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Lifelong learning is now an institution, as evidenced by the massive success of digital "universities" like Coursera, Khan Academy, and more. And while consumers are taking education into their own hands—signing up for classes ranging from Economics 101 to mapmaking—companies are equally eager to incorporate self-motivated learning into employee learning and development.

Employers' ranked L&D as the third most important issue to address in 2015, up from the No. 8 spot in 2014, according to Deloitte's Global Human Capital Trends report. But at the same time, more companies than ever reported they're unprepared to meet the challenge—particularly when it comes to new platforms and mediums, like mobile and video.

That's where companies like Skill Pill come in. The London-based agency has created buzz in the HR community with its top-notch, mobile-first videos for corporate learning and development initiatives. With the marching beat to go mobile growing louder by the minute, we sat down with founder Gerry Giffin to get his tips on getting mobile L&D right.

What was your "aha" moment when you realized L&D needed better mobile videos?

I was running a face-to-face session in Romania for Unilever and it was going quite well. A colleague was onstage, and I was looking at the faces of the participants. I thought to myself, isn't it a shame that in two months' time, the majority of that content will have disappeared?

The idea behind Skill Pill is to try and create a bridge between a moment of intervention, be it e-learning or face-to-face learning, and the moment of application. Say somebody attended a session on dealing with team conflict. Four or five months later, he or she may need to apply that learning—we use [videos] to get people in the right frame of mind to be better, faster, stronger at that moment of delivery.

Why is video so engaging on mobile, in particular?

Let's start with duration. One's sense of duration—the length of the piece of content—is different, based on device. The rule of thumb is the smaller the device, the longer the piece of content feels. Our data tells us that after about three to four minutes, you get a massive dropout rate [on mobile].

We use animated video a lot, because it's twice as efficient at getting the message across than real video. We use some text, but an interactive, engaging, animated video style is much more appreciated than other modes in terms of getting the learning points across.

What tone of voice works best in m-learning?

In a broad sense, people feel that the mobile device, even it's been issued by your company, is personal space. We need to shift from a didactic, prescriptive tone of voice to a more coaching, enabling, buddy style.

What kind of data do you and your clients use to understand how employees are learning?

We're able to see what people look at and their dropout rates, but also the time and increasingly the location of viewing. Are folks looking at it within the building or are they looking at it outside the building? We're able to gather traffic reports on concentration and known points of learning and distributed access points, as well. That begins to tell us ... how people are using the content and how they're recommending it to each other.

How can learning and development officers make mobile learning tools and materials more engaging for employees?

I liken good learning to a retail experience. In good retail, there's a great window display; they welcome you in. That's the first step—how welcoming does the layout feel? Can you get into the environment fairly quickly and simply?

If I need to have a difficult conversation with a colleague this afternoon, I may say, "OK, I need a piece of content to help me." I need to go search for that piece of material and then I need to consume it. That arc takes about five minutes. Any more than that five minutes and you've lost your customer. That's a "retailing" dynamic.

Secondly, [L&D leaders] need to understand the motivations of the individual users. If you don't really connect with that, all you're doing is throwing some spaghetti at the wall and hoping some of it will stick.

Photo: Creative Commons