Who would have imagined that the two-way radios that allowed people like taxi drivers and the emergency services to communicate years ago would eventually become so popular that people would be practically glued to them, to the extent that the fear of being without it (“nomophobia”) would enter the popular urban lexicon.
Surveys and popular reports point toward the fact that mobile phones, or smartphones, have become an integral part of our lives. The global market share of mobile phones is 52 percent, and according to Corey McNair, forecasting analyst for eMarketer, “As smartphones and data plans become more affordable than ever, they are positioned to become the default device for internet access. The number of these mobile-only users will see steady growth over the next few years, reaching 52.3 million in 2021.”
These trends have converged with an otherwise static workplace, creating what is called a unified workplace, a digital environment where technology – applications, services and information – is available anywhere, anytime and on almost any device. As a Forbes report points out, “Mobility solutions will increasingly serve as a cognitive extension, empowering employees and organizations to quickly acquire new skills, work more and better together, and make better decisions.”
It goes without saying that mobile influences workplace learning, too, which brings us to the key trends that lead towards the status of mobile in the context of workplace learning.
The Mobile-First Approach
According to Google Insights, people use an average of 2.5 connected devices per adult, and “mobile is now central to almost all kinds of internet activity.” Eric Schmidt, former executive chairman of Google, has often advocated the “mobile-first” approach to designing web experiences. However, data consumption and hours spent on mobile devices don’t always imply learning engagement. That’s why responsive e-learning, responsive LMSs, learning apps and and app-based LMSs, all of which support multi-device access, have become essential to ensure that while the mobile experience remains flawless, the desktop/laptop experience isn’t degraded.
Bring your own device (BYOD) is no longer just a fad. According to MarketsandMarkets, the BOYD and enterprise mobility market will be worth $73.3 billion by 2021: “Increased productivity and employee satisfaction, reduced hardware cost for enterprises, increase smartphone penetration, demand for enterprise mobility software in large enterprises with in-house IT departments and growing prominence of managed mobility services are some of the driving forces of the BYOD and enterprise mobility market.” With improved security and robust BYOD policies, the flexibility of workplace device use has a huge role to play in improving the mobility of workplace learning.
Mobile as a Performance Support Tool
The success of workplace learning is often measured in terms of performance metrics. Mobile access has the potential to rewrite corporate learning. According to a report by Ambient Insight, “Mobile learning is mainstream,” and the global five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of mobile learning products and services is 11.3 percent, with revenues projected to reach $14.5 billion by 2019. Mobile apps, chatbots, AR and VR, artificial intelligence, and mobile devices are evolving every day in terms of performance support capabilities.
As an extension to the performance support aspect, a Gartner report points out, “By 2021, more than 50% of enterprises will spend more per annum on bots and chatbot creation than traditional mobile app development.” It didn’t come as a surprise when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella declared, “Bots are the new apps.” From helpdesk automation to chatbots acting as virtual instructors, the experiments are in progress. Add to them the possibilities that machine learning brings, and voila! we have learning within learning. Ashok Goel, a computer science professor at Georgia Tech, has successfully built a chatbot (named Jill Watson) using IBM’s Watson platform. The bot answers students’ questions on an online forum and provides technical information about courses and lectures.
As reported in the LinkedIn 2018 Workplace Learning Report, “If employees can’t find the time to learn, reduce the friction. Meet them on platforms they’re already using with messages that align to their on-the-job needs and professional aspirations.” Talent developers are “watching key industry trends like ‘microlearning’ and ‘just-in-time learning’ in order to better support the modern employee.” Microlearning not only chunks learning into easily consumable information, but it renders well for mobile learning, too.
While global mobility has increased, low connectivity issues still affect a vast majority of the workforce. According to Akamai’s 2017 “State of the Internet/Connectivity” report, “Internet users in many countries – notably India – still suffer from disappointingly slow connections via both fixed and mobile services.” Offline learning is, therefore, still important. While learning apps with offline features do half the work, the rest can be handled by an offline LMS that allows learners to download training resources on their local mobile devices when connected to the internet and access them at their convenience while in transit or in an area with no or low internet connectivity. All the activity done in offline mode is then tracked and synced when the system is back online.
According to the Forbes report, “Mobility isn’t only for mobile devices anymore. Now … even desktop computers can be managed with mobility tools. In an app-based world, organizations can realize the full transformational potential of mobility for the workplace and the enterprise.” There’s no denying that the workforce is mobile and versatile. Constant travel, time constrictions, the millennial boom, flexible device usage, multi-device dependency, and the ever-advancing and innovative mobile devices have ushered in an era of truly mobile workplace learning.