Integrating Mobile Into Your Corporate Learning


It’s safe to say that mobile devices have taken over the world. Recent statistics from The GSM Association, a trade group of mobile operators, show that there are more mobile devices worldwide than people.

With the proliferation of mobile — smartphones and tablets as well as the software on such devices — has come a gradual but steady integration in the workplace. A decade ago, this was demonstrated by the blurring of lines between work and home as more employees were equipped with company-issued mobile phones. Today, work is done increasingly using some form of mobile technology, and the devices people use aren’t always company-owned.

It is a transformation that is being felt especially hard in the learning and development industry as talent managers look to use employees’ mobile reliance to help perform more efficiently at their jobs.

In its “Global Human Capital Trends 2015” report, professional services firm Deloitte found that about 85 percent of companies said learning was “important” or “very important,” up 21 percent from the previous year.

Still, respondents also said that, despite demand, capabilities in learning and their ability to provide critical content was dropping. In fact, the gap between importance and readiness was three times worse in 2015 than in 2014, according to the report. Such a hole has opened up an opportunity for organizations to better maximize learning on mobile devices.

“Corporate America is trying to catch up with the way people learn today,” said Bill Pelster, an internal practitioner and U.S. learning solutions partner at Deloitte. “As employers we need to catch up to how people are consuming data, which is why we’re seeing a huge movement to upgrade learning technologies and learning management systems so that they’re mobile-enabled.”

For Mobile Success, Think Small

In traditional e-learning or classroom-style learning, practitioners strive to achieve multiple objectives in a single course or event with the hope that employees will absorb the information right then and there.

This format, learning experts say, runs in contrast to how today’s employees consume information on two fronts. First, employees aim to learn information as soon as they need it on the job. Second, they want it in a convenient, bite-sized format.

Mobile and digital technologies are the ideal delivery method for this so-called “microlearning.” In the book “Understanding Occupational & Organizational Psychology,” organizational psychologist Lynne Millward wrote that most people are more effective at understanding information when it’s delivered in bite-sized pieces compared with processing large amounts of information in one sitting. This suggests that talent managers need to design learning entirely differently.

“There is a lot to consider when instituting mobile learning,” said Kristina Bauer, a visiting assistant professor of psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and a researcher in the field of self-regulated learning with an emphasis on technology. “You can’t just take traditional classroom materials, or even e-learning materials, and force them into a mobile learning platform.”

Employees also have certain expectations of mobile learning, particularly the need for the experience to be short.

“Based on research in educational settings, learners expect shorter chunks,” Bauer said. “No one wants to stare at their phone for an hour like they might do when taking an e-learning course at a laptop or desktop. They want shorter modules, around 20 minutes in length.”

Chicago-based global hospitality company Hyatt Hotels Corp. uses a focused approach with its mobile learning. “Until recently Hyatt had a fairly traditional learning approach that was classroom-based with someone at the front of the room telling employees how and what to learn,” said Christy Sinnott, the company’s vice president of learning.

In addition, Hyatt had different global perspectives on learning that were often compliance- or leadership-driven, and local teams made decisions about the best learning methodologies. “Today, we’ve re-established a set of principles to help us deliver learning in a way that best fits the employee, and mobile and social is a key part of that,” Sinnott said.

Learning videos have also been essential for Hyatt. “Hotels, like a lot of other industries, have many core tasks that need to be the same from property to property,” Sinnott said. “People used to be trained in these tasks by paper in a step-by-step written script.” The flaw in this approach, Sinnott said, is that there were no visuals showing what the end result looks like.

With Hyatt’s new learning approach, these written tasks became 10 visuals translated into video.

“So today instead of reading a script, an employee can use their iPad or iPhone and view a series of pictures to walk through expectations of how certain tasks are expected to be completed at Hyatt — like how to set a table, pour a bottle of wine or make a bed,” Sinnott said. Reliance on images also helps eliminate language barriers, a common factor given Hyatt’s global scope.

Additionally, bite-sized learning proved critical when Hyatt upgraded its customer-facing systems, a frequent occurrence in the hospitality industry.

“Having to go through a two-hour class teaching me how to use a new sales system, when I really only need to know how to enter the guest name, just doesn’t make sense,” Sinnott said. Today, “it’s about short snippets that are task-focused so employees can get what they need when they need it.”

Research backs up the use of video as a vital element of microlearning. According to media measurement firm Nielsen, video is the most popular medium consumed globally. It is also the content delivery system that most appeals to millennials, those born roughly between 1980 and 2000 — about 70 percent visit YouTube monthly, according to Nielsen.

Financial giant American Express Co. is piloting a new global learning portal with the goal of providing more consistent, prescriptive learning across the organization. “Our goal is to create and deploy manageable bites of learning through video and shorter pieces of content to minimize the time our employees spend learning and maximize the time they spend applying that learning on the job,” said Megan Bilson, the company’s vice president of global learning solutions.

Other employers are taking the shift toward mobile learning one step further by segmenting bite-sized learning by employee type.

‘Corporate America is trying to catch up with the way people learn today.’

—Bill Pelster,internal practitioner and U.S. learning solutions partner, Deloitte

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina has two mobile portals in place. One is partitioned for executives, people leaders and professional development; the second is open to all employees.

“Both portals are loaded with articles, videos and a host of learning assets that vary according to the audience, and we feel both serve a need for on-demand learning as well as long-term development,” said Adri Maisonet-Morales, vice president of enterprise learning and development at the regional insurer.

Maisonet-Morales said the health care space is ripe for opportunity with mobile learning.

“On-the-go technology is great for sales teams where there are in-the-moment demands,” she said, “but we’ve also seen great success with our operational areas. With constant changes in regulations, processes and procedures, it was imperative for us to find a way to get knowledge and skills-building information in the hands of our workforce exactly when they need it.”

The company is also seeing a payoff in terms of customer satisfaction since they’ve shifted to mobile-based learning. “Our data has shown with a significant decrease in the number of instructor-led classes we’ve seen an increase in customer satisfaction,” Maisonet-Morales said.

Learner-Controlled Content

In the age of mobile learning, many practitioners today say they view their role more as a facilitator ofemployee-guided learning rather than the end-all voice of content. Companies give employees access to information via apps and other digital technologies while also creating channels for employees to connect and learn from each other.

At global software provider SAP, digital technology is at the heart of learning and development. “We are working toward what we call next generation, employee-driven learning,” said Jenny Dearborn, the company’s senior vice president and chief learning officer. This means new sources of content, new delivery methods like mobile and digital, and personalized “in the moment, right for you” content.

“Our SAP SuccessFactors learning approach includes learning communities where employees can share information, answer questions or collaborate in real time,” Dearborn said. “They can identify subject-matter experts from whom they can learn, and all of this can be performed inside or outside the office.”

Giving specific groups of employees the mobile content they need may also drive better return on investment.

“Sales teams can get the latest training content or learn competitive information in our sales enablement groups,” Dearborn said. “New sales reps can ramp up and learn more quickly to shorten time-to-revenue with recommendations on content, people and groups that they should become engaged with.”

Customer service is another organizational function where SAP says it is seeing dividends. “Customer service or field service teams can participate in issue-resolution groups with teams engaged in problem-solving on new products, enabling learning from other teams,” Dearborn said. “Employees can also run internal or external question and answer groups expanding their knowledge.”

Mobile learning at aviation firm Honeywell Aerospace is transforming its client relationships. “When a salesperson sits in front of a client with their iPad or iPhone and our app, they instantly have access to records of every aircraft their client has ever owned, the entire maintenance history, every product they’ve every purchased, and every penny they’ve ever spent with Honeywell,” said Chad Langford, co-founder of Stepframe, the developers of the company’s mobile learning tool.

In addition to helping that salesperson excel on the job, Langford said this level of information availability allows sales teams to engage with clients in more meaningful ways.

‘On-the-go technology is great for sales teams where there are in-the-moment [learning] demands.’

—Adri Maisonet-Morales,vice president of enterprise learning and development, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina

“The rep can quickly and accurately sell their clients the correct products or services across every type of aircraft,” Langford said. “Notes from previous transactions can also help salespeople see what techniques work best prior to meeting with the client.”

This sharing of information between employees is taking the concept of social media and bringing it into the workplace to create a shared learning environment.

“We’re enabling platforms that allow for user-generated content, and ultimately our focus today is on being the curators of content as opposed to the creators of content,” American Express’ Bilson said.

Mobile learning also opens doors for employees to learn from each other.

“The ability for people to connect is significant,” Hyatt’s Sinnott said. “They can ask questions of colleagues and we’ve found our employees are ‘following’ each other like wildfire on the new platform. We’re also finding one of our most popular features are short leadership videos, which can be launched on desktops or phones.”

Mobile Isn’t for Everyone

Despite mobile’s clear benefits, experts say employers need to be sensitive to the fact that not all learners will respond to content that is delivered through mobile technology.

Longer-tenured employees who are less tech-savvy and more comfortable with traditional learning tools might not learn as successfully. There is also a significant change-management component to rolling outnew digital learning plans.

“The workforce is aging — retirement age is being pushed back, and older workers didn’t grow up with mobile technology,” the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Bauer said. “We really don’t know how the implementation of mobile learning affects them.”

Similarly, mobile learning isn’t a great fit for all organizations or in all situations. It has to fit with a company’s corporate culture and strategic plan.

Bauer offered an example: “Consider a cardiologist. A patient wouldn’t want the cardiologist to have to access his or her mobile phone during surgery because he or she can’t remember a key step in the surgical process. On the other hand, we’d probably be receptive to the same cardiologist using a mobile device to check the side effects of a new anticoagulant.”

Then there is the question of work-life balance. While it’s true for most employees that the line between work and home continues to blur, not all employees may be receptive to the expectation of accessing learning content on their mobile devices outside of work.

“If organizations require employees to do too much training on their mobile devices away from work (e.g., training from home or during a commute), then mobile learning is not going to be well-received,” Bauer said.

To that end, it’s also critical that learning teams partner with human resources and legal departments.“It gets complicated with different labor regulations, whether your employees are union or nonunion or even the concept of what happens if someone is reviewing training content on their mobile device and falls,” Deloitte’s Pelster added.

Still, as the complexity of the workplace increases, the consensus is that mobile technologies enhance on-the-job performance in most circumstances.

“Mobile has made a vast array of information more easily accessible anytime, anywhere,” Bauer said. “If implemented properly, it can make the workplace more efficient.”

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