Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, learning leaders had already begun to question the efficacy of one-time classroom training events. Glazed, disengaged eyes glancing around fluorescently lit classrooms left facilitators grasping for learners’ attention. Now, glazed, disengaged eyes have become pixelated and further removed in many virtual classroom environments. As a result, learning leaders are shifting to alternative modalities and rapidly adapting their approaches to developing and engaging employees.
Learners can no longer be reached at arm’s length, but you can connect them with learning at their fingertips. The mobile learning market has seen a considerable uptick this year, as learning leaders adapt to engage a multi-generational, virtually fatigued and largely dispersed workforce. According to Training Industry research, mobile learning made up 12% of custom content providers’ total delivery modalities this year, up from roughly 10% the previous year. And, with hybrid and remote working models’ anticipated longevity, learning and development (L&D) professionals would be wise to leverage the powerful tools already residing in many of their learners’ pockets.
Tom Pizer, director of learning technologies at GP Strategies, asserts that we are currently in “a renaissance in the mobile learning market.” Let’s assess how the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated growth and advancements in mobile learning as well as how mobile learning trends are shifting and emerging to drive performance in an uncertain business environment.
Engaging Gen Z Learners
Generation Z is entering and quickly taking over the workforce. Manpower projected in 2016 that Gen Z would make up 24% of the global workforce by 2020. Moreover, these digital natives champion their development, with 76% reporting they view themselves as “responsible for driving their own career.” By investing in early-career professionals’ continuous development, organizations can retain these hard-working, tech-savvy and innovative employees.
Raised in a world dominated by technology and characterized by access to information at the press of a button, mobile learning is arguably one of the best ways to reach Gen Z learners. By providing bite-size, microlearning modules and repositories of mobile-based job aids, organizations can better “[ensure] that learning is engaging enough [to] compete with Twitter and Tik Tok, which is undoubtedly what learning leaders are competing against, as the Gen Z becomes more and more dominant and plays a more meaningful role in the workplace,” says Michael Ioffe, co-founder and chief executive officer of Arist, a text message learning platform.
Learning in the Flow of Work
“Training is not always convenient,” says Mike Thompson, CEO of SVI, provider of the mobile-optimized learning management system Learner Mobile, “but it is necessary. So, if we can bring flexibility through mobile and give the learner the control to accommodate their learning style and their lifestyle, then that’s a big deal.”
A large portion of the workforce continues to combat virtual fatigue, troubleshoot technology and shotty Wi-Fi connections, and, often, fill the roles of both teacher and parent. As a result, making the learning and skills development employees need to succeed readily available and easily accessible is crucial. Learners must “be able to readily access [learning] when they are in the flow of work,” says Alli Martin, an instructional designer at SVI, regardless of whether they’re working in a hospital wing, manufacturing facility, corporate office or home office.
“We’ve become a Google and YouTube workforce,” says Pizer, “And if we can’t get the information that we need, quickly, we turn to the resource that is going to get it to us most conveniently. And that’s very often our mobile device.” Mobile learning places skills development and reinforcement opportunities in the palms of the learners, where they can intuitively select and access the information they need, when they need it.
Effective mobile learning does not just come in the form of microlearning content made available on learners’ smartphones. Pizer says it can also be delivered in the form of a chatbot “with an artificial intelligence back end, that is able to understand who I am, what my role is, what my learning goals are, [and] what my job is and is able to direct me to information intelligently.”
Engaging Learners in the Hybrid and Remote Workplace
One of the greatest challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, regardless of whether employees are at home or on site, is the ability to engage and connect learners with development opportunities to sustain their continuous growth. “When it comes to dispersed workforces, more and more learning is happening outside of work,” says Ioffe, “and regardless of where you are in the workplace, whether you’re an executive or a line cook, you want to ensure that learning meets you where you are and that you are in control of how you learn.”
Mobile learning can also serve as a powerful collaboration and social tool when it incorporates knowledge-sharing opportunities, leaderboards and virtual badges that enable learners to engage in their own and their peers’ professional development. “With mobile, learning is no longer a destination; it no longer just needs to happen in the back room, the break room or the board room. It can really occur anywhere,” says Thompson.
While employees’ development needs and work-from-home situations vary, one thing they often have in common is the handheld computer residing in their pockets. Learning leaders would be remiss to neglect those valuable tools already at their learners’ fingertips. As the coronavirus pandemic has caused all industries and market segments to adapt, the mobile learning market has risen to the challenge to connect dispersed learners and enable the learning in the flow of work that will be critical to continuous skills development in the future.