In January 2012, reported that Apple in its first quarter had sold 15.4 million iPads compared to HP’s fourth-quarter sales of 14.7 million PCs. It’s not a completely fair comparison as HP’s fourth quarter doesn’t include the Christmas season, which usually boosts retailers’ numbers. But, nonetheless, it’s a watershed moment when one considers tablets are now outselling PCs.

For the training industry, the rise of mobile devices, such as the iPad, heralds a change in the way employees, partners and customers can and will learn. Mobile devices and their relationship to applications like LinkedIn, Google Conversations and Wikispaces make it possible for anyone to learn just about anything, anywhere. In spite of this, most organizations aren’t, yet, considering the importance of mobile learning. But they should.

According to FierceBroadbandWireless, a recent Pew Research study found 56 percent of mobile phone owners now access the Internet through their phone, up from only 25 percent in 2008. InformationWeek reports in its December 3, 2012, edition that 21 percent of business technology professionals access HR applications via their mobile devices; 28 percent access corporate wikis or social networks via mobile tools. With so many on-the-move people tapping into the Internet, employers owe it to themselves, their employees and customers to put in place a strategy for mobile learning. And any effective mobile learning strategy must include learning made possible by social software.

Organizations are continuously called on to maintain and improve workforce efficiency through traditional training offerings like instructor-led training and desktop e-learning courses. But learning hardly begins and ends in these situations, especially when so many learners are now on the go. To effectively launch mobile training, an organization should think about a number of factors.

First, how (if at all) is the organization’s existing infrastructure going to complement mobile learning?  What is the best type of content to deliver? Does the organization (and its learners) have access to high-speed networks?

Questions like these deserve answers in the form of a blueprint. Below is a construct to help organizations launch a program for mobile learning.

  • Start with a pilot program;
  • Choose a learning technology platform;
  • Develop mobile-only courses;
  • Simplify the course catalog you run with your pilot;
  • Use multi-format course tagging; and,
  • Establish a help-desk program.

Start with a Pilot Program

Any pilot program requires technology, of course. And the following list will help employers chart a course.

  • Learning management system
  • Ability to notify learners of training via email
  • Mobile authoring tool
  • Content
  • Ability to survey learners to gauge the impact of training
  • Mechanism for reporting on completions

Some organizations will have most of these items in place if they are running a sophisticated training program. Other organizations will have to make an investment in technology to build a foundation for mobile learning. 

Choose a Learning Technology Platform

It’s a first and perhaps obvious step, but make sure your learning technology platform can launch a mobile course. Test it. And determine that your system’s business logic also drives your mobile interface; this will help you keep the cost of your mobile learning in check. If you are shopping for a learning technology platform, look for a platform that you can brand the way you like. You want learners to have a consistent experience with your brand no matter where or how they encounter it.

Anyone with a mobile device has encountered apps, of course. Creating an app for your learners can be a good idea if you have a standardized mobile platform. One of the advantages of using an app is that you are only loading data; the user interface stays consistent. If you don’t have a standardized mobile platform, then you will have to build and maintain an app for each device.

Develop Mobile-only Courses

You want to spur the adoption of mobile learning. So direct users to a course that’s only available in a mobile format. Make the course easy to access.

Along with ease of use, confirm you have an email mechanism from which learners can launch a course with a single click, and you can track open-rates. Once learners open the course, your content should be streamlined, not more than 10 pages. The goal is delivering a lot of instructional value in a small package.  The best type of course to start with is, for example, a compliance course in a format such as .doc, .pdf or .ppt. Recordings, on-the-job checklists and best practices shared via a forum are also good starter courses for a mobile experience.

Simplify Your Course Catalog

Keep your mobile-course catalog small for starters. And give managers a way to approve a course via their mobile device. As you design your mobile-course catalog, confirm you can pin or stick important compliance courses to an easily accessible list. You don’t want learners bogged down, scrolling through a catalog of hundreds of courses for their training.

Use Multi-format Course Tagging

Multi-format course tagging simply means that a course built for a desktop LMS is tagged in a way that enables your system to detect they type of device (i.e., PC, smartphone, tablet, etc.) accessing a course and deliver the content equally well. As you progress with your mobile strategy, it will be important to have this capability since you don’t want to create two sets of courses (i.e., desktop and mobile) for every lesson. When it comes to authoring content, also look for an authoring partner who supports the PENS standard.

PENS provides a bridge between the authoring process and systems for managing and deploying content to the LMS.  Along with PENS, make sure what you produce is can be deployed to HTML 5 – a markup language that’s the future of the internet. To ensure your content runs smoothly, find a content authoring solution for your mobile strategy that conforms to one or more of the following standards: AICC, SCORM 1.2 and SCORM 2004 2nd, 3rd and 4th editions and, most recently, Tin Can.

Establish a Help-Desk Program

Once people begin taking your pilot courses, they will inevitably find technology issues. The help desk you provide mobile learners requires a shift in thinking. With a mobile strategy, you’ll need to create a small lab with devices (e.g., BlackBerry, Android, iPhone, iPads, Samsung tablets, etc.). When an issue arises, your support team can recreate the problem if they have been trained appropriately. Your help desk should also be taught to track trends and news about mobile devices. If, for instance, there’s a problem with Windows 8, your help desk should know about it before calls start pouring in.

Finally, gather metrics and results to evaluate the success of your mobile learning strategy. As with other learning, track how many people are opening your mobile courses. Tabulate the frequency of completions as well as learner comprehension. Make adjustments. With every bit of progress, you’ll likely move a step ahead of your peers and a step closer to the way most people want to learn.