Introducing Your Company to Mobile Learning

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For everyone who started out 2010 thinking this was the year of the Tiger (the Chinese Calendar, not the golfer), we now realize that in addition to the year of the Tiger, 2010 is the year of the mobile device.  A person cannot turn on the TV, search the internet, drive down the street or even reach into their own pocket without feeling the impact mobile technology has had on everyone’s lives.  And of course the rapid expansion of mobile devices has not just affected personal lives, but more and more businesses are starting to take a more serious look at how mobile technology can help improve their bottom line.  One specific area where many companies are looking at mobile technology is in mobile learning.

What if you are the one charged with introducing mobile learning to your organization?  Last month’s Float newsletter focused on ways to prepare yourself for the challenge of introducing mobile learning to your company or organization.  That article discussed the importance of having a strong understanding of mLearning, learning the capabilities of today’s mobile devices and concluded with a suggestion to do some informal polling to get a sense of the interest level for mLearning in your organization.

So now you feel like you are fairly schooled in the basics of mobile learning and you are ready to start extolling the virtues of this new approach to learning to anyone who will listen.  But where to start?  And how to start? This month’s newsletter focuses on how to introduce mobile learning to your organization and build support and excitement along the way.

Understand the Business Goals

To get started, first think about the business opportunities and challenges your company faces.  Put aside mobile for just a moment.  Management (i.e. those who control the purse strings) will have specific goals they are trying to achieve.  If you’re going to sell them on mobile learning, you are going to have to make a strong connection between your ideas and how those ideas can help them achieve their goals. This starts with knowing and understanding what those goals are and then developing mobile learning approaches or ideas that support those goals.

This may sound like a tall order but it needn’t be.  Your mobile learning endeavors don’t need to solve world hunger or discover cold fusion.  The benefits don’t have to be dramatic; but they need to be real and measurable.  Make the effort to find areas where the key tenets of mobile learning – having access to information, anytime, anywhere – can help your organization achieve its business goals.

For example, perhaps management has determined that the sales force could be more productive if they knew the product specifications better (ever gone somewhere to investigate an item you have already researched on the internet, and found out that you already know more about the product than the salesperson?). Could making this information accessible on a mobile device help the salesperson be more informed prior to a customer standing in front of them? If the answer is yes, you may be on to something.

Start Small

Just as the benefits don’t need to be huge, you also don’t need to start with an excessively complicated or sophisticated mobile solution.  There are many ways that mobile learning can provide great benefit without being large, difficult and risky.  Keep in mind, if you are trying to introduce mobile learning to your organization, you won’t be doing yourself any favors if your first attempt goes over budget, takes too long or doesn’t produce the expected benefits.  The best way to minimize this risk is to start with a simple and manageable project.

Consider the example of providing a sales force with additional information about their products.  Only this time, it is at a trade show.  Instead of printing reams of paper brochures and spending significant dollars only to watch those brochures hit the trash bin outside the booth, why not have electronic data sheets on an iPad that can be instantly emailed to potential customers?  Seem farfetched?  Pioneer Hi-Bred, a world leader in agricultural seed production, did just that at the 2010 Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa with great success.

Farm Progress Show 2010

iPad use at the 2010 Farm Progress Show

Another way to start small is to create a proof-of-concept.  A proof-of-concept demonstrates the feasibility of an idea and its viability.  The advantage of a proof-of-concept is that you have a tangible product with which to show your idea without the complexity of having to address every issue and solve every problem.  Instead of trying to develop your mobile learning application for the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Palm and Windows Mobile platforms, build for one and get it working there first.  If your idea and execution is a good one, there will be plenty of demand to implement it on the other platforms.

Build a Case for Your Idea

Armed with an understanding of mobile learning, knowledge of your organization’s business goals and the realization that there are straightforward and effective ways to benefit from mobile devices, all the elements exist to put together a strong case for your mobile learning idea.  However, having each of these pieces will not help convince others of the benefits of mobile learning unless you are able put all those pieces together into a complete story.

Building a case for your mobile learning idea involves being able to present your rationale clearly and effectively.  To do this, write out the benefits, costs, impacts, and the time required to bring your idea to life.  By thinking through all of these elements and being able to discuss both the pros and cons you will be prepared to sell and defend your idea.

Consider Your Audience’s Experience with Mobile

When you go to present your ideas, keep in mind that the pervasiveness of mobile technology does not necessarily mean that everyone is familiar with the capabilities of the device they carry with them every day.  Nor can you assume that people really understand what mobile learning is and the potential it holds for an organization.  Float’s experience with introducing mobile learning to  companies of various sizes in many different industries, is that most people think mobile learning is simply putting eLearning courseware on a mobile device.

Effectively presenting your case for mobile learning will most likely involve at least clarifying some of the misconceptions about mobile learning (see the April 2010 Float Newsletter) and in some cases may require you to provide a significant amount of education.  The key point, when trying to extol the benefits of mobile learning, is to know your audience and their familiarity with mobile so that your message doesn’t get lost in translation.


Once you have your proof-of-concept or your first mobile application working, confirm that you are able to realize the benefits you expected; make sure you are able to deliver on what you promised. Then share it with anyone and everyone who will listen.  People will respond much more positively to something that is tangible and concrete (even if it is simple and basic) than they will to the loftiest of ideas that are still in the ideation phase.

But evangelizing is more than just showing something, it is about generating buzz and getting people thinking about the possibilities.  When you talk with people, ask their opinions and get their ideas.  And by all means, look for the enthusiasts and engage them as much as possible.  The enthusiasts will want to collaborate with you and will feed off other’s thoughts and ideas.  It is these enthusiasts that will help you build momentum so that you can be on your way to building an organization that understands the benefits of mobile learning and is able to realize those benefits.

As with any change or new idea, getting people on board can be a challenge.  But, by taking some time to plan and execute the steps outlined above, you will be well on your way to bringing a powerful new way of learning and adding value to your company.

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John is the Managing Partner for Float Mobile Learning. He has over 18 years of experience in helping clients change to be more successful and helping those clients navigate those changes. He works with Fortune 500 organizations to help them define and design learning strategies with a focus on mobile learning. His client list includes Caterpillar, Anheuser-Busch, Museum of Science and Industry and Pioneer Hi-Bred, a subsidiary of DuPont.

John is a member of both the E-Learning Guild and ASTD where he is active in speaking about both eLearning and mobile learning topics.

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On September 1, 2010
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