Mobile in the Mainstream

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During 2010, we heard a lot of excuses why mobile learning was not going to be adopted at an enterprise level or even a global level. Smartphones cost too much. The Baby Boomer generation is too reluctant to adopt mLearning. The screen size is too small. Mobile learning is not learning. Yep, I was in the audience of a presentation when an attendee gave that observation. The pushbacks were coming fast and furious and if you had a pessimistic attitude, you might think that mobile learning would soon be just another passing fad.

In just a year, it has become obvious that mobile has hit the mainstream and it is changing how the world gathers information and interacts. This should be seen as good news for mobile learning professionals since it means that your potential audience is constantly getting better at using a mobile device for acquiring content and solving problems. You don’t have to train them on the device; they are already doing it themselves! Let’s take a look at some of the drivers of change in your learning community.

Smartphone adoption is on the rise. This can be seen across all age groups, ethnicities and income levels. In a 2011 survey by Pew Internet Research, results showed that 35% of American adults own a smartphone. And in the following groups the adoption rate is even higher:  the affluent, those with a college degree, the relatively young (under the age of 45) and African-Americans and Latinos.  This research shows that almost 90% of smartphone owners access the internet with their device and on a very consistent basis. This is all good news. The smartphone is a powerful learning device and people are acquiring them at a rapidly growing rate and this should be seen as an opportunity for learning professionals. The results from the survey also suggest that a mobile web application might be a very clear option for you as a delivery approach. A mobile web application can be delivered over a variety of devices and on varied operating systems. And you can achieve the content security of a “traditional” website by launching your learning as a mobile web app. This option of mobile learning has many benefits. Pew Internet Research asked the respondents to give them one word that best describes how they feel about their phone and they created the Wordle shown here.

Obviously, feelings lean very heavily on the positive side so implementation with your learners may have less resistance than you might be anticipating.  Take a look at the entire Pew document and write in the comments below other results that you think learning professionals can interpret as either good or bad signs for an mLearning initiative.

Mobile learning is widely accepted in K-12. Across the country, mobile devices are being adopted on a broad scale in schools. It will not be long before a mobile device will be a required tool that a student needs to complete their education. What does this mean for you today if you are leading a training & development program in your organization? First of all, your learners in 5-10 years from now will be very accustomed to learning on a mobile device as they move on to college and graduate before accepting a job in your company. Also, even now the mobile learning experiences will be pushed up to the parents of today’s students.  These are the same parents that are working for you right now. As they interact with their children and see the potential of mobile, they will seek out ways to implement in in other parts of their lives – including their job. The insurgence of mobile device usage in schools is being driven by the students themselves who say they would rather use their own devices for learning instead of something supplied by the school.

Mobile collaboration and interactivity is becoming more commonplace. Mobile device users seem to be getting used to using the device as a tool to share information. Roughly two-thirds of internet users participate in social networking at least once a month according to research by eMarketer. You can see by the chart that the number is going to remain consistent in the years to come.

The message for mobile learning professionals is that your audience is increasingly using the mobile device as a place where they are active in the discussion and not just a passive participant. You can take advantage of this practice by designing learning in which they need to collaborate and provide input and feedback. You will also see that learners can learn from each others’ experience and expertise and that the enterprise does not need to be the sole source of content and training. In a similar vein, mobile devices are also increasingly being used to transfer information about the user. You can see this with the increased use of NFC technology. I covered this in a post here earlier this year. Have you been behind someone in the Starbucks line and watched as they pay with their smartphone? Mobile payments are on the rise and it will only become more commonplace as more retailers begin to incorporate the technology. This shows that data security in the mobile space is very strong. This is an encouragement to the mobile learning field as many companies and organizations have proprietary information that needs to be passed back and forth. Data and content security is a very high priority for many corporate stakeholders.

The other week when our home received a Bed, Bath and Beyond flyer and the cover was iPad accessories, I knew that mobile had settled firmly into the mainstream. Soccer moms and stay-at-home dads had a choice of cool stuff to buy to trick out their mobile devices. In other words, smartphones and advanced mobile phones have moved out of the boardroom and into the living room. It can be a safe conclusion that your audience is using mobile devices for many aspects of their lives: in the home, with their kids, entertainment, and yes, even learning new skills and information that is important to them. Take advantage of their quickly developing skill set and deliver mobile learning to them that leverages the power of smartphones and tablets. Your learners are ready!

What signs of mobilocracy are you seeing? Share your observations of mobile in the mainstream in the comments below.

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Scott McCormick is a founding partner of Float. Building on more than 30 years of experience in training, eLearning, and mLearning efforts for Fortune 500 companies, Scott helps companies embrace new learning strategies and deliver results. Scott is in charge of client relationships with global leaders in healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality, and insurance, and is instrumental in building new business and contributing to Float’s thought leadership efforts. Scott is featured in Float’s latest book, “Mastering Mobile Learning,” available from Wiley and ASTD Press.

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On August 1, 2011

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