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:


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