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2012: the year of BYOD?

Following on from my pre-Christmas piece, Two key learning trends you might have missed this year: MOOCs and OA, it is also worth noting the rapid rise in 2012 of BYOD (bring your own device) as a phenomenon.

This is hardly something you would have missed as an L&D professional engaged with workplace learning, but at this ruminantive, reflecting time of year it is worth giving a little thought to what a profound change BYOD represents, and how the learning landscape has changed around it.

BYOD - Woman using multiple devices phone laptop and tablet lying in a wood bench in a park

The first thing worth noting is that BYOD is a ‘bottom-up’ movement. This is people deciding for themselves how they want to work, and by extension, how they want to learn. With all the rhetoric there has been over the last decade or so about ‘the self-directed learner’, often in the face of considerable cynicism, it is heartening to see signs of this behavioural shift being manifested as a wider phenomenon in organisational behaviour.

That having been said, it cannot be ignored that BYOD brings many difficulties. The obvious one is security (Bring Your Own Danger), but for L&D in particular headaches are also provided when it comes to e-learning design and delivery.

In this respect, the multi-device/multiformat world we are moving into is a noticeable turnaround from the situation of a few years ago. Previously, IT departments mandated the computers and devices to be used by the workforce, and design of technology-enabled learning programmes began with a set of infrastructure ‘givens’, chief among which was a quite closely specified access device.

With the rise of m-learning, however, it became common to develop learning for multiple platforms.

Getting on the front foot with multi-platform learning

This was a highly reactive process at first. Something that began on desktop might be repurposed in Year Two for smartphone, and then in the next year, be once again re-engineered, this time for tablet. By proliferating the number of target devices available, BYOD has added further impetus to the desire for a write-once-publish-everywhere environment. Organisations naturally want to get on the front foot. With responsive design that desire is now – at last – able to be fulfilled. It is possible to develop for a much wider range of devices without creating specific style-sheets for each one, and therefore to take a less reactive stance.

However, if a programme requires using particular native device functionality, (e.g. gps, particular media-players), responsive design will not provide an easy answer: it will still be necessary to take an app route and to design for specific target devices. Neither is BYOD the whole story when it comes to equipping staff with appropriate technology for their changing needs: organisations will always need to specify particular target devices to meet particular organisational ends.

No longer is that target device always a locked-down desktop PC. We now see a far more flexible provision when it comes to learning delivery. It is now far more common to mandate and supply a particular device for a particular learning need – for instance; replacing expensive-to-produce, hard-to-update printed manuals with e-information on tablets, saving cost and expanding possibilities at the same time. The concerted will of an organisation is required to find these sort of efficiencies, and cannot be led by bottom-up phenomena like BYOD.

The most likely picture in coming years is not of BYOD taking over, but of the two models of ownership co-existing. So given that, how does BYOD fit in to the future of multi-device, cross-platform learning?

A Kindle is not just for Christmas

The answer to this question undoubtedly lies in looking at our own use of devices as consumers.

Many people will have acquired a new device this December in their Christmas stockings, and might perhaps have experienced a moment of slight despond amidst the generally joyful sensations – here is a new interface to learn; a new charger to remember to pack every time you go away; more space to find in your already crowded ‘go bag’, and a potential tussle with IT over them letting you use it at work.

The truth is that we are becoming increasingly used to juggling a range of devices in our daily lives. They all tend to do very similar jobs, but they don’t all do them equally well. So you tend to find you need an iPhone for looking up your next train, a Kindle for reading the latest Ian Rankin once you get on it, your desktop at the office for multitasking email, Facebook, PowerPoint and Word … and then that slick little iPad for doing whizzy product demonstrations in that important client meeting.

As BYOD comes to be more widespread, some of these machines will be personal possessions, while others will be provided by the company you work for. And the probable future of learning is that it will be integrated seamlessly into that workflow, and use each and every one of those devices. For example … Read a textbook on your Kindle, access a role-related glossary on your iPhone, take a simulation-based assessment exercise on your desktop, and carry an iPad into the work situation with you for rapid reference.

As we turn our faces towards the New Year, this is quite probably the future many of us will be taking active steps to prepare for and realise.

BYOD - use of multi-device

This post was written by John Helmer and first appeared on the LINE blog on 2nd January 2013.