Category Archives: Mobile

The State of Mobile Learning (2014 so far)

I’m at ASTD’s Techknowledge conference in Las Vegas, and just attended a session hosted by Kevin Oakes of i4CP and Tamar Elkeles, the CLO of Qualcomm. The session was kind of a “state of mobile learning” in 2014, and both presenters shared some great information about what’s going on and what they’re doing with mobile learning. Some highlights:

  • The provision of device to employees in companies is growing. When queried, most attendees said their company provides them at least one mobile device. Several stated that it depends on their job type or job level. Companies handing out tablets to employees is also rising: 46% of companies in a recent i4CP survey said they provide tablets for their employees, up from 39% in 2012.
  • The corporate resistance to “bring your own device” or BYOD is coming down, with most attendees saying their companies now support their personal choice of device. Mr. Oakes stated that 65% of respondents in a recent i4CP survey now support BYOD, up from 45% in 2012.
  • The corporate implementation of mobile learning is slower than i4CP thought it would be, but there is movement with more companies starting to deliver mobile learning to employees. Of those companies that are implementing mobile learning, most are choosing to offer web apps over native apps. Native apps for mobile learning is still in its infancy. 82% of mobile learning apps are being designed for Apple’s iOS platform, and tablets are targeted more than smartphones.
  • When asked, about 1/2 the attendees currently developing mobile learning are internally developing. In the i4CP survey, 59% of companies are developing their mobile learning apps internally.
  • Sales is the biggest area where mobile learning is being developed companywide, and a majority of people are repurposing existing content for mobile use.
  • The most popular types of learning content for mobile devices are: reference material and video. Performance support comes in third, with the “full courses” category following. The leading uses of mobile learning are for just-in-time training, job aids, on-the-job support, and audio/video content.
  • 54% of i4CP survey participants said they believe mobile learning can improve learning in their companies.

Key Elements of Your Learning Content Strategy, Pt. 2

5958374472_aacefb108a_bIn Part 1 of this three-part post, I discussed content organization and structure when formulating your overall learning content strategy. In this part, I’d like to discuss the role of authoring and delivery platforms, and their impact on your strategic and tactical implementation.

Too often instructional designers move straight to authoring, and begin “assembling” their course right away. This is not surprising, because the businesses we support are often moving at a fast pace, and many of us juggle multiple projects simultaneously all the time. Sometimes, we want to “just get it done”. Working in this manner, however, can create a firehose of course content that can become redundant and lead to fragmentation and loss of productivity for your and your audiences.

Your focus, instead, should be on creating less content — content that is clear, simple, succinct and “elastic” — able to bend to the learner’s context. This content should also be in a format digestible by anyone in your target audience, anywhere, and on whatever device they have with them.

Easier said than done. Especially with looming deadlines always on the horizon. One of the biggest drivers affecting how you design and develop content revolves around your available resources. We can preach all day about the “right thing to do”, but if you don’t have access to much beyond what you can get done yourself, you live with what you have. Like we were told years ago, “You go to war with the army you have.”

This is the primary reason so many L&D teams are creating training in a non-elastic fashion — creating reams of content married to proprietary systems and/or content that is silo’ed away from similar content that already exists. You are only the sum of the skills of your team. Years ago, a typical “CBT” development team consisted of skill-specific resources, including graphic artists for both user interface and production graphic tasks, instructional designers focused on designing content for learning, rich-media experts for animation, rendering, video and audio, and an editor and quality assurance person. Running the show was a dedicated project manager and technical liaison for the implementation. Now, with the proliferation of “rapid authoring tools” many L&D functions are “teams of one” — in many orgs, access to a graphic artist and/or media producer is a luxury that’s just not available. In light of this, and with constrained budgets, there are tweaks you can make to “level up” and start producing training content that gives your audiences what they really need. Before you think I’m about to suggest the latest version of a new authoring tool, step back. I’m not suggesting that at all. An authoring tool is the last component in your toolbelt that you need to worry about. I’d like to hear that you’re close to becoming “tool agnostic” — you want to be flexible enough so that you can pivot and change tools when your needs change. Let’s step back and consider how you can make a change in your overall content strategy to set yourself up for becoming free from the chains of proprietary authoring systems, and move beyond redundant, non-elastic content.

First, it’s important to consider how your team(s) perform their work. You should begin by investigating these processes:

  • System and systemic requirements

    • There is no “holy grail” when it comes to systemic constraints. Each system has its own unique challenges. How your system functions is a design challenge. You need to work within that system to affect the change you’ll need to see so that you can appropriately implement the needed change. You may need to consider changing how you think about what you do, before you can begin to change how the system operates.

  • Development workflows

    • Take a deep-dive into how your team goes about their development process. Pinpoint the areas that provide the most pain. Look at who the main players are in those areas. Do you need different skillsets there? Do you need to add/subtract people from the mix to move things along quicker? What’s working well across the process flow? How do you take what works well and duplicate it at other key points?

  • Content and app versioning control

    • Tricky, yes. But you need to reach higher outside of your silo, and take a look across the landscape of your organization to see where you can leverage other systems and infrastructure to make it easier to create, share and distribute content. There’s probably a lot going on that is duplicative and there’s probably a lot you can easily cut-out. Building relationships across other functions that also generate content can help you to leverage what’s already being created. For the assets your team is creating, conduct the due diligence to appropriately add metadata and versioning to it. Stop the train for a little bit so that you can build a process that will comfortably make your content more usable as you add to it.

  • Modifying and updating content

    • If your team members are working locally on their own hard drives creating content, ask yourself the fundamental question of “why”. The cloud is too convenient and easy to not be leveraging it. At the very least shared content repositories are critical. I urge you to consider a content management system (CMS) — but one that can integrate well into your team’s workflow.

  • Searchability

    • Successful content development relies on the ability to curate “source of truth” content, develop new content, and integrate contextually relevant information to provide deeper meaning. The ability for your team (and, ultimately, your users) to discover and trust content is critical.

  • Metadata

    • I mentioned this above, but I recommend you take the time to create a tagging system that works not only for your team, your organization, but one that works for your company and takes into consideration wider industry-specific

Although you’re an instructional designer, you’re also going to have to wear different hats that span many domains if you want to appropriately establish workable methods for content creation and dissemination. Those may include IT, editorial, social community moderator, even digital curation — which is an entire profession on its own. If you have these available resources, you’re several steps ahead of the game. If not, it’s OK, but you’re no longer going to be a one-trick pony. Oh, and did I forget visual design? Yeah, there’s that. And let us not forget accessibility, multiple devices, and data tracking. Whew. And you get paid how much?

The good thing is, our elders gave us a workable model. It’s called ADDIE. I know a lot of us moan and groan about “old-school ADDIE”, but every profession needs a methodology, a way forward. A framework. Although what you do when “creating learning” often varies, you vacillate between three big buckets:

  • Analysis

  • Design & Development

  • Implementation

Yeah, you really do. Too few of us are not focused on the E (evaluation), and that’s too bad. However, more than likely you have chosen tools and platforms that help you achieve the framework within which you work. Which is probably the ADDI one. Right? You may think you’re Agile. You may think you’re neither. The reality is, what we do is a lot like making biscuits. You pinch them from the flower, one by one, put them in the oven, and wait til they’re edible. It takes what it takes. So you may not sequence your steps the way others do… but there are just certain steps you have to perform. I don’t advocate either ADDIE, Agile, or other methods that consultants or academics come up with. Whatever works for you is good enough. When I do what we do, I create prototypes. I iterate between them, and I try to get feedback and make things better before I go forward with the “final output”. That’s a little bit of Agile sprinkled in. You do what you can do. Regardless of the authoring tool and/or platform, think of this: every deliverable you create encompasses two things: the strategy behind WHY you’re creating it, and the strategy behind making it consumable by those you’re creating it for.

Take those two elements as your foundation, using whatever framework or process you have, and then break down your tool or app into what it does to help you deliver. It may be Microsoft Word for storyboarding (or Google Docs), PowerPoint for prototyping, Lectora for assembly, etc. Focus on what the tool or app brings to the game and leverage its strengths.

Authoring is the act of assembly. You’re bringing together multiple media types into a cohesive experience. Delivery is the act of enabling your audience to consume the experience. Maybe that’s via an LMS? A webserver? Inherent in this duality are your needs and your learner’s needs. It’s a balancing act to preserve a usable experience between the two. Off to the side is the role of the CMS, or the system which serves the content (or makes it available to you). It’s kind of a trifecta if you will. At the end of the day, you want sustainable, flexible content objects that resonate for the businesses you support, while at the same time providing a meaningful learning experience.

Landing on the right combination of tools, apps, and platforms requires removing ambivalence about what you really need to get done, obtaining a deep understanding of the limitations of what you can actually achieve given your constraints (and we all have them), and recognizing the basics of how each element in the framework you work within functions.

You’re Creating Too Much Learning Content

Your learning function can't programmatically meet all of your employees' needs anymore. The knowledge worker now traverses a sea of complexity every day: from data overload to sensitive customer interactions to performing against sometimes volatile and quickly changing goals and directives. Instead, we in the learning organization need to start thinking about how we can empower more learner self-direction, help learners find information at or before their time of need, and we should focus less on training them to store it in their heads. The question to ask yourself is: how can you help put data and knowledge in their hands when they need it, wherever they are?

To establish an effective learning strategy for the self-directed learner, consider three "informal" content components: on-demand, social, and embedded.

  • On-demand: Stop developing "new" content. Instead, curate existing content. Curators will scour data and information and reach out to domain experts to bring together the most relevant and meaningful content based on the subject at hand. The curator's job is gives the source of truth back to the true experts, and provides constructive interaction and critical thinking components around truthful content. Just sing this mantra: No New Content, Better Content Experiences.
  • Social: Enable the development of networks based on specialities or business goals. Don't implement a new social platform — instead find a way to integrate learning opportunities into the audience's existing workstream. This may mean you have to work with more than one platform — so don't get too caught up in thinking one platform will solve all your audience's social needs. Instead focus on placing meaningful, critical content in context to a specific audience, where that audience is. If it's sales, leverage the CRM they use (SalesForce, etc.). If it's technical, discover the wiki, blogs or Sharepoint sites they use the most, if it's text-based, go there. If it's email, be OK with it. Your audiences are now mobile, multi-platform, and multi-screen users.
  • Embedded: The true promise of support systems: performance tools that are smart enough to know context and adapt on the fly. With mobile, you have more opportunities to get this right in a more authentic "wrapper". It's a complete shift in thinking when it comes to appropriate design, though. You cannot "design once, run everywhere". It just doesn't work. Optimization for the device is critical: screen size and device functionality matters. If you pander to your audience by cramming the same design onto different screen sizes, they'll rebel. But this doesn't mean you have to design specifically for each device you support. You just need to retrofit your content strategy to afford the variances and differences that come with each device you want to support. Having an appropriate support mechanism at every moment of need is your charter. Stop asking your learner to come to you. You need to be where they are to enable their self-direction. That's the nut to crack.

A key component to your self-direction strategy should also include more tools and technologies for learners to use. I'm skeptical about "user-generated content" mainly because I worry about credbile content. However, you have a lot of knowledge sitting in the heads of your workforice. To get them to contribute, you must grow, cultivate, and sustain a culture of learning across the organization. That's a function you in training need to lead. You must do this before you can get a good social learning construct going. And, please, don't think they're going to contribute via your LMS. The LMS is not where most of the organization's learning occurs. It's quickly becoming irrelevent: probably not much more than a class registration mechanism. For frictionless contribution, you need to be aware of all the social utilities the workforce will and can use to add content — and then you can effectively curate.

Your self-direction strategy will help audiences reach mastery faster with:

  • Job aids
  • Performance support tools
  • Self assessment instruments
  • Coaching
  • Communities of Practice
  • Career-focused curriculum
  • A "novice to expert" continuum
  • Expertise matching

Your job is really about creating pathways for people to make viable, productive connections to each other. Your self-directed strategy is additive to your overall training strategy: it doesn't replace your formal learning programs — instead, it's about you being responsive to how your audiences learn now. Follow these best practices when establishing a self-directed learning strategy:

  • Start simple
  • Have a clear purpose
  • Inventory your organization to discover where collaboration and social learning already occurs
  • Ask yourself why you need to do this now
  • Document what you are trying to accomplish
  • Study your audience very well

You will need to architect participation: it doesn't happen on its own. You need what I call active agents — this is a new skill set – Learning Community Managers (LCMs). You also need Learning Curators (LCs) – content managers with domain expertise. Your LCMS and LCs will manage the essence of the strategy: the conversations, content, connections, and collaboration.

It's all about being nimble, lean and focused. If you're like almost any training function in today's business world: you're resource-constrained, you have limited funds, and your internal skill-sets are narrow. Leverage a self-direction strategy to reduce your need to create new content, and instead use your internal expertise to focus more on competency evaluation, and measurement and ROI so you can report back to the business what they need to know about their workforce's capabilities.