The Mobile Mindset: Designing Great Mobile Learning Experiences (Free eBook)

mobile mindset

As many of us can attest, it’s difficult to remain on the cutting edge of technology when it comes to training. Whether it’s resistance within our organizations or a limitation of tools (like a bloated LMS or ancient browser requirements), working to improve design can often feel like more of a hassle than it’s worth. But regardless, we work hard to bring learners the best possible experience in the best possible environment.

Our new eBook on the mobile learning mindset can help you continue to do just that. But it’s not just about making everything mobile. It’s about creating the best possible learner experience while also making the training we create ready for change.

What is the Mobile Mindset?

At BLP, we coined the term Mobile Mindset to encompass a broader range of programming and design that’s accessible to all organizations—the ones trying to roll out mobile now and those who still have hurdles to overcome.

A mobile mindset means thinking about programming and design in a way that is adaptable for the future. It leads to impactful mobile experiences. And it also improves the design of even your desktop eLearning so you’re prepared for whatever device/browser/version comes our way. The mobile learning mindset is designing for the challenges of mobile, whether you’re creating mobile learning solutions or not.

Consumers are Mobile, but L&D is Still Behind

The data shows that the training industry has been painfully slow to adopt mobile. And not adopting mobile has meant not adopting these new design improvements.

The chart above shows that the vast majority of organizations are barely dipping their toe in the water. That’s not to say L&D departments haven’t been trying! In a 2016 survey of 21 Bottom-Line Performance clients, 81% said they would be somewhat likely or extremely likely to use a reinforcement tool that is intended for the smartphone. Yet in our 2017 Learning & Remembering Report Survey, only 21% of respondents said they planned to use mobile to deliver training in 2017.

So what exactly is holding us back?

In the eBook, we identify some of these challenges we face when going mobile. We then go over the high-level aspects of the mobile mindset and dive into some actionable advice. You’ll take away six tips for implementing a mobile mindset in your own training solutions. You can dowload the eBook below.


When Games Go Small: 4 Mobile Learning Game Design Principles

Mobile Learning Game Design

The education game market continues to grow rapidly, and mobile learning games are the dominant force in this market. Newzoo provides the insights for the generic games market; the Serious Play Conference released its annual report showcasing the huge growth specific to the education and corporate training sector. The compound annual growth rate in the U.S for corporate learning games will be over 20% between 2017 – 2022 and about 35% globally with the U.S. and India being the top two markets for serious gameplay. Newzoo predicts the overall mobile game market across all game types will grow 40% between now and 2020, a significant growth increase.

Want to learn more about mobile learning games? Access our webinar recording of When Games Go Small: Mobile Learning Game Design Do’s & Don’ts.

So it makes sense for L&D personnel to consider what space a mobile learning game (aka one intended for play on a smartphone) might occupy in their company’s learning and development portfolio. A smartphone game is not just a shrunken version of a PC game –  just as a limo is not just a bigger mode of transport than a unicycle.

The user experience and design aspects one expects from a limo, and the intended use of the limo, differs widely from that of the unicycle – even though both are modes of transportation. So it is with a learning game. The use case for a smartphone game differs from that of a PC game, and the user experience should be different, too. L&D people need to think about this. When learning games go small there are four quadrants of design skills involved.

It’s highly unlikely that a single individual will possess skills in all four quadrants. It’s also very likely that if you opt to go the route of a mobile learning game, you will need to pull together a team to create that learning game. Understanding each quadrant helps you assemble the right team and do a good job evaluating the game design the team evolves.

Here’s a quick definition of each quadrant followed by a checklist of factors to consider within each quadrant:

  • User Experience (UX) Design – the framework and navigation design of your game; this framework makes it easy to learn, easy to use, and easy to add/build onto it if you need to roll out future enhancements.
  • User Interface (UI) Design – the graphical “look and feel” of the game; it provides the aesthetics and helps create a mood or “feel” to your game (light-hearted, scary, humorous, intense, etc.). Lots of people think UX and UI mean the same thing. They don’t.
  • Instructional design – the design and structure of the experience to meet specific learning needs for a specific audience or audiences.
  • Game design – the design of the play experience; it includes the core dynamics of your game, rules, and game elements that all work together to enable players to achieve a game goal and have fun doing it.

Instructional Design Checklist

Does your game:

  • Have a clear learning goal and measurable learning objectives focused on a specific learner?
  • Tap into learner motivation?
  • Manage cognitive load by eliminating irrelevant or extraneous content?
  • Provide relevant practice?
  • Give specific, timely feedback?
  • Trigger emotion that can help with long-term retention of learning content?
  • Provide spaced repetition to help with long-term retention of learning content?
  • Use story(ies) (again, for help with long-term retention of learning content as well as involvement during learning experience)?

Game Design Checklist

Does your game:

  • Provide players with an intriguing goal or challenge?
  • Match the interests or player types of your target players?
  • Stick with one or two core dynamics?
  • Provide clear rules?
  • Use appropriate game elements from ones such as chance, strategy, cooperation, competition, aesthetics, theme, story, resources, rewards, levels?
  • Make the scoring relevant, motivating, and understandable?
  • Balance game complexity and difficulty for your player and the time you anticipate them playing it; not too easy or too little complexity, but not too hard or too much complexity either.

UX Design Checklist

UX best practice is that you design to the smallest screen. This means that your design supports these attributes on the smallest phone size players are likely to use. We draw the line at the iPhone 5, which is 1136 x 640 pixels or 4-inches diagonally. Good UX means you:

  • Have legible text.
  • Have touchable targets that a typical adult finger can easily succeed at using.
  • Cut the clutter.
  • Focus on one key action or use per screen.
  • Make the navigation intuitive.
  • Make the experience seamless if intended for multiple devices.
  • Cater to contrast.
  • Design for how people hold/use their phone.
  • Minimize the need to type.

Attend to the small things to make a big difference.

UI Design Checklist

This checklist is the smallest, yet the aesthetics or “look/feel” of your game has a major impact on uptake and continued gameplay (which translates into best learning assuming you executed well on the instructional design checklist items). When creating your UI design, make sure your UI is:

  • Consistent. Treat every button of the same type in the exact same fashion. Treat all screens of a single “type” the same way, etc. Use fonts and text labels for things consistently.
  • Designed to your user – and not to your personal preferences. Example: While you may love anime art, your corporate user may find it insulting or trivial.
  • Not reinventing standards; use what’s common and comfortable. There is a thing called “heuristics” for a reason. (Note: UX/UI heuristics are often bundled into a single list.)
  • An enhancement of the focus and not the focus of your game experience.
  • Forgiving of user mistakes with lots of prompts and helpful guides.
  • Clear on giving users feedback about what to do and where to go.

Want More Information?

If you want to know more, here are some great resources:

  • Attend my May 2018 session at ATD ICE: When Games Go Small on Monday, May 7th. I’ll share numerous examples and you’ll have a chance to practice using the checklist.
  • View a recording of a companion webinar to this post – When Games Go Small: Mobile Learning Game Design Do’s & Don’ts.
  • Download a handy checklist for each quadrant of design.
  • Check out my book, coauthored with Dr. Karl Kapp – Play to Learn: Everything You Need to Know About Designing Effective Learning Games, published by ATD Press 2017.
  • And/or reach out to us if you have any additional questions.

BLP Partners with TE Connectivity to Win Two Brandon Hall Awards

Bottom-Line Performance (BLP) and its client, TE Connectivity (TE), a global leader in connectivity and sensors, partnered to win two 2017 Brandon Hall Excellence in Learning Awards. The winning project for both awards was an innovative training and sales enablement program that helps distributors understand the needs of different customer types and position a wide range of products with these customers to meet their needs.

The TE Town Mobile Learning Game earned a Silver designation in Best Use of Mobile Learning and a Bronze designation in the Best Use of Games and Simulations for the Learning category. The app was created as part of TE’s new comprehensive training and sales enablement program. Players are elected as mayor of TE Town and must build their town by completing a variety of mini-games. They must identify the correct customer type, learn about relevant products and ask the right questions to help the customer. Learn more about TE and TE Town here.

“TE is continually looking for creative ways to equip our sales team and distributors to serve our customers,” said Maria Cannon, vice president, marketing and Americas sales at TE. “TE’s vision for an interactive game together with BLP’s design expertise created a tool that serves our team in a way that is different from standard training tools. TE Town demonstrates our commitment to innovation.”

“TE Town is an innovative solution to the tough challenge of engaging independent distributor reps. How do you get and keep mindshare when a rep is selling products for many companies and not just your own?” said Sharon Boller, President of BLP. “TE’s decision to use a casual mobile game puts them on the leading edge of what’s possible. I am extremely pleased that TE’s innovation is being recognized. I am also extremely proud of the BLP team that has guided them in designing, building, and implementing this award-winning learning game.”

About BottomLine Performance

Bottom-Line Performance is an award-winning learning design firm serving a wide range of corporate clients. Since 1995, we’ve helped clients choose the right learning solutions for their learners, while also helping them to design and develop learning tools effectively. Areas of focus include product launches, customer training, internal process training, safety & compliance and more.

Bottom-Line Performance is also the creator of Knowledge Guru®, a game-based learning platform linked to the science of learning and remembering. The platform has received five Brandon Hall awards, including a gold distinction for “Best Advance in Gaming or Simulation Technology.”

About TE Connectivity

About TE Connectivity

TE Connectivity (NYSE: TEL) is a $12 billion global technology leader. Our commitment to innovation enables advancements in transportation, industrial applications, medical technology, energy, data communications, and the home. TE’s unmatched breadth of connectivity and sensor solutions, proven in the harshest of environments, helps build a safer, greener, smarter and more connected world. With 75,000 people – including more than 7,000 engineers – working alongside customers in nearly 150 countries, we help ensure that EVERY CONNECTION COUNTS –
TE Connectivity, TE and EVERY CONNECTION COUNTS are trademarks.

Want to learn more about mobile learning games? Join us for our upcoming webinar When Games Go Small: Mobile Learning Game Design Do’s & Don’ts on Tuesday, October 10th at 1:00 PM ET.

Mobile Learning Thoughts: 3 mLearning Examples You Might Have Missed

mlearning examples

The technologies that most excite us are the ones that offer performance support more than training. Training is that 5%. We’re intrigued by tools that can help with the 50% – the on-the-job learning and working. Mobile learning is particularly exciting, as learning professionals are finally able to create user experiences that actually delight users while also delivering a solid instructional design.

Our 2018 Learning Trends Report reveals that mobile learning gained significant traction in the past year. We’ve listed it as an emerging trend since 2008, but enterprise adoption has been slower than many might have expected. The authoring tools available to create phone-first solutions are finally sophisticated enough to produce solid user experiences, with both Lectora and Articulate having strong solutions on the market. This opens up a world where just-in-time solutions can more easily be created.

With this in mind, the prospect of implementing a mobile solution across your organization is starting to look more and more attractive. But how do you know what’s practical? What tools can you use to build mobile learning solutions, and how do those solutions compare to a custom app? Here, we gathered three mLearning examples for you to consider:

1. Mobile Learning in Articulate Rise

Articulate’s newest product line, Articulate 360, has a lot to offer, but the most impressive tool in the suite is Rise. Rise is the best example out there of a responsive eLearning solution. This means every course you build automatically adapts to any device—no matter the screen size. It’s a truly impressive feat, and required them to develop a slick, modern UI for these templated but modular courses. We’ve begun using Rise with our clients when they need a mobile-first, flexible alternative to traditional eLearning. You can see it in action:

Example from

Rise provides an efficient way to build beautiful, mobile-first eLearning solutions. The downside, however, is that there isn’t much flexibility in the UI. In order to assure that your course looks great on all devices, certain elements are unchangeable. This limits the creativity somewhat. If you want to customize everything, you’ll need to use Storyline 360 which has a more limited mobile ability.

2. Mobile Courses in Trivantis’ Lectora Inspire

If you want to build a mobile-first learning solution in an authoring tool, but want complete control over customization, then you might consider Lectora Inspire from Trivantis. Lectora Inspire offers the customization you expect from an authoring tool, while also allowing you to publish a responsive course that adapts to various screen sizes. Here’s an example:

Example from

Since there is no templated approach in Lectora Inspire, you need to be careful that you’re actually designing a mobile-first solution. You won’t be able to just plug content in and pop out a course that looks great on a phone and a desktop.

Building a course in Lectora Inspire is more complicated than Rise, but that’s the trade you make for complete customization—unless you’re interested in having a company like Bottom-Line Performance build a custom mobile app. Which takes us to our next example…

3. Custom mobile learning game hosted in the App Store

We partnered with TE Connectivity to create TE Town – a mobile learning game for smartphones that helps distributors learn about their customers, and the applicable products for each customer so they can position the right products with the right customers.  In the app, players are elected as the mayor of TE Town. They must build their town by completing a variety of mini-games. Players must identify the correct customer type, learn about relevant products and ask the right questions to help the customer.

TE Town led to increased adoption of the sales enablement program by drawing in distributors who were previously not taking training. 100% of distributors surveyed said they learned something from playing TE town and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive:

“It was the best way to learn about our products by ourselves. I love it!”

Want to see more mLearning examples?

6 Steps to a Mobile Mindset: Mobile Learning Basics

mobile learning basics

If you attended ATD TechKnowledge this year, then you might have seen a session about this new thing called The Mobile Mindset and it’s all about mobile learning basics. Steven Boller and myself presented on this topic in front of a rather enthusiastic audience. We were excited to see just how ready people are to do something—anything—to get mobile learning started at their organization.

I coined the term Mobile Mindset to encompass a broader range of programming and design that’s accessible to all organizations—the ones trying to roll out mobile now and those who still have hurdles to overcome. Mobile Mindset means thinking about programming and design in a way that is adaptable for the future. It means improving the design of even your desktop eLearning courses so you’re prepared for whatever device/browser/version comes our way.

It’s worth noting that the significance of the Mobile Mindset goes beyond just successful mLearning. Research shows that using good design principles increases the effectiveness of learning and retention. So without further ado, here are six mobile learning basics to improve your training with the Mobile Mindset.

1. Be conscious of your space.



Space is a precious resource on a mobile device. We love that our smartphone is small enough to carry anywhere in our pocket, but that tiny screen doesn’t allow for much content at once. That means you need to organize and prioritize your content. I’ll say it again because it’s so important: organize and prioritize.

You need to group “like” things together, and use clear space to separate individual ideas. You need to emphasize important points with callouts or highlights—and please remember, if you emphasize everything, it’s basically the same as emphasizing nothing. If you design all your courses—mobile or desktop—with a better usage of space, you’ll see an improvement in training outcomes and learner adoption rates. Read this article to get a more in depth look at the benefits of good, clean design.

2. Think modular and flexible.


A major part of designing for mobile devices is something called Responsive Web Design—and the ideas behind RWD are integral to the Mobile Mindset. Group your content in such a way that when it is moved around, everything that’s supposed to be together, stays together. That’s what it means to be modular and flexible.

Design and program in a way that allows you to remove a section without breaking the entire thing. Build in a way that allows your content to respond to different screen widths. Build in a way that other people can understand your code.

3. Think beyond authoring tools.


Authoring tools are great for a lot of things. They’ve become much easier to use over the years, and now designing an eLearning course can be as simple as designing a PowerPoint. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but authoring tools have definitely done some good things for the industry.

Unfortunately, authoring tools come with a few serious limitations. Besides needing a license just to be able to edit a course, authoring tools often inject strange code when they’re published that can create time-consuming and completely unpredictable problems. They rely on cumbersome shells/frames to display content (unless you have some serious hackers on your team). Developers and instructional technologists like ours know how to navigate these challenges, but they can create very real challenges if you are not prepared for them.

Authoring tools have become so ingrained in L&D that we often forget you don’t have to use them! There are other ways to build a course. Which brings me to my next point…

4. Consider the website as a training tool.


One of the alternatives to an authoring tool is something you may never have considered before: a website.

Have you ever visited a beautiful website designed to market something? Nowadays, these sites can have questionnaires, games, interactive content, and tracking like you wouldn’t believe. So why can’t we harness this power for eLearning? Well… you can. And it’s easier than you might think!

There are a few different ways to approach it, too. You can build from scratch with HTML/CSS/Javascript. You can use an open source framework like WordPress, complete with an extensive user community and easy-to-use plugins. I even talked to a gentleman after our presentation at ATD TechKnowledge who said his team uses Adobe Muse to build web pages for eLearning. (Love the creativity!)

5. Design with the future in mind.


This one might be the hardest to follow, because who has time to think about five years from now when there are fires to put out now?

But I want to encourage you to design in such a way that things can adapt when technology changes in the future. This ties back to a lot of my previous points: being modular so that content (especially interactive content and video) can be easily swapped or changed, coding in such a way that a newcomer can read it, and occasionally leaving the authoring tool behind.

All of these are ways to design with the future in mind. Think of it this way… are you building a house of cards?

6. Take the training wheels off. Learners can handle it.


As a designer, this final tip is my favorite. I understand why we needed “click the X to the left to exit the window” in the early days of the Internet… but it’s 2017. Learners have matured in their technology use. I bet almost every person who reads this post has used a phone at some time to navigate the Internet.

(Most) People understand where to click by now. They understand exit icons and they understand the “Back” button. We no longer need to waste so much space and effort on these things. Instead, we need less cognitive load and more room for users to learn what they need to know. And we can achieve this through better design.

Yes, there will always be exceptions… especially in certain industries. But in general, it’s safe to embrace a little minimalism. Learners can handle it.

Register for our upcoming webinar The Mobile Mindset: How to Wow Your Learners and learn how mobile design can help you create better training.

The Mobile Learning Mindset: How to Wow Your Learners (Webinar)

The Mobile Learning Mindset Banner

Our web analytics tell me that most of you are reading this blog post on your desktop. Probably at work. But a growing percentage are reading our articles from the browser on their mobile phone. I expect that trend to steadily increase.

We spend our time on the internet browsing from website to beautiful website. Almost every webpage we visit now is responsive, adapting to whatever device we are using. Content is easy to read, the layout is intuitive and easy to navigate. Take this website for example!

If you’re like most of our clients, you work for a large organization that has a fancy corporate website. Try pulling that website up on your desktop, then on your phone. Looks good, doesn’t it? (Okay, so this won’t apply to all of you.)

Now, try pulling up some recent required training you or your employees had to complete on your mobile device and compare that experience to the company website.

Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

The Web Is Pretty. Your Training Is Not.

Why the discrepancy between the consumer web and internal company training? There are plenty of obvious answers: consumer websites are marketing vehicles that help generate revenue and acquire customers. Training is viewed as just another expense. Training is proprietary to an organization and must be delivered securely, not available on a public website for all to see. And then there’s the graveyard of old, outdated training modules that need to be updated or simply deleted!

While learners will obviously appreciate a mobile-optimized experience, the steps required to get from where your training is today and where it needs to be are not so simple.

How to Adopt a Mobile Mindset

On Tuesday, December 5th at 1 pm ET / 10 am PT, Jake Huhn and I will give a webinar called The Mobile Mindset: How to Wow Your Learners. In the session, we’ll cover:

  • Recent stats on the growth of the mobile web versus corporate mobile learning adoption.
  • Proprietary research from our contacts and customers on mobile learning adoption.
  • A summary of the common challenges organizations face when trying to shift to mobile.
  • A broad overview of responsive web design and Gestalt theory and how these principles can be used to improve training design.
  • Examples from three mobile training apps we have created for clients.
  • A simple solution for turning a simple web portal into a SCORM-conformant LMS.
  • Six practical tips for adopting a mobile mindset

A recording of the session will be sent to all registrants.

Access The Mobile Mindset: How to Wow Your Learners and learn how mobile design can help you create better training.

How Microlearning Enables “Micro-Moments”


Welcome back to our #BLPLearn blog series, where we offer a monthly look at design and technology as it pertains to learning and development. I’m your host, Jake Huhn—Senior Marketing Technologist at Bottom-Line Performance.

What are Micro-Moments?

There is a lot of talk in the L&D community about microlearning and for good reason. But outside of the training world, the Internet is abuzz with a different “micro” term: micro-moments. That’s because back in 2015, Google shared a slew of new research about micro-moments. Much like in 2011 when Google pitched the “Zero Moment of Truth” concept, this new research sets out to be a game changer.

According to Google:

“Micro-moments occur when people reflexively turn to a device—increasingly a smartphone—to act on a need to learn something, do something, discover something, watch something, or buy something. They are intent-rich moments when decisions are made and preferences shaped.”

It turns out that the research Google has done to help serve its interest in the marketing world is extremely relevant to our own industry. Our learners are essentially our consumers. That’s why “Learner Personas” (modeled after “Buyer Personas”) are such an effective technique.

What the research shows


The data surrounding this concept is compelling, to say the least, and it has so many implications for the L&D community as we adapt to the increasing mobile landscape. According to the report, 62% of smartphone users are more likely to take action right away toward solving an unexpected problem or new task because they have a smartphone.

And here’s an even more incredible statistic, as far as training is concerned:

90% of smartphone users have used their phone to make progress toward a long-term goal or multi-step process while “out and about.”

I encourage you to read through this introduction to micro-moments on This has big implications for how we use mobile and microlearning in training.

Tying it all together

It is important for us to realize that these micro-moments are already ingrained in our learners’ behavior. Many of these micro-moments happen on the smartphone, and the research shows that people are using them to solve problems, find information, and reach goals.

When done correctly, microlearning enables and encourages micro-moments. And since learners increasingly want and need a “micro” experience, mobile learning is no longer an option; it’s essential. Mobile learning solutions should be implemented not just because they are convenient or trendy, but because mobile is now part of everyday life. Your learners are the same consumers that Google is trying so hard to understand, and micro-moments are how they make decisions and seek out information.


8 UX Questions Before You Use mLearning for Sales Enablement


After years of hype, mobile is finally the big workplace knowledge support tool we’ve all been talking about. This is especially true for sales enablement. Most field-based sales reps live or die by their phones. It’s the device they constantly have with them and reference.

But do you really understand how those reps use their phones? Do you think about what they want and need in any kind of educational app you create for them? Or do you think about what you want and need to include in that app instead. By doing so, you risk creating an app that will never be used. And an unused app is a very expensive app whether you buy or build.

Want to learn more about mobile learning design? Register for our upcoming webinar: The Mobile Mindset: How to Wow Your Learners.

Meet Learners Where They Are

The K-12 space often teaches corporate L&D some valuable lessons. This article published by EdSurge focuses on creating educational apps for middle schoolers and high schoolers. It offers an eye-opening look at how kids use their phones during the day… and discusses how to make an educational app fit within those usage boundaries. Frankly, it’s brilliant because it doesn’t start with the arrogant assumption that kids will conform to the app the educator wants to create. Instead, it assumes that the app needs to conform to the way kids already use their phones.

We need to do the same in the corporate world. To design mobile learning (mLearning) experiences that meet their intended objectives, we need to do a whole lot of things:

  • Spend time observing how people use devices in their work settings.
  • Understand their workflows and consider how any training experience or performance support app will integrate best with those existing use cases and workflows.
  • Think about integrating our app with other apps that they use all the time (e.g. their camera, email, calendar, or CRM system).
  • Think about how skilled they are (or aren’t) with actions such as pinching, swiping, and tapping.
  • Make sure any content we want them to reference is suited for viewing on their mobile device instead of assuming they will do visual and hand gymnastics to read a PDF that was never designed to be read on anything smaller than a desktop. Think mobile first, not mobile friendly.

mLearning Design Questions to Answer

In 2016, more of our clients are seeking a mobile-first experience than ever before. mLearning design has unique challenges that are quite different from traditional, authoring tool-based eLearning. Here are a few of the questions we like to ask before starting on a project:

  1. What kinds of devices do most people have and how big are their screens?
  2. What apps do they use already and what do they like about those apps? Why do they use those apps and what features do they like about them?
  3. How much time are they likely to spend within any app?
  4. How agile are they in using their phones? Do they swipe, pinch, expand with ease? Do they use two hands or one?
  5. What makes most sense for your target—an app that is portrait or landscape?
  6. What’s too small for them to read without forcing them to reach for a pair of reading glasses?
  7. Where are they most likely to use their device? When they do pull it out, why are they accessing it and for how long?
  8. Do they typically enable notifications on apps they download or do they turn them off? (Notifications let you send them messages/reminders to revisit your app or to take an action. If they routinely turn those off, your usage of them is a waste.)

This level of detailed information about your learners’ usage habits may seem hard to come by at first. Consider conducting a task analysis to observe how learners are actually using their phones… rather than asking them to self-report.

Why Mobile Learning is a Slow March (#ATDTK Reflections)


While a huge number of organizations are still just getting their feet wet with mobile, this year’s ATD TechKnowledge conference sought to get learning professionals thinking beyond our current approaches to imagine how technology in 2020 and beyond will impact learning.

David Rose, MIT media lab instructor, entrepreneur and author, painted an exciting picture of the “internet of things” in the opening keynote. He showed a number of products that fade into the background of our lives while using data and connectivity to make our lives easier. We saw orbs that glow a certain color to tell us what the weather is like and tables that create beautiful images to show the balance of conversation in a meeting. Augmented reality was shown as a way to turn the world around us into a user interface we manipulate.

His book, Enchanted Objects, sounds like a must-read. I myself am very excited by the possibilities of these objects!

The Glass Slab

Mobile learning as we know it today is reliant on the “glass slab” in our hand. It’s about building an app or website that is intuitive and useful and moving learning to this device, anytime and anywhere. And while the technology around us is moving forward very quickly, executives and training professionals are constrained by the needs (and sometimes the limitations) of their organizations.

This is why the concurrent sessions at a conference are so useful. These presentations, for the most part, are more grounded in the here and now. One of my favorite concurrent sessions was a mobile learning case study presented by Brandon Carson, Director of Learning at the Home Depot. Carson shared the business needs, process and approach his team has taken to develop a mobile performance support app for Home Depot employees. While David Rose’s presentation was all about exciting products and technologies that will change our world, Carson’s presentation was about his team’s multi-year journey to create an app that is simple to use yet contains a massive amount of information. His team navigated some significant constraints such as lack of bandwidth, device distribution and training time available to create a meaningful learning experience.

The contrast between these two situations was a bit ironic, really. Carson commented on it at one point, noting that his team “was taking three years to figure out what smart phone experience may or may not work. Moving a ship as big as Home Depot is not easy. (This makes it hard to)… keep up with the pace of technology.”

Back to the Here and Now

I feel like many of the organizations we talk to are on the same boat (pun intended). We are all excited about the future of technology and how that future, whether it be algorithmic learning or the internet of things, will change the way people learn and remember. But we are all still living in the here and now, working for or with organizations that have real constraints and challenges that must be addressed. For example:

  • You might know that a software-as-a-service (SaaS) learning product is right for your learners, but your IT Procurement might not really know how to buy it and pay for it!
  • You might want to deliver more training via a mobile device, but the LMS that your organization invested six or seven-figure dollars into makes this experience clunky at best.
  • You might believe that games and gamified experiences will enhance learner engagement and help drive retention, but stakeholders are still feeling burned by a past “experiment” that blew up in their faces!
  • You want to invest in a new, innovative learning platform, but your organization is structured into different business areas and it is difficult to leverage a single platform across multiple areas.

What Can Be Done?

There is no easy answer for how to navigate these challenges. I liked how Brandon Carson’s presentation gave a very real picture of how to move forward with new learning technologies. It might take longer than we would like, but it is possible to bring new learning approaches to an organization if we take the time to build the case, analyze the target learner, prototype and pilot, and match the solution to business needs.

That’s what it really takes to bring the “future of learning,” whatever that ends up looking like, to an organization.

More Reflections on Mobile Learning

I’ve written some other articles recently that explore mobile learning in greater detail, both here and on our Knowledge Guru website. Here are a few:


mLearning – the trend that’s NOT? mSupport the trend that might be?

Mobile Learning in 2014

Clark Quinn is a long-time advocate of the use of mobile technologies to support learning efforts. He’s also been a very public presence in trying to help the learning and development community (and anyone else who cares to listen to the conversation) that the BEST use of mobile phones is NOT eLearning. He has written and spoken numerous times on this topic. I responded to his recent post with this comment:

How did the name “mLearning” even get started? I agree with you 100% – the best use of the Smartphone is as a support tool. It seems, then, that the appropriate nickname is mSupport or mResource rather than mLearning. Phones are awesome “find and locate” tools that can help you research something on the spot – something you may not necessarily need to remember after you’ve located what you need, used it in the moment, and then moved on.

My comment was actually a lot longer than the above, but in essence, I noted that our challenge is that the term mLearning has become very entrenched (look at the name of the mLearn Conference), but I believe it is the wrong term. When the L&D community talks about the “mLearning” trend, we’re talking about a trend that is just… not.

But phones are EVERYWHERE! What do I mean?

Yes, mobile devices are prolific. A recent Pew report indicates a whopping 91% of us now own a mobile phone. Everywhere you look you see people on their phones – in restaurants, shopping malls, airports, sporting events, cars (cringe). People are ON THEIR PHONES. But…according to our own industry reports, they are not on their phones doing eLearning courses. Only 1.39% of the 2013 ASTD State of the Industry report respondents indicate they used mobile as a distribution method. ASTD’s reports run a year behind (e.g. their 2013 report relies on 2012 data), but if we are generous and assume a 100% increase in the use of mobile we are still way under 5% of respondents indicating they are using mobile devices as a distribution strategy for delivering learning solutions (okay – ASTD don’t call use the term learning solutions, they use the term training).

What ARE they doing with them?

According to a 2013 report published by Harvard Business Review, our largest usage of the phone is for “me” time (46% or 846 minutes of our time in a month) and “social interactions” (19% of our time or 410 minutes per month). The use of our phone for “discovery” or learning new information is only 4%, which translated to 47 minutes.  Here’s what each of the buckets included:

  • “Me” time included playing a game, checking out “gossipy” websites, or watching a funny video online.
  • “Social” time meant interacting with other people. I assume this would be via Facebook or Twitter but it wasn’t specified the way “me” time was.
  • Discovery time included seeking news and information.

What should L&D practicioners make of this?

I suggest these things:

  • Stop trying to use mobile technology to mimic what you have done via other technologies. We do this ALL the time. When video came out, we shot videos of people talking to mimic the live instructor lecturing to a class. When virtual worlds came out, we held virtual events and did virtual PowerPoint presentations – something we used to do live. When eLearning first came out, we put text onto a screen, slapped an image in, and had people click NEXT to continue.
  • Start paying attention to how people actually LIKE to use their phones. Consider whether there is something of value you can do that resonates with what people like to do. Ripe opportunities include mobile games that actually help people learn something while they play or  videos that people may enjoy while learning  something. Some are trying to create. Another opportunity to consider exploiting is the creation of podcasts or audio books.
  • Consider how to nurture and enable people to use online social communities for learning. People like using their phones for social interactions. Help people become proficient with social tools – and let them explore ON THEIR OWN rather than trying to figure out how to track “informal learning.” (If you are tracking it….it is NOT informal.)

Food for thought

I brainstormed a list of things that I think make a mobile phone a powerful and/or unique tool from other things we have available. Your job is to figure out what this means for the phone’s potential as a support tool to people in the workplace:

Phones are powerful and/or unique because…

  • …of their near constant presence. If we don’t have the phone in our hand already, it’s in our pocket, purse, or beside us.
  • …they keep us continually connected to the Internet and give us access to billions of bits of information at any moment in time.
  • …we focus on them very, very frequently, but in short bursts of time (60 seconds to a few minutes).
  • …the information we find on them is “in-the-moment” information rather than information we want to retain for long periods of time.
  • …if we DO want to retain the information over time, we push it to a repository on the phone (e.g. our Contacts or apps such as Evernote that allow us to document/store information we can retrieve later.) We don’t attempt to remember – we know we can find/locate later.
  • …we bookmark things we find valuable and we search out apps that support things we care about. I have a Fitbit app on my phone as well as a Grocery List app that I use constantly.
  • ….we like apps – but we only use a very few of them routinely. Most apps purchased are used for 10 days or left and then trashed or forgotten.
  • …we use our phones to play – quite a bit. Mobile gaming is exploding and some games have a high, high addiction rate (Angry Birds was a huge phenomenon a few years ago. Candy Crush was the big winner in 2013.)
  • …we prefer to watch stuff on them than to read on them. Videos are much easier to consume on a phone than large amounts of text are. Audio books and podcasts are wonderful to listen to while exercising, walking, or doing other mundane tasks that don’t pull our brain’s attention away.
  • …we like to create content with our phones. Snapchat has skyrocketed in popularity in recent months as people take pictures of themselves, attach a line of commentary and send to a friend. The message is gone as soon as the recipient views it. Twitter has found its greatest potential in partnering with television. It’s discovered that people like to treat TV watching as a live large group event where commentary flies via Twitter as the TV show or live event unfolds.

So… while people are currently talking about “mLearning”, to me it is the trend that’s NOT happening. The trend that COULD be happening if we think strategically and creatively is ‘mSupport.’ Perhaps true mLearning can come (I do love my audio books and podcasts and I learn from them), but I don’t think it will be something the masses employ or enjoy.