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Mobile learning architectures in Professional Services

This post first appeared on the LINE blog on 8th December 2011.

Andrew Joly, Design Director, and Bruce Woods, Director and Professional Services Sector Lead, address mobile learning. What learning needs does mobile learning address well? How is mobile learning different from desktop learning? How does mobile learning integrate into a broader learning architecture?

Over the last 12 months we have found ourselves discussing and proposing a view of learning that encompasses the myriad of different channels, tools, content types and strategies that we now have available to us as we design effective learning solutions for our clients.

We have called this approach Learning Architectures, and continue to evolve our thinking with the welcome input from our clients and colleagues in the industry. The ultimate plan has always been to codify the way different elements are best used in conjunction with one another to bring results in different sectors, or relating to specific learning challenges (like Induction or Compliance, say). Professional Services, being a sector we have known well for many years, remains one of our focuses and brings its own specific challenges.

Mobiles are rapidly becoming (or have become) the most ubiquitous and powerful communication channel in the sector. But where should we be looking to leverage mobile technologies in a Professional Services learning architecture?

The first important point we would make (while this may seem like stating the obvious, it is clear that there is still some confusion around this area) is the difference between e-learning on the mobile (where mobile devices are being used to play out short e-learning nuggets) and genuine mobile learning (where the solution is inherently provided by the technologies within a mobile device).  The former might be more suited to larger screen tablets, and may involve deeper processing of knowledge into more traditional learning outcomes.  Genuine mobile learning however, would be more like the delivery of specific knowledge, data and information related to circumstances and immediate on-the-job requirements.

We often look at mobile learning possibilities on this continuum:

Just-in-Case: more like e-learning delivered on mobile devices; almost certainly, however, in smaller units (we call them nuggets) and tending towards functional and low challenge learning and knowledge delivery; may be geared towards downtime and on-the-move use (not reliant on network connection) reporting back to an LMS for tracking.  An example might be compliance training or assessment, headlines of policy updates, awareness, magazines or ‘learnzines’.  LINE has developed what we call an iAcademy concept to aggregating small chunks and resources into meaningful learning journeys that could be delivered on a tablet or smartphone.

Just-in-time: pulled nuggets or resources for more immediate, task-specific use; searchable, bookmarked, rateable and always available; job-aids and mixed media content that is easily updatded and managed.  An app that focussed on this type of content is what we might call an iHub.  An example might be a sector or client specific summary that could be drawn down immediately prior to a meeting or situation.

Just Enough: potentially a mix of either of the above but personalised, learner or subject specific.  For example, a policy is updated but a learner has already undertaken elements and updates that have not changed  – they only need to engage with the relevant parts of the learning.  The mobile device becomes their content ‘mentor’.

Just-for-me: taking all the above a step further but using (native) peripheral functionality provided by the devices, like GPS (& device tracking) or Augmented Reality.  An example: a consultant working on site is delivered client specific updates – or is able to see and connect quickly with other colleagues in the building.

Hopefully, this is all fuel for thought.  Remember – use the mobile device for what it’s good at and, until we drop all other forms of communication technology in its favour, consider how it fits into a whole learning architecture.  Finally, it should go without saying that any mobile learning strategy should be based on what learners genuinely need to support or enhance their business performance, and how they are currently using their phones and tablets – that way the strategy can only be a success.