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Is technology still a barrier to implementation? What major European business leaders have to say on multiplatform learning

Harriet Croxton reports from the LINE Zurich Forum event. European business leaders debate the barriers and enablers to mobile and multiplatform learning.

Earlier this month senior learning and development professionals from a number of major Swiss global corporations and national organisations met together at the LINE Zurich Forum. The Forum combines a fine lunch, thought-provoking presentations and roundtable discussions on burning issues for the global learning and development profession.

The general topic of the Forum was multiplatform learning with a particular emphasis on mobile learning (M-Learning).

Mobile learning at Credit Suisse

Martin Raske, Head of Global eLearning at Credit Suisse, opened the forum with a short history of Credit Suisse’s involvement with M-Learning.

Credit Suisse was first prompted to explore M-Learning in 2006 when it heard from its employees that other banks were using mobile technology to deliver compliance training.

Credit Suisse responded by undertaking a number of pilot projects in the subsequent three years:

• A mobile-ready online Advent Calendar to communicate key business information
• Monthly podcasts on management skills
• “Management in a nutshell”: a series of three-minute learning nuggets optimised for use on mobile devices

Evaluation of the pilot projects revealed that the various innovative ways of delivering training were very well received but that the majority of users were still opting for the desktop as their default device for technology-based training.

Credit Suisse plan to continue developing their M-Learning capabilities but acknowledge that the present IT infrastructure makes this difficult. They therefore plan to invest heavily to ensure they can effectively deliver learning to mobile devices.

multiplatform learning in the workplace

Successful multiplatform learning

Ade Derbyshire-Moore, General Manager of LINE Communications Zurich, in turn made the case for M-Learning, looking at its specific application and presenting a number of examples created by LINE, for example:

• Cultural Awareness for the British Army: a media-rich course for troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, successfully “ported” from the desktop to the iPhone.
• Dealership Training for Ford of Europe: an example of high-quality video content optimised for mobile devices that allowed dealers to present new features to the customer without taking them away from the vehicle.

Ade’s argument was that there was a definite place for mobile technology in learning, particularly with the new features offered by the newest generation of smartphones. However, like all technologies it needed to be used appropriately as a part of a convergent blended strategy that combined a range of different kinds of learning with communication and performance support. It was not enough to simply repurpose existing e-learning content and methodologies.

The barriers to multiplatform learning

The presentations provoked lively discussion amongst the participants. Most could see potential uses for M-Learning within their organisations, but were concerned about whether the potential business benefits would justify the initial investment. Challenges to overcome were:

• The high investment costs for creating an enterprise-ready mobile content delivery platform
• The need to ensure that the target population all had suitable smartphones to access learning content
• The reluctance of more traditional employees to take to accessing learning content on a mobile device
• The need to redefine the distinction between time at work and time away from work: if I am working through an M-Learning course on the way to work is this counted towards my working hours? (Admittedly more of an issue for European working culture rather than, for example, American or British)

However, many in the group thought that it would only be a matter of time before things would change:

• Generation Y employees would demand content that they could access at any time, including when they were on the move.
• They would also be comfortable with the blurring between traditional learning (even traditional e-learning), communications campaigns, just-in-time performance support and the rapid sharing of information via social networks.

Henrik Mansson, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Mövenpick Hotels and Resorts Management made the point that his much younger workforce was keen to learn but found it difficult to access traditional learning opportunities. He could see that they would relish being able to access learning via mobile devices.

The discussion about the blurring of the boundaries between learning, communications and knowledge led the Forum participants to the topic of learning networks.

Jo Rossouw of Nestlé told the Forum about the “Expert Network” they had set up that allowed Nestlé employees to easily link up with recognised experts in the organisation. In the future Nestlé plans to introduce additional technology to allow teams to share information and resources more easily with each other around the world.

Sonia Reverchon of Philip Morris, on the other hand, acknowledged that they found it challenging sharing knowledge effectively amongst their different markets, particularly in regions that lacked the necessary communications infrastructure.

The Forum participants agreed with the concept of creating peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing networks, noting that most people would be happy to be acknowledged as experts, provided that their support was managed in a controlled fashion. Indeed, there was some intense discussion about whether we as a society were outgrowing the “Knowledge is Power” mindset to a more collaborative one of “Knowledge Shared is Power”. Many were comfortable with this new way of thinking, while others were more sceptical.

Conclusion

Despite being around for a number of years, M-Learning still is in its infancy. As with many new learning technologies the emphasis so far has been too much on the technology itself rather than on its learning application and its use within a larger learning blend.

It is quite clear that modern mobile devices are potentially a very powerful tool for learning and communications specialists, provided they think beyond just the traditional e-learning paradigm. These devices can deliver powerful communications pieces, just-in-time performance support as well as allowing instant exchange of information with peers and networks. However, the use of mobile technology presupposes a more joined-up approach to learning and communications where learning, communications and knowledge are all elements of a greater strategy.

Where mobile devices are already being used for training, the group agreed that by joining up training with corporate communications and pushing both out via this method, the adoption of these platforms would improve. In reality our traditional view of technology based learning is slowly becoming outdated anyway. It is being replaced by a convergence between learning, knowledge and communication. In this context the smartphone becomes an excellent tool to deliver content to a mobile and time-poor audience

So is M-Learning at the top of the hype curve or now emerging stronger from an initial dip? We think the latter.

With over 8 million people in the UK (16% of adults) accessing the internet on their mobile phone in the first quarter of 2009, up 40% on the previous year (source: Gartner, March 2009), smartphone usage is clearly on the increase – users will come to expect everything at their fingertips!

This blog first appeared on the LINE website on August 5th 2010.