Smart-Phone Led Mobile Learning for Corporates The Future is Now !

The Challenge

I still recall the early chats with my friends from Learning & HR leadership fraternity. E-Learning held so much promise. User-paced; cost effective; repeatable; scalable and focused; the positives were endless. But with increasing complexities, what appeared like initial teething issues or fault-filled implementation, these challenges became increasingly pronounced, but did not get discussed often enough. Especially in the last decade, some of the technology & life style trends have raised the challenges even more. I increasingly hear of situations where course completion rates sit at abysmal 10% levels. I have myself seen situations, where true effectiveness and drop-out rate for participants made my e-learning products user license cost go up to 20 times per actual user, due to under-utilization. With mandatory linkages to reviews and growth one does get much better completion rates. But HR Leader and Learning professionals know only too well that, learning should be self-driven, and should be a pull. True believers of people philosophy would hate to put mandatory conditions for everything. After all, how many aspects can you drive through a policing approach? This Challenge continues and only seems to be worsening.

Changing Life Context

But this has not happened in isolation. Our employees are receiving exponential amounts of information compared to earlier times. Work-place and life expectations have seeded multiple and shifting priorities. Life style patterns have become even more erratic. One has a way to begin the day, but seldom a standard way it would unfold thereafter. Also, if you were to pause and think, you will see that % time spent by people typing has gone up so much; while time spent talking has come down dramatically. A generation that grew on SMSs; has now moved to whts app, facebook and twitter. It is now flooded with 200+ TV channels, and thousands of apps and websites. Needless to say, our attention spans are dropping down rapidly ? We are living in times where The mobile is me, and I am the mobile. This is the world we live in. This is the place that our employees come from.

Given the interconnectedness of all these elements, the paradigm of learning has to tilt appreciably. The Learner is at cross-roads. Thankfully, employees still agree that they have learning needs, and a reasonably positive intent. But just like fitness and exercise, the ability to invest structured time and effort for learning remains a big question for most.

Impact on Corporate Training -Adult Learning against the Young Infant Analogy

To understand the solution, it will be interesting to look at the perspective below. Andragogy The discipline that deals with adult education and learning gives us some insights. Experts like Malcolm Knowles and others have talked about several aspects. Some notable ones being :

  • Adults will only want to learn something they value. They cannot be directed. The pace, place, timing, etc are user driven and owned based on guidance and support. The learner prefers choices rather being mandated.
  • Adults learn things that give Short term here and now benefits rather than longer term gains. They must see how it will help them immediately for a task rather than domain or concept knowledge
  • Past experiences of learners have a role to play. They will create biases and need to be recognized as a variable element between learners.
  • Collective experiences and therefore learning through groups and social interactions have a better leverage.
  • Learning happens much more when adults are taught through problem solving than concepts. Application of the concept is critical and primary focus.
  • Learning happens better in an informal set-up.

A critical evaluation of our programs, especially e-learning would tell you where we are going wrong. But the problem gets compounded further. Actually, while adult learning principles focus on learners intrinsic factors ; there is an opposite interplay that emerges at an extrinsic level The context of the social environment and lifestyle around him. It leads to few behaviors in the learner that is more akin to a young child. In the early years, a child is bombarded with so many new things to see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Everything is a new discovery. In the early years, a child possesses low attention span. It is also extremely difficult to do something structured with the baby. Situations that create a unique Young Child context for an adult learner

Keeping aside the scientific principles, pure common observations would tell you that a child learns a lot of things just naturally. They need constant assistance from someone, who helps reinforce the learning. There has to be a mechanism which will keep the child honest and keeps reinforcing that learning. The child also learns by repetition; but the repetition happens without a formal effort. Learning gets entrenched also through multiple learning opportunities that informally get generated during the course of time; many being different from the other. This interplay of adult need for being guided but not directed; and yet be assisted and kept honest, needs a unique interplay from the technology solution that mobile learning is best suited to address.

Effective management of adult learning principles then leads to another challenge, on which current systems are constrained The Context. Given the preferences of the adult learner; he or she would learn beyond the desk , chair and, or, a class room. Learners can be in any setting – client place, public place, restaurant, amongst people, etc, and almost always virtual. There may be multiple distractions, background noise, and even complementary learning happening in parallel. The informal environment where insight or learning opportunity can emerge can be anywhere. One could be on a holiday, or at a picnic or even be in meeting. It could be sight, sound or thought that could trigger a need for learning or create learning itself. Context could also be situation at hand or the experience and background of the learner.

Smart-Phone Led Mobile Learning Benefits The Likely Answer

The learning solution thus must address this unique combination of adult learning challenges while understanding the patterns that are similar for a child. With maturity in mobile technologies and smart-phone devices, Mobile Learning, and more specifically smart-phone led learning to my mind is an effective answer to these challenges. Depending on need /subject, it is fast emerging as a very effective medium for full-fledged learning , complementary learning tool, assessment support system or a pure reinforcement mechanism. Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL ) has seen a lot of success globally from countries across developed and emerging markets. Effectiveness perception of learning apps stood at 67.3% and 83.9% for learners from the introductory and advanced level respectively. They felt that apps were effective and helpful for their Japanese learning ( source : There are several other study details on the internet which show high effectiveness through mobile based learning. Learners have preferred the flexibility and informality provided by mlearning and even felt that the format enhanced their learning. A large % have also felt that it has helped save time for them while without loss of comprehension. A study of mobile learning for higher education students in Chinas Guangzhou found students prefer to use mobile devices for learning outside rather than in the classroom. In addition, assessment methods were crucial factors for using mobile device to learn. Lastly, reading and searching were the most performed of the M-learning activities (source :

A 2013 survey of mobile learners showed that 99% believed the mobile format and presentation enhanced their learning. 100% said they would complete more training in the mobile format(source: The Towards Maturity Benchmark study shows that expectations of what mobile can add to learning outcomes are at an all time high; 8 out of 10 L&D professionals expect mobile technology to help staff access support at the time of need. 8 out of 10 also believe mobile learning will increase employee engagement. (source:

If we revisit the adult learning preferences above, we see a greater degree of learning when the need for it arises (when there is a particular objective at hand.). Smart phones with their high and only ever growing penetration present that opportunity. They also address the need for informal set-ups, and learning through social groups. If we see the proliferation of social interactions be it whts app, face-book or twitter; a large part happens through the phone. How many times have we seen a good concept, an intelligent and thought provoking video or text message going viral over these platforms. These are nothing but an indication. Today, when we need information, the first search is not going to wait till I open my laptop or tab; but I need it here and now on my smart phone. India is expected to have over 500 million internet users by 2017 and there are over 350 million internet users as of June 2015. Out of the same, as per a report by IAMAI and KPMG, it is projected that India will reach 236 million mobile internet users by 2016, and 314 million by 2017.India will overtake the US as the second largest market for smart phones in the world by 2016 as per global research firm eMarketer.

Similarly, when we look at the aspect of adult learning, where learning is self-driven and not governed; and the user defines the pace, place, timing, etc smart phone and e-learning score much higher. But the challenge of getting structured time for someone to sit formally for 1 or 2 hours is a reality that e-learning is unable to solve. The discipline needed, coupled with reducing attention span makes it even more difficult. To achieve that a learning device should be available when there is an inclination and opportunity for a user. Learning opportunity should be at hand when I get that 10 minute, be it waiting for a meeting to start, a boring conference, or the daily commute time. At that stage it is too inconvenient and formal to open a tab or laptop; but comparatively easy to reach out or and discard something like a smart phone.

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