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Think about it – smartphones and tablets have grown into massively popular learning platforms when you're away from the office – for cooking (think "How to Truss a Turkey" at Thanksgiving), working in the yard ("How to Sharpen a Lawn Mower Blade") or for the massive amounts of educational reading we all do these days in many forms and formats. Little wonder, then, why the potential of "mobile learning" in today's BYOD workplace has become such a hot discussion topic in recent years.

It's also become a subject of confusion for managers and learning and development professionals looking for practical ways to get started with "m-learning" in their organizations at a time when they might just be getting their feet wet with e-learning or online training. Bill Cushard – a Colorado based authorblogger, learning experience (LX) designer and facilitator, offers some simple guidance: “Whether or not mobile learning makes sense for a particular business," says Cushard, "comes down to what the business needs are and what the company hopes to achieve.”

Two core aspects of mobile learning, he continues, distinguish it from e-learning – and can help managers decide whether it makes sense to take the mobile plunge. First is the complexity of devices, software platforms, screen sizes and apps that can present challenges in building easy-to-use mobile learning content. Second is the diversity of an organization's workforce. Organizations with frequent business travelers, outside sales teams or field service teams that rely on smartphones and tablets to do their work on the go are far more compelling target users for mobile learning initiatives, as compared to an office dominated by employees stationed at cubes and laptops from nine to five. 

Given those baseline considerations, Cushard adds, “managers should ask themselves how mobile learning would improve their current learning model." Are there simpler solutions that can get the job done more quickly and cheaply? “If your outside sales team spends 80 percent of their time in their home office with access to a computer, mobile doesn't make a ton of sense." Mobile learning programs can also imply the expectation that companies expect their employees to "work" during off hours. When designing a mobile learning program, managers should set clear employee expectations – and “create programs that are engaging and worth doing while they’re away from their desk."

Is mobile learning a good fit for your organization? Cushard references a few examples where m-learning initiatives are making a real impact:

Outside sales training.   Sales teams rely on the ability to communicate with multiple parties quickly and efficiently while on the go, making m-learning an ideal resource and tool. Adds Cushard, “Sales teams that are on location with clients can access information immediately to educate clients on services."

Field service.   The industrial service economy – managed for decades by paper-based processes and service technicians in white vans – is making a significant shift into mobile learning to train service techs, and deliver parts lists and repair manuals on demand, on the job. M-learning is also enabling "managers to access information on the spot to address complicated issues," says Cushard. 

Other types of remote teams.   From pro football players to business travelers, plenty of on-the-go professionals can benefit from m-learning. No wonder that nearly half of the teams in the National Football League are using tablets to teach their complex playbooks to new players in training camps and throughout the season.

Companies can best utilize mobile learning, according to Cushard, "by putting resources and tools in the hands of their employees so that they can do a job in the moment." 

And what about combining video-based training with mobile learning?  Making the units of learning short, sweet and easily accessed when the actual learning need arises.

In Cornerstone’s experience, we are now delivering mobile training for areas like onboarding new employees and partners. We’ve also seen clients develop short mobile trainings around standard content including: benefits, company culture, and even welcome messages from the CEO.

What is your organization’s experience with m-learning, if any, and what job and roles are best suited to this type of learning on the go?