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There's a lot of talk about the future of mobile learning in the workplace. But is it just that — talk? For now, the answer is mostly yes, says Gary Woodill, the CEO of i5 Research, a technology research firm, and author of Mobile Learning EdgeHere, Woodill explains why mobile learning hasn't taken off, and why Big Data promises to fundamentally reshape employee education.

How are companies using mobile learning?

Mobile learning is at a very early stage. We're not seeing a lot of companies using it in any systematic way. The types of companies that are most likely to jump in are sales-oriented companies where salespeople are on the road, field services where technicians go out to fix things, and transportation services — such as road, air or train services — where it's tough to bring people together for training in one location.

Why hasn't mobile learning taken hold in the workplace yet?

We haven’t really defined the problems that mobile learning can solve. That needs to happen. The most obvious problem mobile learning solves is performance support in the sense that you can get instant information at the moment of need using your mobile device. It’s a shift away from the standardized course-based model where people learned in a classroom and had to pass a test. 

The reason that doesn’t work anymore is because of rapid technological change. We can teach people about a new product, but six months later that product could have disappeared and a new one may have come along, and then you have to retrain again. If you’re able to do this on a continuous basis, that changes the parameter of everything.

How does mobile education change our approach to learning?

At the enterprise level, it’s becoming much more learner-driven where the person who has the mobile device starts to learn when they want to and when they need to. It’s being driven by immediate needs instead of a specific curriculum that’s coming out of the training department.

Another shift that’s important has to do with context. E-learning and classroom learning doesn't take you into the environment you’re learning about. With mobile, you’re moving around and now you’re in a situation where you have a question, and you can immediately get an answer — and it’s relevant and motivating to do that because it’s something you have to deal with right now.  

Where is technology-based learning headed?

My own view is that mobile learning is a transitional technology. Mobile is only one of many ways that learning is changing. Learning is also becoming social, collaborative, networked, learner-driven, visual. In five years I don’t think we’re going to be talking about mobile learning. There’s a bigger change happening.

The term "ubiquitous computing" refers to the fact that computing facilities will one day be in every object you touch. We’re starting to talk about the "Internet of things," where objects have an IP address and you can get information from them. Even though most people think mobile is the latest thing, in fact it isn’t — it’s been around since the 1980s.

The technology that’s most recent is Big Data and predictive analytics. Big Data and predictive analytics will take things like millions and millions of records and predict something or tell you a connection between two or more variables. That’s going to be used in the educational realm for what’s called "adaptive teaching," where a teacher will get information as a student works to know what he needs to do to improve his learning. We can now monitor students individually to tell their moods and responses in order to figure out what the teacher should do next. Adaptive teaching is coming, not only to the classrooms but to enterprises as well.

 

Photo credit:  Can Stock