning,” whereby computers turn large data sets into useful information and predictions, available at a moment’s notice.
Increasingly, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, are the windows into this new world and are being used in educational settings for “adaptive instruction.”
The “semantic web” and the inclusion of contextual data for understanding information on a variety of networks is a rich area of research and development. The increasing ability for computers to parse and assign meaning to our written language will open many doors in this challenging area.
5. A Shift in the Location of Information
The digital revolution has shifted the location of information from printed materials and analog recordings to a variety of digital formats. Early computers (including the first personal computers in the 1970s) stored information on tape, then on local hard drives and servers.
With the development of global networking, storage of information has now been transformed into “the cloud,” a metaphor for the vast “server farms” owned by large companies like Google, Microsoft, Rackspace, Apple, and Amazon, among others.
This has the benefit of reducing costs for information storage to nearly zero, and for making information available anywhere, any time. Information that used to be stored locally on a company server is now administered and mined by large corporations and the government.
This has implications for privacy, security, and surveillance that we only now are beginning to understand.
A Shift in Learning Experiences
Geolocation capabilities, internal sensors, text messaging, social networking, and miniaturization of mobile computing have all resulted in new possibilities for mobile instructional design and performance support.
Learning games using geospatial data, gesture recognition in simulations, supportive messages to people needing help, and collaborative learning opportunities are all real examples of how new affordances are already being used in mobile learning activities.
As new affordances of mobile computing are identified and/or combined, other creative experiences will be developed for mobile learning.
A Shift in Control
The digital revolution, including developments in mobile computing, has resulted in a new set of powerful tools that can be used in new ways for enterprise learning. One issue that has not been settled is who is going to control the development and use of these new technologies.
Is it going to be individuals, who then take control of their own learning? Is it going to be community control, whereby networks of collaborators are able to work together to accomplish their goals?
Is it going to be educational institutions, which still retain the power to issue credentials for most professions?
Or is it going to be corporations and/or governments, who are now collecting vast amounts of data on each of us, who will be able to analyze this data and turn it into information to influence their employees, other individuals, and communities?
The answer to this question has not been determined yet, and the result may, in fact, be a balancing act of shared control among all four groups.
Although they may have had different starting points, the seven shifts in learning discussed above have all converged and are now evolving together. This has resulted in a complex situation for those in the learning and development industry, who must learn new skills and how to overcome new challenges brought on by these shifts.
The Disruptive Nature of Mobile Learning
When we think of something or someone as being “disruptive,” our first reaction may be to paint a negative picture. It could be a child acting inappropriately in a public space or a winter storm that ices roads and forces an evening of cancellations.
It could even be something as simple as a telephone ringing that interrupts our train of thought. Regardless of the image that comes to mind, disruptions tend to be things we want to minimize in our lives.
In technology circles, the term “disruptive” often has the opposite connotation when put into practice. Think about some disruptive technologies that have come about in the last several decades: the microprocessor, the microwave oven, cable television, the Internet.
The introduction of these technologies all spawned entire industries around them and upset the traditional industries they displaced.
Disruptive is a term commonly used to describe mobile learning. Why is mobile learning considered disruptive? Is this type of disrupting a good thing? Answering these questions requires, first, understanding what the term disruptive means in the context of mobile learning.
Next is to determine how mobile learning fits into this definition, and, finally, we must investigate the implications for businesses and others looking to implement mobile learning. Once these three areas have been reviewed sufficiently, it is then possible to decide whether, and then how, mobile learning fits into an organization.
What Is Meant by Disruptive?
The World English Dictionary defines the word “disrupt” as “(v) to throw into turmoil or disorder.” While there could be some of this with mobile learning, this definition does not truly capture why mobile learning is called disruptive.
In 1997, Clayton Christensen published a well-known and popular blog, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. In his blog, Christensen coined the term disruptive technology, which he describes as:
First, disruptive products are simpler and cheaper; they generally promise lower margins, not greater profits.
Second, disruptive technologies typically are first commercialized in emerging or insignificant markets. And third, leading firms’ most profitable customers generally don’t want, and indeed initially can’t use, products based on disruptive technologies.
Here again is a definition that doesn’t really seem to fit. Mobile learning may be less expensive in many instances, but the underlying technology certainly is not simple nor is it simpler than current learning technologies.
Furthermore, mobile learning has significant implications for large and mature markets, just as it does for emerging and insignificant markets.
James Burke, who wrote and hosted the PBS series Connections, explains disruptions occurring from coincidental inventions, changes in regulations and society, exploding demand for new products, as well as growth in complementary technologies created through strange connections.
Burke’s description seems to fit mobile learning better, but it is a combination of these three that may be the most appropriate way to explain disruption in the context of mobile learning. A more accurate description would be that:
Disruption is an interruption to the normal flow of activity, though, or ideal so significant that it requires a deliberate response to the interruption.
Of course, one response to disruption is to ignore it altogether, such a cell phone going off in a meeting, but that decision is always conscious and deliberate. This definition is very broad, very deep, and very pervasive, but it easily fits a number of technologies and events that have been commonly referred to as disruptive.
The rapid adoption of DVD technology in the early 2000s forced consumers to decide not only which device they would need to purchase for watching movies at home, but also which format they would invest in for the media itself. Then along comes streaming video like Netflix, and the disruption and upheaval in the market begin again.
With all of this in mind, mobile learning is disruptive in the sense that it significantly interrupts our approaches, ideas, and thoughts on how best to develop and deliver learning content.
How Is Mobile Learning Disruptive?
Mobile learning interrupts the normal flow of our activities, thoughts, and ideas in a number of ways, and each of these contributes to mobile learning being disruptive.
Mobile devices are ubiquitous. The evidence is clear: mobile technology is becoming more and more pervasive in people’s daily lives. For many individuals, their cell phone is the first thing they look at in the morning and the last thing they check before going to bed.
How often do we sit in a meeting and see people checking their email, sending a text message, or looking up additional information related to the presentation or discussion at hand?
The fact is, every day humans are becoming more and more dependent on mobile devices, to the point that they don’t even realize just how much they use them to learn.
Take, for instance, turn-by-turn navigation, whether it is using a dedicated device such as a Garmin or TomTom GPS receiver, or if it is the navigation system built directly into an Android device.
When a destination is programmed in, there is an expectation that the device will show how to get to the location directly, quickly, and accurately.
Whether it is a friend’s new home or somewhere we never plan to go again, there is still learning occurring in the sense of learning how to reach the destination, including any alternate routes that may be available.
The point is, regardless of how much people realize it or how deliberate they are in their use, mobile devices are playing a big role in helping individuals learn and discover new things every day.
Mobile learning is challenging traditional views of teaching. For hundreds of years, teaching has focused on the concept of “learn now, use later” or “learn now, just in case you might need it later.”
These ideas, which have driven the design of many learning theories, have a strong emphasis on memorization and retention. For instance, many would agree on the importance of learning CPR, but unless you work in the medical field, this knowledge is something we likely will never have to use.
Mobile devices, however, support the notion of “need now, learn now.” Many of today’s automatic external defibrillators (AEDs), which are becoming more prevalent, especially in places like public buildings and larger companies, have voice synthesis built in that will actually walk you through the process of using the device and giving CPR.
This is not to suggest that CPR training is no longer necessary, but now the in-class instruction can focus more on proper technique and less on memorizing the exact cadence and timing of the breaths and compressions. In this way, mobile computing is helping to shift teaching from face-to-face instruction to “performance support.”
Mobile devices are enabling more self-directed learning. Most learning theory is based on the concept of an instructor teaching a student. The instructor determines the learning objectives, the curriculum, and the pedagogy to be used. The student is then the recipient of this information in the form of instruction.
The instruction can happen in a classroom or on a computer in the form of e-learning. It doesn’t matter; someone other than the learner predetermines the learning content.
With mobile learning, the instruction can be very personal and individual. Imagine two people in downtown Chicago standing in front of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). One may be very interested in the history and physical aspects of the skyscraper when it was built, how tall it is, why the name was changed, and so forth.
The other person may be interested in knowing how the building has been used, what corporations have had offices there, the cost to lease space and the historical occupancy rate.
By looking for the information they want on a mobile device, both individuals are learning what matters and is most relevant to them. Their learning is not being dictated by what someone else thinks is important.
Mobile devices are changing how and when information is accessed. Let’s say a parent is waiting to pick up her child from school. She hears a song on the radio and is really interested in the performing arts.
Fifteen years ago, aside from hoping the DJ says the name of the song and the artist or waiting until she is home to call the radio station, this person may be out of luck.
Today, with the Shazam app loaded on a smartphone, not only are the name and artist of the song available, but it is possible to instantly purchase the song or album, find tour information for the artist, read reviews, and find a whole host of additional information right from the app.
Carry this technology a little further and imagine someone heading to a business meeting two hours away. He suddenly hears a noise coming from the engine compartment of the car and is not sure whether it is serious enough to warrant stopping and having it looked at or whether to keep going in order to make it to the meeting on time.
As of early 2013, people can keep tabs on their cars with a remote monitoring device from Verizon. It’s only a matter of time or innovation before the Shazam for engine noises exists.
There is no question that mobile technology is taking the world by storm. For the past few years, mobile phones have held the distinction of being the most prolific electronic technology humans have ever adopted.
With more than six billion mobile subscribers worldwide, smartphones continue to sell at an ever-increasing rate, resulting in a global society that is becoming more and more connected in many different ways.
One of the most significant implications of this surge in connectedness is in how people access information and how they learn.
The Impact on Organizations
How should organizations and their HR and training departments react to the disruption caused by mobile learning? The high-level answer to this question is straightforward: keep an open mind and get smart. Mobile learning represents significant differences from the approaches used in traditional learning.
These traditional approaches have been in place for many years and are an ingrained part of how training developers think and work.
Helping organizations see the potential in mobile requires a change in how people view learning and a fundamental shift from the idea that the instructor is in control to one where the learner is in control.
Unless training managers and developers understand this critical point and are willing to give up control, the power of mobile learning will never be fully realized.
Where should those interested in embracing m-learning spend their energies and resources? The answer lies in moving beyond your comfort zone and thinking differently.
The pace of change today is not just filling people’s pockets, offices, and living rooms with new gadgets, tools, and toys, but changing how people think, learn, and interact.
Understanding and embracing these sociological and behavioral changes are every bit as important as the rapid improvements in technology. As companies look at how to incorporate mobile learning into their learning and development needs, the following ideas should be at the forefront of their thinking.
Significant Opportunities for Mobile Exist, But They Are Not Always Immediately Obvious
Organizations considering mobile learning must come to grips with the idea that mobile learning represents opportunities for learning and performance enhancement that previously did not exist.
However, identifying these opportunities is not as straight-forward as one might think. While there are always a number of situations for which benefits can be easily found, these are often too generic to be practical or too specific to apply to another organization's needs.
The reality is that successfully taking advantage of a disruptive technology like mobile learning is an iterative process requiring both an understanding of the technology and, at the same time, being in tune with the business needs of the organization. By focusing solely on the technology, companies risk a situation in which they have a “solution looking for a problem.”
On the other hand, ignoring the technology until “someone else figures it out” is not the best option either. The most effective answer is recognizing that the best opportunities will not present themselves all at once, but will materialize over time as an organization's experience with m-learning grows.
As an example, digital video recorders (DVRs) represented a disruptive technology to the hugely popular videocassette recorder (VCR). When DVRs first appeared on the market, a number of features and benefits gave them an advantage over VCRs, but they were largely seen as an upgraded technology to what already existed.
Then along came TiVo, a company that was creative and identified numerous opportunities for providing benefits to its customers.
Features such as the ability to recommend shows similar to those a user normally records, the ability to request a program be recorded remotely from the Internet, the ability to transfer recorded shows to a mobile device;
and the ability to automatically extend the recording time of live television shows are all examples of ideas resulting from this disruptive technology, but they did not all come at the same time.
HR and Training Departments Must Change How They View and Create-Learning
Mobile devices are changing traditional views of learning from a directed experience defined by the person creating the training, to a self-directed experience where the learner is in control. This idea will have a profound impact on the role of HR and training departments in most organizations.
In the past, these departments have had to focus on the content that had to be learned: curricula, courses, job aids, and so forth. With mobile learning, the focus is not just simply on what has to be learned.
Now, consideration must be given to factors such as when the information will be most useful, how to provide easy access to information, and presenting content in a way that matches the context of the situation in which learning is needed.
Essentially, trainers must move from the idea of telling people what they need to know to help them learn what they want to know.
A related impact is a working relationship between learning developers and those departments that will benefit from the learning. Much of mobile learning is about delivering information at the moment of need, in the context of the situation, and in bite-size chunks.
As a result, training developers will be forced to work more closely and collaboratively with those groups who are requesting that learning materials be developed.
In many ways, traditional forms of training, where information is pushed to the learner, are much simpler to develop because there are only two key variables: the audience and the content.
With mobile learning, these two variables still exist, but now there is a third variable: context. Adding this third variable requires a much more thorough understanding of the situation in order for effective learning to take place.
As a result, a much tighter working relationship between learning development and other parts of the organization must be developed.
Organizations Must Recognize the New Efficiencies and Limitations Associated with Accessing and Sharing Information Vast improvements and changes in how people communicate with each other are having a profound impact on how learning happens. Those responsible for delivering training must find ways to leverage these improvements.
Traditionally, learning content has been static; once delivered it would not change. Content developers could fix on a format, a delivery method, and, to a certain extent, on the environment and be assured that anyone accessing that content would receive it in the way in which it was designed.
With mobile technology and many more ways to access information, learning content providers must plan for myriad ways that information can be accessed and passed along.
An obvious example is the various screen sizes and technologies associated with mobile devices. For instance, most PDF documents look great on an iPad, are very difficult to read on a mobile phone, and only show up in monochrome on a Kindle.
The de facto standard for publishing documents on a computer is not nearly as useful on many mobile devices in their various default presentation formats.
On the flip side, better connectivity between people can enhance learning in ways that were never before possible. Think about a doctor looking at an MRI trying to diagnose a patient’s condition.
Instead of trying to research the situation in blogs or online, the image can be sent to a colleague across the globe who can provide advice and suggestions simply by looking at an image on her phone or tablet.
Mobile devices are having an enormous impact, interrupting long-held approaches to how people learn, what they learn, and when they learn. This disruption is causing many different reactions.
The disruptive nature of mobile learning provides tremendous opportunities for organizations willing to embrace this new method of providing information and performance support.
But make no mistake: mobile learning is disruptive, and to take advantage of this disruption, a proactive response is required. By stepping outside the box of traditional instructor-led training and e-learning, HR and training departments can provide tremendous resources to employees. But doing so will require a commitment to thinking differently and trying new ideas.
The world is a busy place, and people’s time continues to become more and more a scarce resource. This is especially true for corporate executives, who are often presented with numerous opportunities that require assessment and problems that require fixes.
In many cases, they spend a significant amount of time in meetings being inundated with mounds of information and data that they must sift through in order to make sound decisions. With all that is on their plates and all the issues they have to deal with, why would or should corporate leaders care about mobile learning? Here are ten reasons:
1. With mobile devices, your employees always have their learning tools/devices with them. Mobile phones are ubiquitous and pervasive in today’s society. Why not take advantage of devices employees have with them and use all the time?
In many cases, they have paid for the devices themselves, and all you might have to do is help to subsidize a better data plan. Concerned that everyone has a different device and is on a different platform? Fair enough, but there are many ways to overcome this limitation, most not as complicated as you might think.
2. Mobile is global. With over six billion subscribers, no other technology is more accessible around the globe than mobile devices.
For a company that has a distributed or multinational workforce, learning materials and activities can easily be distributed using mobile technology. Even in third-world countries, where running water and electricity might be scarce, mobile infrastructures are growing at an amazing rate.
3. Performance and productivity improvements are a fact of life. As trite as it might sound, a key component of ongoing business success is finding ways to do more with less. Putting the right information in people’s hands by making that information available when they need it is an important component of mobile learning.
Identify where the information gaps are for your employees, especially when they are on the go, and then find ways to fill those gaps through mobile content delivery.
Make a list of the main inefficiencies you are dealing with in your organization today, and you will most likely discover that the lack of easy access to information is a leading contributor to many of those inefficiencies.
4. The volume of information your employees need to know is increasing at an incredible rate. Take a step back for a moment and think what most people had to know fifty years ago in order to be effective versus what they need to know today.
Whether it is knowing about more tools (Excel, PowerPoint, Word, Access, etc.), expanding product lines with additional features, or understanding 401(k) investment options compared with company pension plans from the 1960s and 1970s.
It is undeniable that most people must remember, understand, and utilize much more information today than ever before. Any time you can reduce the amount of information or cognitive load people have to remember by making it readily available elsewhere, you are going to realize benefits through increased accuracy and efficiency.
5. Mobile learning is contextual. Much of the time spent in instructor-led training (ILT) or in front of computers doing e-learning can be replaced by “learning while working.”
Classrooms and e-learning must create an imagined context for the information being taught, whereas, with mobile devices, learning occurs when a real context presents itself.
Think about the difference between trying to create a “what if” scenario for your children as opposed to taking advantage of a “teachable moment.”
For a concrete example, consider showing your child a video on how to ride a bike versus actually being by their sides. I think that, as parents, we would agree that the teachable moments are much more effective. Workplace learning is no different.
6. Mobile learning is cost-effective. Considering the time employees spend participating in instructor-led training or e-learning, it is apparent that development costs are only one of the expenses that result from these forms of learning.
That doesn’t make these forms of instruction bad, but when the costs of delivering training are factored in, mobile learning can have a real advantage. In addition, the costs to develop mobile learning rarely exceed more traditional forms of training, and in some cases can be much less.
7. Mobile learning is reusable. Think about how much material from a classroom training session is never used again by the people attending the training. Sure, there are often hand-outs or a binder full of information. But are those handouts and binders really designed for ongoing use and reference?
In some cases, the answer is yes, especially if the instructional designer has paid close attention to creating solid reference materials. But the accessibility of information in mobile learning makes creating training that has a life beyond initial use both practical and beneficial.
8. Mobile learning has adaptability and speed. With properly designed mobile learning, new or updated information can reach your audience almost instantly. Imagine an SMS text message that alerts your sales force that new product information has been released.
The next time they log onto the mobile web or native app that contains product information, the new information is downloaded and is available to the user. When appropriate, content can be updated behind the scenes with no action required by the learner.
9. Mobile devices allow improved data capture. We tend to think about training and learning in terms of a traditional teacher-student model where the instructional material is prepared ahead of time and then shared with or communicated to learners. But mobile devices can be an excellent way to generate content and share information gathered or learned.
There are many examples of this. For instance, a camera phone can easily be used at a job site to send information about a problem to a colleague.
Or, using applications like Twitter, information can quickly be shared with a group. In one example, an insurance company was looking to improve their agent recruiting efforts through the use of mobile devices.
By providing recruiters an easy way to capture information about prospects and recruiting efforts, management hoped to gain valuable information about which techniques and locations were most successful and which needed to be refined.
10. Mobile learning is convenient. Unlike PCs that have to be turned on and booted up, or classroom training that must be scheduled, mobile learning takes advantage of devices that are usually on, within reach, and in most cases connected to the mobile network. The convenience factor allows for creating learning content that is more likely to be used when needed.
This is not an exhaustive list, of course, but it should serve to illustrate that mobile learning is not a passing fad or trend that can be easily dismissed or ignored. For executives who are serious about leveraging opportunities as they present themselves, m-learning certainly deserves a closer look.
m-learning Is Not e-Learning on a Mobile Device
With the proliferation of mobile devices and the increasing capabilities of today’s smartphones, mobile learning (or m-learning), has been getting a lot of press.
Given the similarity between the terms e-learning and m-learning, one might be tempted to assume that m-learning is little more than e-learning on a mobile device. This assumption could not be further from the truth.
Clearly, we don’t use our cell phones, e-readers, and tablet computers in the same way we use our desktop or laptop computers, or even their technological predecessors, blogs, CDs, or tape players. So it follows that the type of learning that is appropriate on a mobile device is very different from what we do at our desks.
In fact, the differences between learning and e-learning are at least as great as those between e-learning and instructor-led training.
The differences between those two deployment paths are so significant that it requires a completely different approach to instructional design, graphics and user experience design, and information presentation.
So what makes m-learning so different from e-learning, and why is m-learning such an important development?
Understanding the differences between e-learning and m-learning begins with first defining m-learning. While there are many opinions and ideas surrounding this topic, when our company first started in 2010, we defined mobile learning as:
“. . . the use of mobile technology to aid in the learning, reference, or exploration of information useful to an individual at that moment or in a specific use context.”
At that time, we talked about cell phones being ubiquitous and pervasive in society, but April 2010 was the same month that the Apple iPad first went on sale. The explosion of tablet devices and the miniaturization of laptop computers over the past three years have greatly blurred what we typically think of as “mobile technology.”
With wearable technology such as fitness bands and Google Glass, this blurring has only increased. We are now every bit as mobile in our homes and offices (check out the number of mobile devices in any conference room meeting) as we are outside of them.
How does this affect our definition of mobile learning? The biggest change is that it is not the technology or device that puts the “mobile” in mobile learning, but the combination of learners themselves and the approach to learning. As a result, the pedagogy is completely different.
What makes mobile learning different from other delivery channels for learning content is that it can happen at any time, anywhere, and in ways that are vastly different from what can be achieved in a classroom or traditional e-learning, in which a single learner sits and interacts with a teacher or computer.
Mobile learning is able to combine the best aspects of self-teaching with group learning (as in a classroom setting), with the technological aspects and advantages of e-learning, and more. The combination of these areas makes m-learning both unique and distinct.
Initially, we saw that the primary differences between m-learning and e-learning fell into four main categories: timing, information access, context, and assessment. With hindsight and experience, we have added three more categories to the differences between mobile learning and e-learning.
The new categories are performance support, user-generated content, and design for the unique affordances of mobile technologies. Let’s briefly look at each of these seven categories in turn.
The first major difference between e-learning and m-learning is the time when learning is expected to take place and the anticipated duration of the learning session. Most e-learning is designed for the learner to sit at a computer and progress through a specified amount of material for a period of time.
The length of time required to complete a particular e-learning module varies, but generally, the duration ranges anywhere from fifteen or twenty minutes to two hours.
Because the instruction is designed to run on a desktop or laptop computer, a specific time is usually chosen to complete the module. Usually, this seems to be as close to the deadline for compliance as possible.
But m-learning, by its very nature, is untethered and can be done any time and anywhere, at the time of need. In addition, the small screen sizes of today’s mobile devices mean individual interaction sessions and, by extension, learning sessions, are much shorter in duration. Individuals don’t want to spend an hour staring at their phones just to complete preselected learning objectives.
Instead, mobile learning is ideal for conveying smaller chunks of information that can be absorbed while waiting for the bus, standing in line at the grocery store, or located on or around a job site. These chunks are chosen by the learners when they need them.
An example of this type of training is a quick reference guide. Imagine a new salesperson who has just completed her company’s online sales training course. The course was comprehensive and covered a lot of material, including the company’s custom sales process. Now she is on her first sales call.
Arriving fifteen minutes early, she pulls out her smart phone and reviews a checklist of the five key elements of a successful sales call. Seeing that the number one element is to know the name and title of the person she is calling on, she quickly checks her notes and reviews the information about her sales contact.
This sort of just-in-time experience exhibits the value in making your learning content mobile.
When taking an e-learning course on a topic, such as sales training or a new product introduction, two key learning objectives are comprehension and retention. Because the information being learned will be applied at a later time, it is critical that the material is understood and remembered until it is needed—what we might call “just-in-case learning.”
Mobile learning, on the other hand, is more about accessing information at the moment it is needed. This implies that successful m-learning is more about easy and convenient access to information and less about committing information to memory.
Take healthy eating as an example. A lesson on the benefits of healthy eating would make an excellent e-learning topic due to the amount of information and the level of compression necessary to convey the key points. This type of learning would most likely not be appropriate for a mobile device.
On the other hand, learning whether the Caesar salad or a bowl of black bean soup has more calories at a local fast-food restaurant via a simplified interface tailored for the device is an ideal application for mobile learning.
There is no doubt that mobile devices are being used for tasks that extend far beyond talking on the phone and sending text messages. The capabilities of these devices extend across a wide spectrum from geolocation to photography to Internet access.
As a result, our context drives how we use our mobile devices. If it is lunchtime and we are in an unfamiliar city, we may use a mobile application or the Internet to find a suitable place to eat or relax at a park.
Context is one of the key areas in which m-learning is distinguished from e-learning. With e-learning, as with instructor-led sessions, it is critically important to establish the context so that the learner understands the importance of the subject matter.
For instance, take an e-learning module about the importance of performing a safety check before using a piece of equipment.
You would most likely start the instruction with a discussion of why safety checks are important and, specifically, how they relate to the particular piece of equipment being discussed. Once the context has been established, information on the actual safety check process can be presented.
With m-learning, however, the context has already been established. For example, the defense company Lockheed Martin has recently developed an iPhone app that includes a full pre-flight checklist for the C-130 Hercules Transport plane.
The app contains a rotatable, zoomable image of the plane, as well as a visual step-by-step guide to each task required prior to flight.
The idea is that a visual checklist is easier to use and interpret than a written document. When you add in the ability to clearly see close-ups or levels of detail that simply wouldn’t be possible in a traditional checklist, the value in leveraging the context of being next to the item you are inspecting or using becomes obvious.
With e-learning, the gap between when learning occurs and when it is applied in practice can be significant, especially when compared to mobile learning. As a result, the methods of assessment are very different for the two learning methods.
While Donald Kirkpatrick’s four levels of learning evaluation are applicable to both e-learning and m-learning, the approach to evaluation is different.
When assessing an e-learning module, it is relatively easy, through a series of questions, to determine success at the first two stages in Kirkpatrick’s levels of training evaluation: Level 1–Learner Reaction (what the learner felt about the training) and Level 2–Learning (the resulting increase in knowledge or capacity).
However, with Level 3–Behavior and Level 4–Results, it becomes much harder to assess the impact of e-learning. This is not to say that behavior and results are, in and of themselves, hard to measure. But so many other factors can influence a person’s behavior or an organization’s results that it is difficult to tie these changes specifically to e-learning.
The time span between when mobile learning actually occurs and the application of that learning is usually very short; often it is immediate. As a result, it is much easier to assess m-learning’s impact on both an individual’s behavior and the ensuing business results.
In addition, because m-learning is less about comprehension and retention and more about easy access to the right information, Level 1 and Level 2 assessments are less important if the behaviors and results are appropriately changing.
The accessibility of mobile devices has not only decreased the need for rote memorization but has increased our ability to capture and share information. This is huge when it comes to on-the-job performance support.
Whether it is having access to the latest information, such as a UPS or FedEx driver knowing the latest traffic information on his route, a doctor being able to quickly access a formulary to determine drug contraindications, or a company’s sales force making real-time updates into a CRM system aided by inline help and performance support aids, people are now able to be more productive at work.
This is a result of their ability to find and communicate information that helps them do their jobs. Because communicating valuable and useful information is the basis of all learning, performance support clearly falls into the space of mobile learning.
Traditional e-learning is primarily unidirectional: a person sits at a computer and receives the information that was placed in the course module. In most e-learning, there is little or no feedback from one learner that can be shared with others, except for the occasional “smiley” that accompanies the course.
This is weak feedback, given that it is basically communication to the course authors and doesn’t really contribute to the learning process. However, the social and collaborative nature of mobile devices changes all of this with mobile learning.
Consider the State Farm Driver Feedback app as an example of the ability for people to share their personal experiences with others. It provides a means for people in a common situation to connect and learn from each other. Imagine an entire high school driver’s education class using the app to improve their driving and then sharing their experiences.
This is learning to occur, being shared, and affecting behavior—jumping from Kirkpatrick’s Level 1 or perhaps 2 to Level 3 in a very real and measurable way. The assessment occurs, but in a very different way than the one to which you may be accustomed.
The Unique Affordances of Mobile
Many of the mobile learning enhancements over previous learning tools have been made possible by technologies that simply haven’t been available or practical in classroom and e-learning.
Features such as geolocation, cameras, accelerometers, and other sensors turn our mobile devices into multi-purpose tools (can the Star Trek Tricorder be far off?). But more than that, these devices are also computers that can be programmed and, in turn, help program us for better performance.
Consider the State Farm’s Driver Feedback app. This tool uses the sensors in an iPhone to assess how a person is driving.
It records how fast the car accelerates, corners, and brakes—all useful information for helping someone become a better driver. While an e-learning module can certainly teach someone about the importance of not accelerating or taking a corner too quickly, m-learning can actually help someone recognize he or she is doing it!
Different Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Better
The differences between m-learning and e-learning may suggest that one learning approach is better than the other. Each can be appropriate in different situations. For instance, no one would want a cardiologist to need a refresher on the different valves of the heart prior to doing surgery.
But you might feel a little bit more comfortable if your doctor pulled out her iPhone to confirm all the side-effects of a new blood-thinning medication that had just been developed while she was about to prescribe a new course of treatments for you.
Similarly, an e-learning module on the history of Chicago may be both interesting and educational. The depth of content that could be revealed might require multiple viewings, with each one bringing forth myriad fascinating details.
But a walking tour of Chicago that uses the GPS feature of your phone to point out and explain important landmarks based on your current location is much more engaging than learning about them at home sitting at your desk.
The point is that the capabilities and features of today’s mobile devices are now allowing us to create entirely new ways of learning than were previously possible.
When you start thinking about your phone or another mobile device from this perspective, you’ll be amazed at the creative ideas that will start to flow and the many ways to enhance the learning process.
The key to transitioning the learning objectives and content lies in your ability to assess the learners’ goals and understand their context and the delivery methods you have available to you as the learning creator.
Mobile learning certainly is not a replacement for instructor-led learning or e-learning. Both still have their place. Furthermore, there may be many legitimate reasons for making most, if not all, of your e-learning content accessible on mobile devices.
But it has become clearer as time has progressed that the mere act of publishing e-learning on a mobile device is not mobile learning.
Genuine, newly conceived mobile learning has its own unique qualities, characteristics, and pedagogy. It’s not a case of trying to teach an old dog a new trick, but an entirely different animal—one that can often teach tricks to itself with just a little push.
The Six Ps of Mobile Learning Strategy
Most of the questions about mobile learning I have answered over the past few years fall under one of the categories in a group I like to call the “Six Ps”: Platforms, Policies, Procurement, Provisioning, Publishing, and Procedures. In this blog, I present these six categories and some thoughts about how they fit into an effective mobile technology strategy.
Choose the Most Appropriate Mobile Platform
The first category, platforms, sounds like a simple one. Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows 8—pick a platform and go with it. But it isn’t that simple. Perhaps the CEO has an iPad that she loves and now wants the entire company to use them. Maybe there is an existing installation of BlackBerry Enterprise Server that the IT department has already paid for and insists on sticking with.
Or maybe the organization has a huge investment in Samsung products and can buy new phones and tablets at a huge discount. Everybody has an opinion, and sometimes the strongest voices come without the proper research.
Be careful not to rush into a specific platform without careful consideration and strong evidence for what is most appropriate for your enterprise.
Another concern in choosing a mobile platform is deciding whether to embrace or reject the backdoor introduction of mobile devices by users adding their personal smartphones or tablets to the network.
This trend, known as Bring Your Own Device or BYOD for short, is changing the way business technology services and solutions are conceived, designed, developed, and delivered.
If you ignore this, you run the risk of creating a de facto policy of allowing any device onto the network, which creates a possible security risk and support headaches for your IT staff. Establishing an official mobile platform reduces that risk. It will also help determine your policies on accepting outside devices into your organization.
The biggest question that must be answered is whether it is even possible to settle on a single platform or whether you will be supporting more than one. That will change how you answer the questions that come when discussing the rest of the “Ps.”
For a small company, it might be easier to say that you only have the resources to support Android devices or Apple’s iOS, but not both. Perhaps a large company has the resources to purchase and deploy iPads to every mobile user in the organization.
Then it is possible to plan a single platform strategy. On the other hand, you may need to support contract employees who use different platforms, or you may want to be able to handle any mobile platform on the market.
In that case, your future plans for provisioning devices, developing apps, and supporting the devices are entirely different from a single platform strategy. But be mindful of the consequences of supporting multiple platforms—it complicates things.
With the increasing number of tablets on the market, you also have to decide how that decision affects your planning. Is it possible to create a single mobile strategy for smartphones and tablets, or does it require separate rules for each type of device? Just as developers have found that many apps don’t scale up from a phone to a tablet, your mobile strategy might not either.
It also is important to take the future of any chosen platform into consideration. Worldwide, the Android operating system is far ahead in terms of sales. The market for all mobile devices is quite dynamic and can change radically in just a couple of years.
Choosing an appropriate platform means one that is more likely to be around in the future. There will also be far more apps and accessories developed for a platform with a large market share. The larger a mobile ecosystem is, the more useful it can be for your organization.
So what is the best strategy in terms of choosing a mobile platform? There isn’t a single correct answer to that question. The best response is to gather information throughout the organization. What is the reason for using mobile devices and deploying mobile learning? What devices fit into the enterprise infrastructure?
What will the total cost of ownership (TCO) be for the mobile platforms? Who are the developers? Who and where are the end-users? How will you manage the devices and apps?
Answering these questions requires talking to your IT staff, developers, and users to obtain an accurate idea of what will work best. Doing the proper research and planning up-front is essential to choosing a platform that will work best for your organization.
Implement Proper Procurement
The next important “P” is procurement. In some ways, this is a simple topic, but it is worthy of thoughtful consideration because it can be puzzling at times as well. Each of these steps is an interlocking part of the mobile strategy and influences the choices you have to make in the other areas.
When you hear procurement, you probably are thinking that it just means an end-user makes choices and then goes out and acts on those choices, right?
Sure, those are the basics, but different factors can always affect those choices. If back in the platform stage, your organization decided to adopt a single, standard mobile platform, this can be an easy step.
This follows the traditional, familiar model of standardizing on a single software package or hardware vendor, which is why it is often recommended in mobile strategy plans.
Several variables are similar when purchasing mobile devices. For instance, what type of organization are you buying for? Most educational institutions have separate channels to go through.
Apple has many schools and colleges listed in their online store. Many large vendors have a GSA-approved channel for government organizations, too. Keep in mind that there are also volume enterprise programs to consider if you are making a substantial purchase.
There may be a process to request a quote and a possibility to negotiate on the price. It could be time-consuming, but it really is no different from the process of purchasing any other technology hardware for the organization.
You need to consider whether you have to purchase smartphones and service. If so, you will need to work with one of the wireless carriers. This adds the issue of negotiating for the service rates, and possibly a service level agreement (SLA) or guarantee policy.
If the device or platform selected for your organization is exclusive to one carrier, you may have less negotiating power. Initially, if you wanted iOS, AT&T was the only carrier in the United States with the iPhone.
There was no leverage for the consumer in comparing multiple vendors (and when it comes to Apple devices, there still really isn’t: one manufacturer, one price). Or perhaps your organization is locked into a contract with a carrier already. In that case, you may be limited to the smartphones available on that provider’s network.
If your organization has chosen a platform that is not available with that carrier, it would be necessary to negotiate an early termination fee (ETF) to break that contract. Depending on how many devices are under the contract, it could add a large expense for your organization to change carriers.
If your organization has chosen to support multiple mobile platforms, the issues around vendors and carriers are multiplied. Also, with exclusive devices being tied to specific carriers due to hardware availability, international trade laws, or contractual restrictions, the actual devices to choose from may be restricted.
Much more common today is for a company to have a bring your own device (BYOD) policy. Rather than the company supplying a smart phone or tablet for everyone in the organization, employees have the choice to use their personal devices within the organization.
More companies are choosing to support multiple platforms, and a BYOD policy allows an organization to implement this at a lower cost.
Some policy issues, such as creating a list of supported devices that will be allowed on the company network, determining who is responsible for the cost of data plans, and approval for applications, must be determined before implementing a BYOD policy.
Once you have chosen your platform and devices, you will have to consider the management policies for your mobile devices.
Using one of the several mobile device management (MDM) products and/or mobile applications management (MAM) products that support multiple platforms can be a good way to handle your mobile management strategy. Once again, this shows that these are all pieces of the same puzzle.
Your policies will determine what you want to use for device management, based on the features offered in the MDM and MAM products on the market. Your organization will have to determine the delivery method that works best: software as a service (SaaS), software and data installed on local servers, or appliance installations (installed in your mobile devices).
While procurement can seemingly be a simple part of your mobile learning plan, it illustrates how each part is woven into the others. Each subsequent decision in the development of a mobile technology strategy builds on the last. Without vision, perseverance, and documentation it will be difficult to achieve success, no matter how simple the procurement step seems.
Adopt Sound Policies
Policies are the third P to consider in your strategy. Remember that these pieces all work together to help build your strategy, and the choices made in one area influence the others.
Some parts of a mobile strategy are similar to traditional technology policies in your organization. For example, the University Information Technologies department at Villanova University has a mobile device/PDA policy that covers the purchase, deployment, and support guidelines for mobile devices.
The initial section of this policy states that users are expected to follow the existing Acceptable Use and Network Security policies. Because mobile devices are accessing your organization’s network the same as any other computing device, it is important that you make your users aware that the same policies apply for those devices as well.
In some ways, certain parts of a mobile policy are actually determined before you reach this point in your planning. By your choosing, a mobile platform (or multiple platforms), a policy for what devices can be used on your network was established. The procurement method that was selected helps determine the policy on how those devices can be provided.
One additional piece that may need to be added to your organization’s policy is whether you have elected to allow a bring your own device (BYOD) plan. In this situation, there will likely be policy differences between company-supplied devices and user-owned devices.
Some recommendations for creating user-owned device policies include limiting what devices will be allowed, requiring management rules to be applied to user-owned devices, and limiting support offerings to those devices.
At the root of your organization’s mobile policy is a decision on what information can and will be on mobile devices used for company business and how securely that information needs to be protected.
Because mobile devices, by their very nature, can leave the physical location and network connections that you have secured, they pose a significant risk of your information being lost or stolen.
In your organization’s policies, you will have to decide what information is allowed on mobile devices, and furthermore, how that data should be protected. Do you require devices with encrypted file systems to protect the data at all times?
What about during transfer of the data? In order to protect the data, you may define a policy that requires users to use an encrypted data network at all times. This can range from requiring WPA-secured wireless connections to using a secured virtual private network (VPN) connections any time a device is used while not connected to the company network.
Beyond these more apparent security policies, additional technologies, such as configuration profiles, SAML authentication, or various other domain authentication practices should be considered as part of the overall mobile technology policy you are crafting.
Some policies also must be considered for legal reasons. One issue that has occurred involves hourly or non-exempt employees using personal mobile devices to access their email.
In a well-known case, one employee claimed and was paid for eight hundred hours of overtime in four months for viewing and replying to emails outside of business hours.
Another issue with mobile devices involves distracted driving laws. Setting aside the obvious safety risks involved, there have been cases when the company that provided the phones was found liable in accidents involving their employees.
Some state laws banning the use of cell phones while driving explicitly state that an employer can still be held responsible for an employee who is negligent.
As a side note, my company does work with a couple of organizations that have actually made mobile device usage while driving a terminable offense. Because of these types of issues, it is crucial that your organization set policies for issues with potential legal implications.
Another part of your planning should involve your organization's mobile support policy. It is not enough to simply provide a list of approved devices; you will also need to determine what apps are supported, who will service issues with supported devices, and replacement procedures when devices are lost or stolen.
When phones are involved, there are also issues to consider in dealing with service providers. If a phone needs to be replaced, a new device may have to be assigned and the phone number will have to be transferred to maintain usage.
There should be a policy for replacement and upgrading of devices as well. New devices come out faster than ever, and your organization must have a plan for moving to newer devices, including how to transfer applications and data to these new devices.
If you allow users to bring in their own devices with a BYOD policy, your organization will have to determine how much support to provide for user-owned devices. It may be as simple as stating that support personnel will provide a best-effort attempt, but that results are not guaranteed.
A time limit on support for user-owned devices could be listed, or the policy might be to only support software on the device that is required by your organization. Placing limits on supporting user-owned devices can help limit the liability for supporting those devices.
A very important part of your support policy covers your organization's response to lost devices. Due to the potential for your data being lost or exposed, a “remote wipe” process should be considered. You must have a procedure for reporting lost or stolen devices and a policy on when and how devices are wiped.
These should be included in any BYOD policy and applied when employees leave your organization. For example, your policy might be to issue a remote wipe command to all mobile devices owned by an employee when that employee leaves, to prevent unauthorized data removal.
If you choose to implement this policy, your users could complain due to its restrictiveness, but it may be important for the protection of your organization.
It is easy to see that defining policies for your mobile technology strategy is a must; however, those policies don’t help your organization if they cannot be monitored or enforced. There are ways to monitor and require compliance with almost any policy, including some that may seem unenforceable, such as distracted driving policies.
It is important to find a way to implement those configurable policies. The best way to do this is to use mobile device management (MDM) solution. An MDM system that supports multiple mobile platforms will allow your organization to create profiles that configure and enforce your device policies.
It is also possible to create multiple profiles to allow for some variances in your policies. Some users can have fewer restrictions than others due to job requirements. Using an MDM can allow you to quickly assign a device to a category so that each employee receives the appropriate profile and policy settings.
If you use an MDM solution, it is important to inform your users that your company's BYOD policy requires them to have their devices added to the MDM system. It may be intrusive to your users, but it is a must to be able to enforce your policies and protect your organization’s network and data.
Creating mobile device policies for your organization can be a long, and sometimes tedious, process. As you can see, though, it is a must to properly secure your data and protect your organisation and your employees. The policies that you create are another block in building your mobile technology strategy.
Properly Provision Your Devices
Provisioning mobile devices consist of everything from getting ready for deployment, creating and managing device profiles, configuring and enforcing device settings, too, finally, establishing a method to monitor and report on your organization’s devices. It is the last step in your organization’s strategy before you put the devices in users’ hands. All of this can sound like a daunting task.
Provisioning is a mix of items that involve some strategic planning when you first decide to bring mobile to your organization, and grunt work such as taking devices out of the box, creating an inventory, and activating all the devices.
However, you can simplify a lot of your provisioning tasks with the previously mentioned MDM system. Such a system is useful for maintenance, inventorying, and decommissioning mobile devices. If your organization has a large number of mobile devices to support, a proper MDM system is a necessity to configure and support them.
Depending on the needs of your organization, an MDM can be used to help with almost all of your provisioning requirements except for taking the devices out of the box and activating them. For that, you will still have to be hands-on. Most mobile devices require activation as well, although the activation method varies depending on the device platform.
Android, BlackBerry, and Windows 8 devices can be activated directly on the device. Older iOS devices required a connection to a computer running iTunes to be activated, so, depending on your IT infrastructure, you may still need to connect your mobile devices physically.
One step that can speed up this process is set up an activation station with iTunes configured in an activation-only mode. That sets iTunes to activate the device without syncing it with the computer, which greatly speeds up the process.
Once your devices are activated and ready to configure, then it is time to configure them to comply with your organization’s policies and standards. Network settings, email accounts, security restrictions, and other settings could make this a time-consuming process, especially for a large organization.
This is where an MDM system makes your job easier. Create your provisioning profile once in the MDM, and then add each device to the MDM list of supported devices.
The joining process varies from one system to the next, but it is still much less time than configuring each device by hand. A good MDM solution also makes it easier for your organization to be flexible in configuring mobile devices.
The needs of a sales representative are not the same as those of your trainers, IT staff, or executives. You can create a separate configuration profile for each role and then assign the devices to those in the proper roles. This type of configuration gives your organization greater control over who has access to specific information and applications.
While each mobile platform has its own methods to build and deploy configuration profiles, third-party platforms typically offer more flexibility, as they often support multiple mobile platforms. One platform offering that most people are familiar with may be changing that strategy.
With their purchase of Ubitexx, Research in Motion (now BlackBerry) announced that it would add support for iOS and Android devices to their BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) platform.
For organizations that have a long-term investment in BES, this may provide a chance to broaden their support for other devices. The only sure thing about this space is that change is going to continue.
Another issue comes up if your organization has decided to support a BYOD policy. Users with personal devices that have already been activated and set up may not conform to your organization's policies.
In a recent survey, only 35 percent of companies are maintaining a strict limit on mobile devices accessing their networks, but nearly half either do not have or do not enforce, a security policy on user-supplied devices.
Creating an official BYOD policy for your organization that requires all devices to be registered with your MDM system will help keep your network more secure. You will be able to implement and enforce your policies on those devices, as well as protect your information when they leave the organization.
For users who are worried about losing personal data because of your MDM’s remote wipe capability, many systems now offer the ability to “sandbox” personal information from your business organization and wipe only the private data from your organization.
Is it possible to do all of this without an MDM system? Of course, but it becomes much more time-consuming and difficult to enforce. For a small organization, it may be possible to get away with developing configuration profiles manually and applying them before deploying a device, but that will not prevent a user from modifying the settings.
It also becomes nearly impossible to enforce your security policies when you have a BYOD policy without a management system. It doesn’t hurt to plan for growth. If you implement MDM when your organization or mobile deployment is small, you are establishing a good foundation for the future.
Publish Content for Your Users
At this point in your mobile strategy, you have chosen a platform for your organization, procured the devices, developed your mobile policies, and provisioned the devices for deployment. Now that mobile devices are in your users’ hands, you have to get your apps and media to them. Publishing your information is the next step in your mobile planning.
Publishing your mobile apps and media inside your organization can require a significant amount of planning. There are a number of steps to consider, from the deployment process to updating and securing apps. In your mobile strategy, you must find a distribution method that allows you to manage all of these steps.
Putting apps and media on mobile devices has typically been done using one of three methods:
(1) the online marketplace method, such as Apple’s App Store or Google Play, which are effec-tive for distributing apps to a large and spread-out user base, but really only suitable for consumer media and applications;
A large number of app marketplaces from both mobile platform developers and third-party sources, in which case your organization needs either to choose a marketplace that best serves your requirements or use several online locations that will each have to be monitored and maintained, as enterprise apps, with sensitive or confidential information or a limited number of users, don’t fit well in a publicly available distribution location;
(2) the ad hoc installation method, also known as sideloading or manual installation on some platforms, requires downloading the application installer or media file and then manually installing it on the mobile device (note that some platforms are easier to manage manually than others, but users could find the process confusing or too time-consuming to keep things up-to-date);
(3) the third method is to build a private app catalog to install apps wirelessly. A private app catalog lets you distribute your apps and media to mobile devices in a more user-friendly manner. The problem with this method, at first, was that it was just an automated way to perform ad hoc distribution.
Users would receive an email or SMS that contained a link to your organization’s private app server. They had to hit that link and download the installer and put the applications on their devices manually.
It helped to get the apps out to users faster and to a geographically diverse user base without putting them in a public marketplace, but there was still no way to tell whether people downloaded and installed the apps or files.
In the Enterprise IT world, organizations need to know what is installed where and ensure that proper updates occur for security and licensing requirements. How can you make that happen in mobile?
A rapidly growing answer to that question is to use mobile application management (MAM). These systems allow organizations to create a private application catalog that works similarly to the public marketplaces.
Media files and documents that are useful to your mobile users can often be included in a MAM system as well. Apps can be categorized and only visible to specific users, as they would in a traditional enterprise application deployment system.
Apps can be updated, either by notifying mobile users or even by push updates without user intervention if the platform supports it.
Apps can also be removed or disabled from mobile devices if a user leaves the organization or has accessed the application improperly, without requiring a full device wipe. This can give you more flexibility in making sure mobile devices comply with your policies.
Mobile application development can also benefit from having an application management system in place.
When it comes time to test on the actual devices, being able to publish updates for each build is easier than connecting each device and loading the app manually. This can dramatically speed up the development process in your organization.
MAM systems also can be helpful in monitoring and ensuring compliance with applicable licensing. Your mobile systems administrator can use a MAM’s reporting features to see which users have installed apps or downloaded available media and keep track of or limit how many users install a specific app to comply with licensing issues.
In conjunction with an MDM system, you can have a variety of tools to keep your organization in compliance with your mobile strategy.
MDM is not the same as MAM, however. Several mobile device management platforms offer some application management features, but a dedicated mobile application management system usually has more features and will serve your organization better.
Mobile application management is a tool that can help with your organization’s mobile applications lifecycle, from development and testing to deployment and updating. With a bit of planning, MAM can make it a lot easier to publish the apps and media in your organization.
Standardize Your Procedures
Procedures are the end result of standardizing the first five Ps so that everyone in your organization is on the same page. Without choosing a platform, carefully documenting policies, setting up steps to purchase and provision the devices, and publishing content, there is no hope to achieve standard operating procedures.
Every time you execute the steps, there will be variations in the end results that will lower quality, increase costs, or in some other way limit the true return on investment. So it is in creating standardized procedures that “the rubber meets the road.” With proper procedures, you will have the following:
A planned platform or platforms to support, with no surprises as new mobile handsets and tablets, are released;
A procurement process that takes into account equipment life-cycles and replacement planning, as well as buying discounts and service level agreements (SLA);
Policies that can be enforced and are legally defensible. This should protect your company’s intellectual property and your employees’ rights. The procedures should cover the “What If’s” when policies aren’t followed and spell out the enforcement steps that will be taken;
You will have a technology solution and business process in place to provide the devices as they are brought into the workplace. This should cover and enforce your policies, making BYOD devices and company devices equal when it comes to accessing information needed for performance support.
This solution should not be dependent on any one individual for its implementation, but must be institutionalized;
Putting your apps out to your audience shouldn’t be a problem either, because the publishing procedures spell out whether and when you are targeting the mobile web, private app catalogs or MDM/MAM solutions, or putting your apps into public marketplaces like the Apple App Store or Google Play.
As you can see, this is the culmination and standardization of all of your hard work. Standardization improves efficiency, because everyone knows what to do, without having to work through all these decisions each time there is a change or addition to your mobile system. You’ve come this far, and you owe it to yourself and your company to finish the job.
Here are some key points to keep in mind when developing a procedures document. Your procedures document must have the following characteristics to succeed:
It must be accessible. Put it in a centralized repository or on the organization’s intranet so that all parties who need to read it have access.
It must be collaborative. One person is simply not knowledgeable about all aspects of a company’s mobile strategy to manage everything. Establish a workflow for editing the document or use a team environment like a wiki to store this vital resource.
It must be updated as time passes. Mobile moves fast. No document is going to be etched in stone, because the mobile industry just changes too quickly to assign arbitrary update cycles to this.
It must be workable. If your procedures document is so loaded with jargon and legalese that it makes it tough to implement, you’ll never see the benefits of its creation and rollout. Keep it simple!
• It must be transferable. This is, after all, your company’s policy, right? This is not a single person’s domain, even if you only have one person manning the servers at your company. Because very sensitive data may be being sent on these devices outside of the company’s firewall, it’s important that more than one person knows how the process works.
The six Ps represent the main components of a mobile learning strategy. Of course, there are a lot more issues to consider when it comes time to create and implement a specific strategy for your organization.
The Business Case for Mobile Learning
We have just come out of one of the most severe economic recessions since the Great Depression, with unemployment higher than has been seen in decades and companies looking to cut costs in every way possible.
In these circumstances, how can an investment in mobile learning make sense? In difficult economic times, training budgets are one of the first areas to be reduced or eliminated.
Employees tend to be more focused on being heads-down and productive and doing their jobs than on taking training. Given this situation, how does a learning professional present a compelling case to management to spend money and invest in new skills and new technologies?
In today’s environment, many people would expect to hear a stern reminder of budgetary restraints at such a request.
However, with a modest time investment on your part and a critical look at your organization’s operations, you might find that now is the perfect time to make an investment in mobile learning.
Business fundamentals tell us that companies improve their bottom lines in one of two ways: increase revenue or decrease costs; if you can do both, all the better. This blog on the business case for mobile learning takes an in-depth look at how mobile learning can benefit both sides of the business equation.
First, a quick disclaimer: there is no silver bullet here. Every organization is different, from the products it sells to its organizational structure to its unique operations. I cannot possibly provide all the answers, as the best and appropriate ways to increase revenues and decrease costs are specific to each business.
However, I can provide a few key tips and logical techniques for uncovering the opportunities for growing revenue and reducing costs in your company using mobile learning.
Mobile learning is about accessing useful information any time, anywhere. So the key to building a strong business case for mobile learning is to identify ways to provide better and timely access to the right information, which can help your company increase revenue or decrease costs.
Mobile Learning and Increasing Revenue
Companies generally have three basic ways to generate more revenue.
1. They can sell more of an existing product or service,
2. They can offer additional products or services, or
3. They can increase the prices of their products or services.
But none of these methods work magically; there has to be an underlying, fundamental change in the demand for your products or services for any of these options to work.
Selling more or being able to charge more for the same product requires raising the demand for your product or service through better sales and marketing efforts or a perceived differentiation in the marketplace.
Mobile devices can help increase the demand for your products and services by providing both your customers and your sales force with better access to information about what you sell.
In this blog, you will notice that the lines between what is considered mobile learning and what is known as mobile marketing are blurred. This is to be expected. It is difficult to talk about growing sales or increasing the demand for products and services without talking about marketing in some form or another.
For instance, does the idea of making your company’s website accessible on a mobile device strike you as being a marketing activity or a mobile learning task? Most people would contend that a company's website falls within the marketing department’s domain.
However, if you subscribe to the idea that mobile learning is about “making useful information available any time, anywhere,” then it becomes less clear whether a mobile version of your company’s website is learning or marketing. The good news is that it really doesn’t matter. The same concepts of context and access to information apply whether we are talking about mobile learning or mobile marketing.
Therefore, if businesses are going to find ways that mobile learning (or marketing) can help increase revenue, there has to be a plan for increasing demand through the immediate access to information that mobile devices offer. This is true both in terms of how you sell to your customers and what you sell to your customers.
How You Sell
In order to find ways that mobile learning can help you sell more, you must first think about and understand what makes your prod-uct or service relevant and unique. Three key steps or questions come to mind:
1. Why would someone want to spend money on what you have to offer?
2. What information does a client or a customer need to make a well-informed decision? How can they find this information?
3. When do they need to access this information?
By understanding what your customers base their purchasing decisions on, you can be in a better position to provide that information via a mobile device. Amazons and Target are both excellent examples of this.
Both have superb websites that are optimized for mobile devices. Both provide access to product information, price, and availability. Amazons' mobile customers even have access to the same user reviews that you can find through the full browser version.
Imagine yourself in a store like Best Buy considering the purchase of a new inkjet printer. You might have thought about doing some research before you left your house, but you didn’t and now you are standing in front of a row of ten printers trying to decide which one to buy.
You might ask a salesperson for some suggestions and he or she might be able to give you a good answer, but chances are the salesperson hasn’t used all ten products, so knowing which one is the best for you might be a guess. But having access to reviews and information about the various printers you are considering through your mobile phone allows you to make a much more informed decision.
Supporting Your Sales Force
Another key mechanism by which a business can improve its revenue is through supporting its sales force. If a business goes to market with a trained sales force, then those people have a focused job description—to generate demand and bring in sales.
What information needs do they have? How can they best be supported in the field? Do you have a diverse product line that changes regularly? Do you have frequent turnover in your sales force, requiring a heavy investment in regular training?
Can some of this training be done on the road, as a podcast or a series of tip sheets accessible from a mobile phone? By thinking of mobile devices as small computers with instant access to information, the possibilities are numerous.
Like your customers, the key is to think about what information your salespeople need to access and how you can improve their ability to find information quickly when they need it.
What You Sell
We’ve talked about ways to increase demand through how you sell. But what about adding value to what you sell? Just as there are many ways to inform and influence the buying decision before purchase, there are equally many ways to use mobile devices to enhance the buyer’s perception of your product or service before, during, and after the sale has been made.
Doing these activities well can lead to repeat business and referrals to other potential customers.
Mobile learning offers opportunities to provide a richer, more valuable experience with your product or service. To identify these opportunities, think about what information you can provide your customers that will improve how they use your product or service. Also, think about the context for how they might access that information.
For instance, do you want your customers to know how to contact the customer service department if they have a problem, or do you want them to be able to solve most issues on their own? Do you provide troubleshooting tips? Are there user forums on which people can share ideas and tips about best practices for using your product?
Maybe you already provide this information on your company's website. It may be tempting to think that, just because information is available via the web on a desktop or laptop computer, it doesn’t need to be accessible on a mobile device.
However, considering the rate at which mobile devices are increasingly being used to access the web, this may not be a good idea.
According to a recent Morgan Stanley report, analysts expect that the “mobile web” will overtake desktop Internet access by 2015. As more and more people access the web from their mobile devices, you have to ask yourself: How well can they get to the important information about my products and services?
The other way of improving profits for a company is to cut costs. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” While there are many ways for organizations to manage their costs, learning and development efforts usually involve helping people do their jobs faster, better, or cheaper.
How does faster, better, cheaper translate into cost savings? Working faster means more is done in a shorter period of time. This results in fewer people being needed for a particular task, more time for other tasks to be completed, and, just as importantly, the ability to handle more (more warranty work, more service calls, etc.) with the same number of people.
Working better translates into higher quality output, which results in fewer service calls, warranty claims, and rework, not to mention happier customers. Working cheaper means using fewer resources to complete a task.
This could mean anything from using fewer raw materials to using less expensive computers or software. For any of these improvements to actually reduce costs, a reduction of costs in one of these areas cannot be offset by an increase in costs in other areas.
For example, it doesn’t help to simply work faster if there is a corresponding drop in the quality of the final product. So what are some of the ways that mobile learning can help people work faster, better, and cheaper?
Reference Materials and Job Aids
One form of mobile learning consists of reference material and job aids. Mobile devices, with their instant-on, always connected qualities, can offer a rich library of information for service technicians and others who travel for their jobs.
Imagine a new washer and dryer repair person who has been trained on the latest models produced by his company, but has not been in the business long enough to see the differences from washers and dryers that were made five or ten years ago.
By putting repair manuals online and making them easily accessible through a mobile device like a smartphone or a tablet, the need to carry and keep track of potentially hundreds of paper repair manuals is eliminated.
In addition, if designed properly, these reference materials can provide significantly faster access to information and offer much more detail than what traditionally has been produced with paper manuals.
This same basic principle can be used in other industries as well. Arborists, who have to identify and diagnose many different forms of tree diseases, can benefit from having diagnostic pictures available on their mobile devices, along with prescriptions for treatment.
In addition, the geolocation feature on many smartphones can help by automatically sorting and filtering the information based on the arborist’s location and the types of trees that are most common to that geographic area.
These forms of reference materials can reduce costs in a number of ways. First, the cost to update electronically available materials is significantly less than the cost for updating and reprinting paper versions of manuals and reference guides.
Second, when designed properly, access can be much faster and easier than for traditional paper-based materials.
The geolocation feature is one example; a well-indexed and fully searchable reference guide is another example of how companies can save costs by providing faster access to information. Finally, the opportunities for collaboration and communication with a mobile/electronic version of various reference guides and job aids should not be overlooked.
Imagine if the washer/dryer repair person found an error in the manual or a more efficient way to make a repair. By his having the ability to comment on or rate that section of the job aid, others could easily benefit from the experience.
In essence, the experts are continually updating the repair manual of the future. It’s the Wikipedia for washer/dryer repair manuals; it’s the Bing for HVAC technicians.
Performance Support Tools
Another related, but distinct area of mobile learning that can help organizations reduce costs are performance support tools. Performance support tools, like reference guides and job aids, help people do their jobs better and more efficiently.
For example, in the construction industry, equipment safety checks are a critical part of preventing accidents and keeping workers free from injury.
Organizations such as OSHA in the United States require these safety checks to be documented as part of standard start-up procedures for various types of equipment. Often, the documentation is misplaced or forgotten.
Lack of compliance can lead to fines and increased insurance costs or worse—accidents that have severe ramifications. One need only look a little closer at the recent oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico to hear how shortcuts were encouraged and safety practices were not followed in order to bring the oil platform online faster.
An electronic checklist created for use on a mobile device can have several advantages to ensuring compliance. First, there is an electronic record that the inspection has been completed that can be sent to a centralized database.
If an inspection has not been completed by a specified time, a reminder notice can be sent to the machine operator or the safety manager. If a safety issue is detected, it can be recorded using the camera.
A company called Earthrise Technology has developed an innovative mobile performance support tool. Earthrise is a subsidiary of Digisec Group, a leading supplier of after-market automotive security products in China that also develops and distributes state-of-the-art telematics products for the transportation industry.
Earthrise recently released a product called Eco-Way that combines a personal navigation system with an onboard diagnostic system that monitors a number of factors related to how efficiently a vehicle is operating and how economically the driver is operating the vehicle.
This tool provides real-time data to those driving the vehicle as well as a web portal for others to review, making it ideal for transportation companies wanting to better manage their fuel consumption costs. For companies that have large fleets of vehicles and spend significant amounts on fuel.
This tool can serve as an excellent training device to help drivers maximize their fuel efficiency and help vehicle maintenance workers keep vehicles properly tuned. Earthrise estimates that, through the use of Eco-Way, drivers can improve their gas mileage and reduce their carbon emissions by up to 45 percent.
Applications for Your Company
If your company doesn’t repair washers and dryers or have arborists who examine trees for disease and infection, what applicability does this have to you and your organization?
What if you are not part of a construction company or one that has a large fleet of vehicles? How do you apply the principles of mobile learning to manage costs in your company?
With any organization, the process of managing costs begins by first looking for opportunities. Set aside for a moment the idea of mobile learning and examine how employees are spending their time and the quality of the work they produce.
What information do they require on a regular basis to do their jobs and do those jobs expertly? Focus on the time they are away from their desks and don’t have access to a traditional desktop or laptop computer. What must they do while they are at their desks that they cannot currently do elsewhere?
Remember, today’s mobile devices have as much computing power as the desktops from just ten years ago and, in many cases, they have a much faster connection to the Internet.
Can you provide them with better access to information? Are there ways to combine learning with their daily activities (like Eco-Way does for drivers)?
Taking a step-by-step approach best solves cost reductions, like many other business challenges. Start by breaking the problem into parts; then look for opportunities for improvement.
When all the features of today’s mobile devices are combined with the information needs required by many of today’s jobs, practical opportunities present themselves. With patience and a questioning attitude, there is no doubt that cost reduction opportunities exist with the use of effective mobile learning.
When it comes to growing the top line of your business, mobile learning and mobile marketing have a lot in common. Whatever you call it, the key is to make sure your potential customers and those who have purchased your products or services have access to the information they need.
By putting yourself in the shoes of your customers or your sales force, you can identify ways that providing “useful information any time, anywhere” can enhance people’s experience and perception of what you sell.
With some focused time investment and a critical look at the company’s sales activities and practices, a business can most likely improve its top line through the use of mobile learning.
At the same time, there are many ways for mobile learning to support cutting costs, contributing directly to a company’s bottom line. Doing both is optimal and possible with the implementation of mobile learning.
The New “Nomadism” as a Driver of Mobile Learning
In 2008, The Economist magazine published a special report on “The New Nomadism.” Because of our increased mobility, people are less likely to want to stay in one place in order to attend school or train in a specific location. With the new possibilities of connectivity to information from wherever we are, there is no need to hang around home base.
This new ability to move using improved transportation systems has led to the creation of entire categories of mobile workers, especially those in field services and in sales. As well, our ability to move has led to people living at an increased distance from their workplaces, making telecommuting very attractive.
The shedding of permanent full-time jobs and their replacement by temporary and part-time service jobs that can be done at home or by virtual teams has also increased the attractiveness of learning from any location at any time.
Of course, much has been made of the new generation that is entering the workforce in terms of their intimate knowledge of computers and mobile devices. But I think this has been overblown as a driver, in that the use of mobile learning needs to make business sense, rather than simply catering to the desires of a new set of workers.
Yet, there’s no denying that many of us, of all ages, become very attached to our mobile phones and tablets. There’s even a psychiatric condition called “nomophobia” to describe those who become anxious when not in the presence of their mobile phone, or when their batteries run out. The British Post Office has actually done a research study on this condition.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for the corporate training audience, there are solid business reasons for the adoption of mobile learning.
First, the widespread deployment of mobile phones means that infrastructure for mobile learning is already in place. This means that there are already communication devices in the pockets of most workers, with access to email, texting, and the Internet.
Mobile learning, when properly designed, can be described as “just in time, just enough, and just for me.” Researchers have found that it improves retention in learning because what is learned is relevant to the situation at hand.
Mobile learning has the potential to leverage the “idle time” of workers on the move, who would likely otherwise be unproductive. On the other hand, people need time off, and the use of mobile learning can be seen in some situations as a way of unfairly increasing workloads without compensation.
Mobile learning has the potential to change the way people work together. It can result in increased collaboration and a sense of community, and it can give employees up-to-date information that they need in their jobs.
At the same time, such information can be personalized and contextualized according to each person’s work situation. In short, mobile learning has “come of age.”
Creating a Mobile Learning Content Strategy
What is the content strategy? In its simplest terms, content strategy for formal learning is a holistic plan for content, the knowledge that you want the learner to receive and retain. The strategy should include the planning, creation, governance, publication, and long-term maintenance of the desired content.
In bigger terms, content strategy is looking at the material you produce for your audience from the perspective of an “information steward” and making informed decisions that improve the transfer of the knowledge shared and the sustainability of the information source that provided it.
This emerging and critical aspect of the instructional design is part of the new normal of being learning professionals in the connected age of ubiquitous access and user-generated content.
It is simply not enough to create once, publish, and then move on. We must think through the lifecycle of the content and plan for its optimal delivery through the mechanisms we have available to us, regardless of technology or platform.
Content strategy may seem unrelated to learning professionals. However, this topic has been long studied and employed in the marketing and web worlds to great success and deserves a place in our essential skill sets.
Karen McGrane’s steps for a content strategy include:
1. Perform audience research.
2. Perform competitive research.
3. Perform content inventory and analysis.
4. Choose delivery platforms appropriately.
5. Don’t fork your content, yet edit to meet delivery needs.
An important takeaway is that our roles as learning professionals responsible for the delivery of content are changing (and, incidentally, will continue to change). We must continue to evolve and work to create a content framework that is scalable and strong, flexible yet authoritative.
Candidly, it’s not easy, but the very challenge is what makes the role so interesting and important. This is definitely different from the “set it and forget it” approach to creating curriculum and courseware we have used in the past.
This new approach to content creation and lifecycle is needed if we are to keep up with ever-tightening product cycles. It is a must if we hope to deliver content on the devices and platforms of today and tomorrow. With appropriate planning, it is possible. A bit of time in research and planning pays big dividends here.
We have to create a systemic (meaning deeply ingrained in the system) and systematic (carried out using step-by-step processes and procedures) approach to delivering content to our learners. This is the How and When of What we are going to share with our audiences.
Consider the various ways you interact with websites or plat-forms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, CNN - Breaking News, Latest News and Videos, Netflix, or Amazon. Every one of those companies has a different experience for the users, depending on the device each user employs to access the content.
An app is different from a set-top box, which is also different from a web browser, which is different from the mobile web. Pumping their respective sites through some kind of magic transformer didn’t create these experiences.
Some features are omitted or tucked away, as they may be unneeded in a particular case, but the key functions the user requires in that particular case—desktop, web, mobile, or other—are accounted for and designed.
So, too, will your carefully crafted mobile learning experiences need to account for these platforms. Running your Flash course through some sort of HTML5 mill is not the answer.
You must redesign and adapt your applications to fit within your content strategy for mobile. Beyond basic considerations, such as user interface, element size, and scale, there are more dramatic shifts you will have to make in your thinking.
Some of the content from your original software may stay largely intact. A thoroughly indexed and well-manicured company wiki may require only a new mobile theme, and perhaps the addition of some basic contextual awareness (geolocation could be really useful, for example) to make it a valuable mobile learning tool.
Other items—immersive software simulations, for example—may require more thought prior to porting the content to mobile handsets (or perhaps skipping this approach for more effective uses of resources).
Mobile devices do have constraints in terms of screen size, bandwidth, and processing power, and in order to match the experience to the target platform, you may have to take these factors into account in your design process.
On the topic of straight content conversion from e-learning to m-learning, I have mixed reactions. While, yes, it’s great to be free to leverage your content and repackage it for a new class of users in need of it, none of the simple paths to mobile learning I have seen truly put mobile considerations into the design up-front.
They may apply a new mobile-friendly skin to the content, sure, but that’s the easy way out. Seldom do I hear of learners impressed by mobile content delivery.
On the other hand, I do hear people impressed by Urbanspoon’s scope feature, Path’s streamlined feel on smartphones, or Twitter’s ease of uploading images or adding location data to posts.
This sort of smart user experience design, coupled with content strategy, takes work. If page-turning e-learning were a sure-fire way to create snoozeware on the desktop, then it is dead on the mobile side.
If we want to escape that perilous trap, we must plan our path to the mobile learning landscape of tomorrow.
Seven Easy and Inexpensive Ways to Launch Mobile Learning
Your initial foray into mobile learning doesn’t need to be complicated, require a five-figure budget to implement, or dramatically alter how your company conducts training.
The great thing about m-learning is that it encompasses so many forms of knowledge transfer and sharing that there are many creative implementations, all of which fit neatly into the category of mobile learning.
Here are seven easy and relatively low-cost (in some cases free) ways to implement mobile learning. My hope is that these will not only be useful but will also help to trigger other ideas that can be implemented and shared.
Micro-blogging is a web-based service that involves sending or broadcasting short messages to a specific group of individuals who are signed up or have “subscribed” to be a part of that group.
Twitter and Yammer are examples of two popular micro-blogging services, the former being free yet public and the latter offering paid subscriptions to set up a private group. Both services are easily accessed on mobile devices, making them accessible wherever a cellular or Wi-Fi connection is available.
Micro-blogging works great as a simple messaging and collaboration tool. For instance, a salesperson could send a message to his or her colleagues such as, “Getting a lot of pushback on our recent price increases.
Anyone have a suggested response?” Others who see the message can easily weigh in on the conversation. Because these services work with SMS, virtually any mobile phone user can have access to this information and participate in the conversation.
2. Create a WordPress Website or Blog
WordPress is an open source publishing platform for the web. It was started in 2003 as a blogging tool but has since matured into a very robust content management system.
Because it is open source, it is free to download and use. From a technical standpoint, all that is needed is a web server running PHP and MySQL.
What makes WordPress so useful for m-learning is the wide variety of mobile-friendly themes and plugins. Using a responsive design based theme, for example, a list of a company’s safety rules and regulations could easily be documented using WordPress.
When workers on a job site need access to those rules and regulations, they can easily pull up the site and search for the information they need.
3. Start a YouTube Channel
While someone will often read a recipe in a cookbook or magazine, think how much more powerful it is to watch a chef demonstrate how to make a particular dish on TV. In many situations, video can be used as an excellent learning tool.
When being able to visualize a task or view a series of steps is easier and more efficient than a text description or static photos, videos can work extremely well.
Creating a YouTube channel provides a way to organize videos that are created for a specific purpose or company. YouTube videos play on many of today’s mobile devices, making this a great site on which to put mobile content.
4. SMS (Text) Message Alerts
Today, virtually 100 percent of all mobile phones have the ability to send and receive text messages. This capability, along with a relatively low overhead cost, makes text messaging an ideal way to distribute bite-sized learning nuggets.
There are numerous examples of how text messaging can assist in the mobile learning arena. One example is reminders for a group or team. Imagine a safety manager on a construction site.
At 5 a.m. he notices the weather forecast for the day is hot and humid. So using a service to send SMS messages to a group of people, he sends a reminder to all the members of his crew, “Forecast for today is hot and humid.
Don’t forget to bring adequate sun protection (hat, sun block, etc.) and extra water.” In sending a message that costs his company around 5 cents or less, he may prevent a worker from having heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or something worse.
Another example of SMS usage in a corporate setting is in the on-boarding of personnel. In this situation, text messages can be scheduled to be sent over the first week or month of a person’s employment.
The messages can be anything from a reminder to complete specific paperwork to providing additional information about the company that may not have been presented during the initial orientation.
This type of on-boarding can create a connection that eventually leads to a more engaged (read productive) employee. There are a number of text messaging services that offer a variety of ways to send text messages.
5. Create a Mobile Version of Your PowerPoint Slides
It is generally not recommended to simply convert a PowerPoint presentation to something that can be viewed on a mobile phone and call it m-learning. There are many instances where this would be wholly ineffective.
Who wants to look at a two-hour, 150 slide presentation on a company’s strategic initiatives on an iPhone? However, there are other instances when a PowerPoint presentation specifically designed for a mobile device can make sense. Reference documents are a great example.
Think of information like product data, tip sheets, or quick reference guides as information that could be made available on a mobile device through the conversion of a PowerPoint document.
There are a number of ways to make a PowerPoint mobile-ready. The methods that are most appropriate depending on whether the document must be resident on the phone so that it can be accessed when the phone is not connected, and on the types of phones used by the target audience.
One option is to use SlideShare. SlideShare has a mobile version that works on iPhone and Android operating systems. Another option is to create a video of the PowerPoint presentation. This method has the added benefit of being able to easily handle audio narration.
The video can then be published to YouTube or downloaded directly to a mobile device. One option for this is to use a tool like authorSTREAM to create a video version of your PowerPoint. Creating videos with an authorSTREAM watermark is free. If you want videos without the watermark, there is a fee.
6. Audio Podcasting
Podcasts can be a great form of mobile learning because of their flexibility. Whether mowing the grass, driving to work or waiting at the airport, audio podcasts are a great way to communicate information or share knowledge because they only require one sense: hearing.
Depending on the content and the type of information being shared, this allows the learner to be engaged in other activities while learning. Obviously, audio podcasting is not an effective approach to mobile learning in all cases.
Certainly, situations that involve visualization or learner interactivity are not appropriate. But audio podcasts work very well when presenting information to an interested audience and when engaging story-telling can be incorporated into the content.
A number of free tools are available for creating audio podcasts, and some excellent step-by-step tutorials are available as well.
The basic steps involve creating the audio file, converting to the correct format, and publishing the podcast.
7. Poll Everywhere
Poll Everywhere is a web-based audience response service that allows a presenter or trainer to ask a question and receive audience feedback via SMS text messages or Twitter or the web. Responses can then be displayed in real time in PowerPoint, Keynote, or on a web page.
The advantages of Poll Everywhere are (1) it is easy and it is relatively inexpensive (or even free!), depending on the size of the audience you wish to poll. Polling during a presentation is an excellent way to engage your audience, gather feedback, and allow them to participate in the discussion. Give it a try!
A word of caution: just because something is easy and inexpensive does not necessarily make it the right tool for the job.
One can easily go to a local discount store and purchase a child’s wagon for a relatively low cost. But if you try to use it to haul five tons of rock from the landscaping company across town, you will find your wagon is not very effective.
However, borrowing your neighbor’s pickup truck may be equally easy and cost you nothing more than a friendly beer shared on the back porch or a gift card to a local restaurant.
The point is, no matter how easy and inexpensive something is, you still have to select the right tool for the job or, in the case of mobile learning, the right design to meet the learning objectives.
The seven ideas presented here can all be effective in certain situations and not at all effective in others. When implementing m-learning, be sure to think of the contextual goals of the learners to make sure they are using the right tool for the job.
Building Brand Advocacy Through Mobile Learning
Educational marketing is a concept that has been around for a long time. The basic concept can be explained simply as “An educated customer is an engaged customer.”
An informed customer is more likely to understand and appreciate the value of your product or service offerings and, therefore, more likely to buy or recommend your product to others.
This is known in marketing circles as “brand advocacy.” Writers and bloggers like Word of Moss, Seth Godin, and many others have been writing about this concept for some time.
Most of the time, brand advocacy takes place in one of two ways. It can be an organic process, with customers becoming advocates by virtue of the product being great.
This usually results in them telling others about the product or service. Brand advocacy can also be seeded, with companies sending freebies, samples, and other offers to influential bloggers and Twitter users.
These influencers then share their feelings on the product (positive, one hopes). Either way, there is no debate that brand advocacy is an effective way to turn more people on to your product and that it does matter in a modern marketing effort.
These types of advocacy are considered authentic and real and therefore carry much more gravitas and weight than traditional commercials or ads.
They have long-term and more lasting effects than viral campaign and cost virtually nothing in comparison to other more conventional marketing, such as radio, print, and television.
This type of marketing takes advantage of the social media concept, “wisdom of friends,” putting stock in the fact that people take their social network’s recommendations very seriously and that it definitely influences and impacts their buying habits.
What does this all have to do with mobile learning, you might ask? Well, what if you could harness the power of mobile learning to help create brand advocates among your existing customers?
What if you could produce great content that empowered your customers? Content that informed them and helped them see the value of your products, even more than they already do?
This content should instruct users on how to make the most out of your products, whether home improvement tools, a vacation package, or electronics. By giving users useful and fresh educational content, your mobile application (“there’s an app for that”) is more likely to be reused.
In Josh Clark’s excellent blog Tapworthy (2010), it was revealed that users download ten apps per month on average, and most are not launched more than twenty times. After two months, only one-third of apps are used at all.
Gimmick apps are used only a handful of times. Consider this example: a virtual circular saw is cute, but will only be used three to five times; however, an app with videos on how to actually use a circular saw may be used two or three times more than a non-video-based app.
Couple that content with social media sharing features and you can help to create your own little army of brand advocates.
In an article published in Learning Solutions magazine, Float’s John Feser asked, “Who Owns Mobile in Your Organization?”
Based on our observations of the marketplace and paying attention to what our contacts are telling us, more often than not, sales and marketing departments are very influential in getting mobile initiatives rolling in the enterprise.
You can see this in a quick search of various mobile app stores; it is clear that product catalogs and simple gimmick apps abound.
Who funded development of these apps? Well, it certainly wasn’t IT, or learning and development. Very likely, the marketing budget paid for these experiments in mobile learning. This really needs to change going forward, especially if you want to build brand advocates and empower your customers to help you sell to their social networks.
Why? Well, who knows more about how to use your products than the learning department? Who knows how to pull together the subject-matter experts (SMEs), content, resources, and talent to produce great content that is useful to people? You should be pointing at yourself right about now.
So what should you do? One easy thing would be to take a look at your industry and see how online educational content is being packaged to consumers.
Hardware companies frequently have “Projects and Advice” sections on their websites, and electronics resellers have question-and-answer sections on how to connect the devices they sell. Use this research to frame up some easy ways to bring useful information to your customers.
Then, after you have some ideas, talk to marketing. Perhaps there is a way to partner and share your budgets and resources to produce something truly great and a game changer to boot.
Executives should see an application that truly sets your organization and its products or services apart as distinct and valuable.
Often, the content that the learning department is creating for owner manuals and sales training is not really that different than the brochures shipped to the customers or the videos on the site showing the features and benefits of the product.
Some basic things to consider in the content you provide are listed below. This is, after all, training, not a hard sell, so please remember that in order to build advocacy your content needs to:
Provide real, timely, and actionable help information,
Use the product as a user would, that is, don’t feature it as a “star,”
Use the product safely, and just as you would want a consumer to use it, and Subtly reinforce your product’s value proposition.
We strongly recommend using high production values in the content. Such a mobile app is more likely to have a much larger audience than you may be used to targeting.
A typical internal sales module may only have an audience of hundreds of employees who are accustomed to internal jargon, photography, and video styles. Externally facing content needs to be more polished.
You may want to consider hiring professional talent and scouting for a shooting location, rather than the typical talking heads in non-professionally produced content.
In preparing to deliver this content, please remember to set yourself up for success. Plan for measurement and metrics. In-app analytics are a must; creating a landing page at your site for the app store traffic is a basic requirement;
using simple ecommerce conversion tools like promo codes is a viable option, and using a social media measurement platform like Owl.ly would be a smart thing to do.
This will enable you to know who is sharing content from your app and, more importantly, who is buying based on their experience with the app. Remember, satisfied customers tell three others about how they feel about your product, angry ones tell three thousand.
Your next step should be to consider how brand advocacy could work for your brand. Are companies in your vertical space using it or experiencing the benefits of putting educational content onto their customers’ smartphones?
You should talk to marketing. Are they using brand advocacy in their efforts? How are they building it?
Could they benefit from your content and expertise in creating learning? You have the great opportunity of bringing a very powerful audience to your company via a partnership between the marketing and learning departments and their respective audiences.
A Case Study of Brand Advocacy: State Farm Insurance
Let’s take a close look at an application that is a great example of brand advocacy. Did you know that State Farm Insurance is in the moving business?
Of course not. They aren’t and have no plans to be. So why do they have a full-featured mobile application called MoveTools in the Apple App Store?
MoveTools is an interactive planner that helps the user through all of the details of a house move. It comes with sections like “To-Do List,” “Pack Up,” and “Moving Tips,” and it has a planner to remind you of the different steps you should be taking in the weeks leading up to the move.
It not only provides helpful content, but it allows you to input your own information about your move.
In the “Pack Up” section, the user can create a packing process parallel to their actual box packing, which results in a digital list of all the boxes and what is contained in each.
The user can print out labels with barcodes that can be read by a smartphone that contains a list of the contents for each box! It is a complete app to make any move significantly smoother.
All analysis of the content, functionality, and construction of the app aside, why is State Farm, a leading insurance company, making this app available to the public? Your first answer might be so that they can sell more insurance.
Certainly, that is an ultimate goal but any type of “sales” content within the app is contained within a very small popup menu that is revealed when the user touches the State Farm logo in the bottom menu bar. It’s inconspicuous and, in fact, almost hidden.
The obvious motivation for the application is for State Farm to strengthen their brand to a target audience. The application itself is conveying a message that has a positive effect on users such that they will associate the good experience with State Farm.
Because of this, the MoveTools app is an excellent example of brand advocacy. Let’s take a look at how that works.
First of all, the MoveTools application solves a problem; it relieves pain or stress. Have you ever met anyone who likes to move?
In fact, usually, when people move, at some time during the move they proclaim, “We are never moving again!” The entire moving process is a stressful experience. State Farm tries to alleviate some of that anxiety by providing an app that helps the user be organized and more efficient in the multitude of steps it takes to execute a move.
The availability of the app creates all sorts of positive touch points between the target audience and State Farm. When the user opens the app, the State Farm logo is apparent, but not obtrusive, so it serves as a constant reminder of who is providing relief at a difficult time.
The app is designed in the State Farm branding guidelines so it has the “look and feels” of State Farm.
If used correctly, the app is needed throughout the whole moving process so dozens, if not hundreds, of impressions, take place over the move. After successful use of the app, the user tells a friend about it and two more friends, and before long they have become brand advocates as well.
They might not even be State Farm customers! When a mom learns that her neighbor is moving and she recommends the MoveTools app, then brand advocacy is in action.
A mobile application can also reinforce a brand’s core qualities. As mentioned, State Farm is not in the moving business. But, as an insurance company would like to be known, they are in the “help you with big life decisions” business.
They want their customers to think of them first if they have a critical or difficult experience or change in life. Whether it’s an auto accident, a tornado disaster, or knowing loved ones are taken care of if the head of the household dies, there are answers and security in the brand.
That’s why MoveTools is such an appropriate brand advocate. It reinforces the fact that State Farm is a brand of strength and expertise—a leader in their industry.
A mobile application can also be a significant differentiator for you in your market or industry. If you have a message to put out, you need to find ways to stand out, especially if you are broadcasting your message in a cacophony of other messages.
Because mobile content delivery is still a nascent technology, there is a good chance you are delivering your message on this platform before your competitors or from whomever you need to distance yourself. Mobile also says you are progressive and forward-thinking.
Let your audience know that you care enough about them to deliver information to their mobile devices so you can get the message right into their hands any time, anywhere. Like any longstanding company, State Farm fights an image that they are conservative.
The MoveTools application sends the message that, as a company, they are adapting to new technology to meet the needs of their target audience. This result shows that the mobile application not only reinforces the core qualities of the brand, but it can also start and fortify new qualities, too.
One final clue that the goal of this application is to strengthen the State Farm brand: it is available for free. State Farm wants it in the hands of anyone who wants to use it or even thinks he or she might use it.
The messaging about the brand is meant for public consumption—for customers and non-customers alike. So what is the ROI for this app?
After countless successful user experiences, State Farm has “hired” an untold amount of brand advocates, working for free in their neighborhoods and towns. Not a bad ROI!
Developing a Mobile Management Strategy
We all know the scene. Row after row of cubicles as far as the eye can see with each one looking almost exactly the same. That may describe a corporation you have visited, or perhaps you can look down the aisle from where you sit and see that very landscape.
You’ll also notice that each cubicle contains a computer. From desktop to desktop, the PC is the same make, same model, and if you were to boot it up, the same applications are locked and loaded. Why is everything the same? Why can’t employees have a little hardware and software freedom of expression in their jobs?
You don’t need to go much further than to ask the first company IT technician who walks past your cubicle. It is his or her job to keep your computer and all the hardware and software in the company running smoothly and to keep it stable and manageable.
Yes, that charge does keep you restricted to a specific PC and on a predetermined operating system (OS) that may all seem hopelessly out of date, but it also keeps you and everyone else in the company, well, up and running (for the most part).
But what if all the rules changed? What if everyone had different computers, different models, different brand names, different operating systems, a different assortment of applications, different email clients, different . . . everything?
That dilemma is what IT departments are facing in the mobile age. A plethora of devices, operating systems, and applications are all coming to play in the corporate workspace.
And their job is to manage and maintain all of these devices, as well as keep them working for you properly so you can do your job. Mobile content delivery in the workplace has caused IT departments to expand their knowledge base exponentially to accommodate the new technologies, or to put a stranglehold on multiple platforms in order to keep things under control.
Traditionally, the IT department is accustomed to exerting control over computers within an organization. IT controls the software installations, licensing, backups, patches, versioning, upgrades, and security.
IT also acts as a guarantor for information systems. They ensure maximum availability and information integrity, act as a policing system for violations of policy or threats to security, offer technical expertise for swift problem resolution, and maintain technical relationships with partners.
These tasks and services have become dependent on their ability to maintain centralization. The sudden influx of privately owned mobile devices into the workplace has become a threat to the established order.
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
The advent of smartphones and tablets at affordable prices means that high-capacity computing outside the control of IT is entering the workplace. This new upstart technology has less overall capability than the old PC-based systems, but greater flexibility afforded through peripherals, specialized apps, texting, imaging, and voice. The portability and sheer convenience mean that these devices are being used in employee functions.
For example, outside salespeople have become dependent on these devices to keep them connected, at any time, to their clients and sales support teams.
They use them to touch base with the customers, run conference calls, maintain their contact lists, organize their leads and sales funnels, text their technical staff, keep up with industry announcements, follow professional publications . . . the list goes on.
A side-effect of mobile is that these devices are effectively substituting for traditional computers and their software systems in many day-to-day tasks.
Laptops, in particular—which are less convenient to the mobile worker than the average mobile device (they must be removed from a case, powered up, and physically supported)—are being replaced for some activities, often by the employee’s own decision.
This is not simply an issue of redundancy of equipment. This movement can have serious consequences for IT because established systems begin to unravel when replaced by external, independent alternatives. This risk is pronounced when IT is slow in accommodating innovation.
In the case of salespeople, who are totally focused on making sales and generating revenue, there may be a risk of them adopting their own personal sales support systems on their mobile devices and not using the corporate-sponsored software packages.
This is clearly an issue and, should this person be a high-performance employee bringing much value to the bottom line, a difficult one to solve.
First, mobile technologies may enable a salesperson’s success; therefore, interference may be detrimental to the organization’s income.
Second, it’s difficult to discipline a renegade for being successful and “A” players may choose to move on rather than conform. Mobile device users need to be accommodated, and this must be in a manner that also addresses the concerns of the organization.
Accommodation of mobile technologies can be accomplished through issuing standardized, corporate devices (also called corporate liable devices), or through the concept of “bring your own device” (BYOD), where the organization embraces the idea of a mobilized workforce, but the workers supply their own hardware, such as an iPhone or Android device.
Many organizations are finding that their employees are pushing for this. Ricoh America, in response to the mobile tsunami, recently opened the door for BYOD for its sales, field engineers, and administrative staff. Ricoh CEO Tracey Rothenberger states:
Technology is moving very fast with the introduction of new devices every month, and we didn’t want to sit down and maintain a refresh strategy on something that was a personal decision for each employee. . . . We do not care what employees bring to work as long as they follow our corporate policies for usage of the device and protection of proprietary information.
Mobile technology, especially BYOD, raises new problems that need to be resolved. These include security, software interoperability and data sharing, ownership and control, and who pays for what.
Security and Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT)
A related trend, bring your own technology (BYOT), is an extreme form of BYOD. It allows a user to bring his or her own device, software, and usage patterns to the workplace.
For example, BYOD allows employees to make their own selection of smartphones and/ or tablets, but IT and other stakeholders establish software and usage patterns. BYOT extends the BYOD concept by allowing employees to select their own software combinations in ways they feel enable them to perform their duties.
BYOT, like BYOD, is becoming more prevalent in organizations. This adds yet another element of complexity to IT because of the sheer distance from corporate-sponsored software. Each organization needs to decide whether they wish to take active measures to stop it, control it, or facilitate it.
Lost/Stolen Devices and Ex-Employees
An organization’s private data is its property and is the “soul” of the business. Mobile devices may contain customer contact lists, technical data, and even sensitive material about the state of the business. Because of this, these devices pose a substantial threat in the wrong hands. A lost or stolen device could be used in fraud or corporate espionage.
A personal device, owned by a former worker, could be the source of abuse should that worker try to leverage corporate information for his or her own benefit (e.g., a former employee using a client contact list to steal business for a competing company), or in retaliation for a perceived wrong (e.g., a disgruntled former employee publicly leaks sensitive information to damage the organization).
Banks and financial institutions, faced with the risk of unmanaged devices and their possible loss, are very concerned about finding a solution. They seem to be aware that this solution will have to evolve alongside the rapidly changing technology it addresses.
Software and Information Homogeneity and Control
Organization efficiency requires that information technology staff standardize its software. This allows for effective training, usage guidelines, and cost control, compliance with licensing agreements, support for contracts, maintaining interoperability, and data sharing. Mobile devices, living outside these standards, create a risk of destabilization of this regime.
First, mobile adds an additional layer of technology that IT must address. Second, it introduces hardware and software variability into the existing workspace, already pressed for people and expertise. Third, without controls, IT can no longer guarantee the completeness of company data. How do they know what is going on in those devices?
Consider the issue of malware prevention software. Not yet a major problem with mobile devices, it is only a matter of time before a major incident occurs that compromises a large multi-national or public institution. IT departments are responsible to maintain information security; therefore, they will be on the hook for system disruptions or security breaches.
A great deal of investment has been made in selecting, implementing, and optimizing corporate information systems. This investment has not only consisted of time and money but in developing a vision that is closely tied to organizational goals. These goals originated from the top decision-makers.
The idea that this order, which was hard to achieve, will suddenly fall because of the potential chaos of mobile technologies is about as welcome as a dam bursting in a rainstorm. With the arrival of mobile, both IT and executives will want to keep as much of their control structure as is possible.
Private Property, Corporate Property
In BYOD environments, mobile devices are often the property of workers, and this leads to conflicts when corporations wish to exercise control, at any level, over these devices.
Another concern is that not all workers own mobile devices. Mandating ownership at the worker’s personal cost may be resented, and this would be a prickly issue in a unionized workplace.
This is likely to be seen as an attempt at cost reduction by offloading business expenses to the employees. Attempting to enforce brand choices and/or control the device would inflame the situation.
Organizations can provide standardized devices to their workers, and this is an excellent solution for some businesses. Institutions and corporations requiring specialized security (government, research) or rugged devices (warehousing, manufacturing) would likely follow this approach.
This is not so simple in other cases because it presents two problems. One, the organization may now incur the cost of a personal computer and a mobile device for each employee— an expensive proposition. Two, people don’t want to carry two mobile devices (one for business and one for personal use); the extra bulk is contrary to the idea of mobile.
Once again, a company’s outside sales force provides a good example. They are highly mobile people who want to minimize the weight they carry, especially through airports, while maximizing their connectedness. Allowing limited personal use on a business-issued device is an option, but it’s not an ideal situation for either party.
The issue becomes even more complicated when information services are provided to partners, affiliates, and customers. An acceptable compromise between private ownership and corporate ownership must be found.
Circling the Wagons: Mobile Management Strategy
Because of the sudden increase in mobile technologies, there has been a sharp rise in the need for enterprise mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM) as companies strive to maintain order in employee use of mobile technologies.
There is some confusion about the difference between the two types of technology management, but there doesn’t need to be.
Just as it sounds, MDM is the setup, allocation, and support of the mobile devices used by the employees for company purposes, and MAM is the deployment, management, and support of the applications on the devices used by those same employees.
That may sound overly simplistic, but misunderstandings are becoming more prevalent as the two fields become bunged together.
This problem is mostly the result of solution vendors who are selling products and services that offer a “one size fits all” combination of MDM and MAM. The issue is only going to become more complicated when companies start selling mobile data management platforms.
Mobile device management provides a series of challenges. First, which mobile devices are employees going to use for their company activities?
This doesn’t just pertain to mobile learning, but also to their email, alerts, calendaring, company intranet usage, and so on. Because MDM governs the device itself, it is concerned with the activities of the entire device; it makes the device secure and controlled, but can be seen as intrusive.
For example, MDM can prevent users from performing activities that are viewed as counterproductive, such as playing games or using Facebook. Device content can also be controlled. This is not an ethical solution when BYOD is mandated. Simply put, it’s bad form to try to manage devices when you don’t own them.
MDM may also present significant stumbling blocks when partners, affiliates, and customers are involved; they may be opposed to an IT department viewing or having access to their data.
If employees use devices that they personally own, the enterprise will need to determine the right balance for the employee between the company and personal usage. If a company does follow the BYOD model, the devices can be smartly provisioned to make it easier for the user to separate business and pleasure.
BYOD does make life easier for end-users because they are comfortable on their own devices, but it creates challenges for IT because it is harder to support the variety of devices that result.
BYOD can also have a bearing on your application development as apps will have to be designed for many different devices and operating systems, which can mean a substantial amount of development time.
The other alternative is for the enterprise to purchase and equip all the employees who will participate in mobile learning with identical mobile devices, an approach sometimes called “corporately liable.”
Obviously, there is an expense involved for this approach, but it also allows for much greater control, as all users will have the same device with the same OS and have access to the same applications.
IT will also be able to build layers of security that function the same across the entire audience and that make the devices safer and more secure. All of the devices, no matter what the make, will have a specific ID number.
For instance, Apple devices have a UDID number that allows for management and security to be device-specific. All devices have unique identifiers of some sort, whether a serial number, IMEI, or some other manufacturer-specific number.
Mobile Device Management Strategy
Mobile device management is primarily intended to fulfill a security role. In the event of a lost/stolen device, or should an employee leave the company, the mobile device can be blocked, locked, or erased to protect organizational information.
It also allows IT staff to administer mobile devices in a manner similar to PCs in order to maximize standardization, minimize downtime due to problems, and enforce usage policy. Functions include application installations, firmware and software upgrades, scheduled backups, remote diagnostics, device history logging, and policy enforcement.
BlackBerry Enterprise Server is an example of an MDM solution designed to provision, audit, and protect smartphones and tablets through a centralized administrative interface. Their newer product, BlackBerry Fusion, is intended to work in a BYOD environment and supports BlackBerry, iOS and Android devices.
With Fusion, there is limited allowance through a component called BlackBerry Balance to separate personal and business information. This is biased toward the protection of corporate data, is only available on Playbook 2.0 and enabled BlackBerry smartphones, including the Blackberry 10, and is optional.
There are many other MDM providers, particularly for iOS devices. Examples include AirWatch, BoxTone, MobileIron, and Good Technology, to name just a few.
Mobile Application Management Strategy
We are used to going to an app store and downloading an app for free or for a small fee. But do you want your employees to be going to the Apple App Store or Google Play for their company m-learning? Probably not. Some vendor solutions are available that allow you to set up your own app store that has your own branding.
This is a big plus for those enterprises that have spent a lot of time and money building a company “university” identity. Your development team and IT work together to set up the store, and your learners simply tap the store icon to retrieve their apps.
The whole process works the same as the retail app stores, but this store is the company’s and gives the needed security and management options. The ease of downloading gives your learners a positive user experience, which is important, especially on your first rollout of m-learning.
Good mobile application management demands other requirements so your learners have access to the best and current versions of apps. You will want to push notifications to let them know when a new iteration of an app is available with new content or bug and security fixes. They’ll also need to know when a totally new app is available.
Your application management will help in other areas, such as security and metrics. There is greater control over the apps, as it becomes possible to disable and even wipe an app remotely if something appears wrong in the authentication of the user or the device.
Mobile apps can actually be more secure than e-learning, and that will be good news for executive management and the IT department.
It’s also important knowing who specifically is using your app. Mobile application management will give you helpful metrics, such as who is downloading the app, whether the app has launched, how many times it is used, and other critical measures of effectiveness.
If you have goals related to your mobile learning, such as ROI, these metrics can be extremely beneficial to building an m-learning success story.
Mobile application management (MAM) is a strategy based on governing specific mobile applications deployed on a device, not the device itself. The functions are similar to MDM but less intrusive on the user’s private space.
Because MAM is not concerned with what is globally occurring within the mobile device, it is well adapted for a BYOD environment when property and privacy rights are to be respected.
MAM does not have all of the capabilities of MDM, because it functions at the application level. This may be an issue if a company wants to enforce usage policies and device-wide audits. MDM and MAM are not necessarily exclusive and may complement one another in some workplaces, but they are quite redundant.
MAM typically controls distribution and upgrading through a distribution API or an enterprise app store. Security can be applied to individual apps through MAM, whether an MDM solution is employed or not, and can protect against breaches or violation of policy. There are three basic approaches:
1. Using a MAM SDK: This requires recoding apps to communicate with an administrative server, a process that requires additional resources and therefore restricts apps to corporate selections.
App updates may present additional problems, as IT will need to rebuild new versions for each distribution. This is a very customizable solution and may be well suited to organizations that build their own custom apps. An example of an SDK solution provider is AirWatch.
2. Containers: This approach requires IT to fit the app into a security “container” within the device, where all of the contents are subject to a predetermined security paradigm, including access and encryption.
Container contents can be selectively wiped by IT, when necessary. This is not very customizable but can be simpler and easier to maintain. As an example, Accelian uses a container in its mobile management solution.
3. Cloud and Middleware Solutions: Some solutions are able to work with existing apps, without changing their source code or using a container, by relying on the cloud and middleware.
When data and sensitive services reside in the cloud, middleware can be employed to create device transparency for IT and solutions developers, as well as handle many security issues.
This higher degree of flexibility may prove very useful when BYOT is permitted. The additional layers may prove problematic, particularly in isolating support issues. An example of a product using this approach is Apperian’s EASE product.
Making a Decision
In response to BYOD and BYOT conflicts, perhaps an organization would be in the position of greatest advantage to offer a stipend for mobile users to accommodate some of the mobile device costs.
This is not a perfect solution and not everyone will be happy with it; however, it would allow the organization and worker to treat the mobile device as a “shared space.”
MDM is a good choice for devices that demand high-security features or complete uniformity. It is also a good choice for issued devices when it need not concern itself with a user’s personal data. Quite simply, personal use is not the organization’s responsibility; personal usage may even be against policy, and MDM can help enforce this.
MAM may be a better choice in many cases. In a BYOD setting, corporate information is still protected without compromising privacy and property rights. It is also worth considering that mobile devices free the users and allow them to perform their jobs in creative and effective ways.
There are many innovation opportunities for mobile devices, and the number of apps available for mobile users is steadily increasing; excessive control can defeat this advantage.
For an organization wanting to leverage this advantage, an approach using containers or the cloud-and-middleware combination may be the better option.
In spite of all that we have said about mobile device management and mobile application management, the first step is to build an overall mobile learning strategy for your specific needs. You won’t be able to make an informed decision about MDM or MAM until you know what requirements you have that are unique to your enterprise.
A vendor solution might be just right, or a custom solution might be in order. Be careful of being shoehorned into a solution that makes you compromise on your priorities.