With a large percentage of global workforces in lockdown mode, “normal course” business is a thing of the past. And that includes employee learning and corporate training programs. Even once lockdown restrictions eventually end, it’s likely that this new reality of working (and learning!) from home will continue into the foreseeable future. So, how can corporate L&D teams make remote learning more relevant, without compromising training objectives?
The answer: Incorporate more mobile learning (mLearning) into corporate blended training programs.
Understanding blended training
Over the years, in-class, instructor-delivered training has given way to different learning models, including fully self-directed online learning. Where in-person instruction played a leading role in prior training models, 100% self-directed learning today does not rely on any trainer interaction. However, over time, a middle-of-the-road training model, called blended training, has evolved. This model is a blend of self-directed learning, with a supporting component of virtual ILT. When put together, these two aspects (V-ILT and self-directed) of blended learning deliver an optimal balance between trainers deciding what’s best for learners, and learners charting their own learning paths.
The role of mLearning in blended training
To understand the role that mLearning plays in today’s corporate training world, one must recall how we got where we are today. The transformation of blended learning, into its current form, took three noteworthy iterations:
- In its initial incarnation, blended training relied primarily on instructor-led training (ILT), with a small component of it assigned to online training (OLT). Those were the days when staff congregated at corporate training facilities, sat through mandated ILT sessions, and then occasionally logged on to online portals to access ancillary learning resources
- In its next iteration, learning was a balanced “blend” of ILT and OLT. Learners learned equally through instructor-delivered training and online resources that supplemented what the instructors delivered
- Finally, we evolved into the blended learning model that’s in vogue today. As learning became more self-directed, learners took greater responsibility for their individual learning paths through OLT. They then only turned to virtual instructors, through a Virtual-ILT component (or VILT) of the course, on an as-needed basis
Blended learners today aren’t a captive audience anymore, like in the days of classroom-delivered instructions. As a result, trainers rely on mLearning strategies and VILT to engage with their audience and deliver training. By building mLearning aspects into their overall blended learning framework, L&D professionals tap into prevailing trends like on-demand learning and learning on the go.
The relevance of mLearning for today’s workforce
The typical workplace today is multigenerational in its composition. However, when it comes to learning, employees across the generational divide face the same challenge: Too much to do during the workday, with too little time to train and learn. Because smartphones, tablets, Readers, and other mobile devices are ubiquitous, with cross-generational access to them, mLearning is a way to push learning to the broadest number of learners.
Because of these unique characteristics of mLearning, all segments of our multi-generational workforce – from Boomers and X’ers, to Millennials, iGeners and Centennials – can leverage blended training and learning opportunities.
Applying mLearning to blended training
mLearning is extremely versatile as a tool to extend the power of blended learning. Its universal acceptance makes it an ideal candidate to bring to play into a diverse set of remote learning situations. In fact, when blended thoughtfully into distance learning programs, L&D professionals can use mLearning to deliver any training they would typically present in ILT form.
Some forms of blended learning that could benefit from mLearning includes:
- Employee onboarding and indoctrination
- Peer-Based Coaching
- Leadership & Executive Coaching
- Remote employee mentoring & coaching
- Sales Training
- Compliance training
- Training on the use of new software features and functionality
- Familiarization of medical devices and procedures
- Basics of operating and maintaining engineering and mechanical equipment
- …and a whole lot more!
Because of advances in chip and hardware manufacturing technologies, instructional designers can use advanced features and functionality – such as 3D modeling and near-real-life simulation, to help learners learn by using mobile devices. And, where there’s a need for virtual instructor intervention, mLearning training developers rely on high-definition cameras and high-throughput mobile network technologies, like 5G, to deliver high-speed, low-latency learning experiences.
Secrets to successful blended mLearning
Although we stated earlier that trainers can leverage mLearning to deliver a wide range of training, which they traditionally offered as in-person options, there are certain differences in how those blended experiences may occur. In large part, however, those variations stem from the inherent technical and technological differences between mLearning and in-person training.
Here are some guiding principles to keep in mind when looking to maximize blended learning experiences through mLearning:
- Mobile devices have much smaller footprints than whiteboards, overhead projector screens or large screen TVs and monitors. Because of these limitations, m-devices typically don’t lend themselves for marathon learning sessions. Therefore, to deliver a fulfilling blended learning experience, trainers must keep mLearning content short
- The more fulfilling learning experiences come from flexibility in the learners’ ability to alter their learning environment at their convenience. Remember to use responsive design principles – build once reuse on different platforms (eReaders, 6-inch or 9-inch smartphones, tablets or desktops) – so you won’t restrict your learners to specific mobile devices
- To offer an optimal mLearning experience, blend external (3rd party) content into your own proprietary content. Use more videos and podcasts (links to Ted talks, Khan Academy, and Open Culture) to supplement core content of your own. However, because some mLearners might not feel comfortable visiting external sites or resources with their mobile devices, make accessing such content optional
- Even though it may not be a pre-requisite for mLearners to successfully complete the course, insist on frequent in-person touchpoints with your learners. This requirement addresses the frequent criticism levied on most blended training – that it is “distant” and “impersonal” in its delivery
- One of the biggest advantages of mobile devices is that it has spurred the growth of social interactions online. L&D professionals can leverage those interactions to further their training objectives through social learning. Create Facebook groups, Instagram pages, and YouTube channels so mLearners can interact with other learners at their own convenience. This creates a 24×7 learning opportunity. It also opens the door for virtual instructor interactions in a social setting, rather than a more restrictive classroom environment
- While formal, video-based face-to-face touchpoints are an important component of mobile-based blended learning, trainers should also use the power of mobile devices to engage with learners. The use of text, chat and instant messaging, to stay constantly in touch with learners, adds a personal dimension to mLearning experiences that other communication forms – like pre-recorded lectures – don’t offer
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has changed how employees learn. As employees work from home, organizations must also support learning from home. A lockdown-inspired training opportunity aside, mobile learning, as part of a blended learning, makes sense. It not only is a great way to extend the power of online/VILT learning, but it also provides flexibility for learners to learn on the go and learn as and when convenient to them.