Why mobile learning? The great mobile mystery

What's not to like about Google Analytics. You can learn so much from dipping into the data about how the content we produce is used. As well as showing us where things can be improved, the data shines a light on missed opportunities, the greatest of which, is how few people are consuming learning content on smartphones.

But this isn’t because employees don't want to, and not because the content is not suited. It's because there's a deep seated attachment L&D teams have to the idea that the only way is desktop. This attachment is based on negative assumptions around the suitability of learning content for phones and people's willingness to use personal phones for work stuff.

When it comes to mobile, the world passes us by

One of the wonders of the modern world can be found in the hands of four out of five adults in the UK (Deloitte 2016). Ericsson Mobility Report goes so far as to predict some 70% of the world's population will be using smartphones by 2020. ‘No other personal device has had the same commercial and societal impact as the smartphone, and no other device seems likely to’, says Deloitte in its 'There's no place like phone' report of 2016. And here's Kineo, one of the earliest adopters and champions of responsive learning content consistently developing well designed content that can run across all devices. Mobile should be king.

Yet the data I have seen across several projects shows that hardly any learners, certainly less than 10%, are using their smartphones to access the learning content we produce compared to projects specifically rolled out and therefore actively promoted as mobile content, which show 65% of users on touch devices. In other words, when mobile especially suits the demographic and is pushed out as such, it goes down well. Which begs the question why aren't clients and us as their advisors, pushing mobile harder?

Admittedly, user numbers on mobile devices will not be as high when the user demographic spends most of its time on desktop.  But surely the high usage figures for mobile when it is especially appropriate suggests many clients are missing a trick by not getting behind smartphones i.e. inviting employees to access digital learning on all the devices if they'd like to do so.

So why are the mobile phone figures so low?

When we ask clients before a project commences, many of our customers say they will not need their content to run on phones. I guess they have their reasons: concerns around confidentiality, control, tracking etc.? ‘They’ not being the learners, but those who commission or provide subject matter expertise. So is it perhaps the case that digital learning is being created and delivered in their own image and not that of the people for whom the content is intended?

Last refuge of the desk-bound

Many of us spend most of our time at work on the desktop and our attitudes and assumptions can be shaped by that. But shouldn't we be more enthusiastic and encouraging about content being consumed on other devices too? Or is it that people have doubts about employees being willing to use their personal phone for work stuff, or do work stuff out of hours. Fair enough, but surely it makes sense to at least give them the flexibility instead of ruling it out from the off.

Maintaining the status quo

Or is the real underlying reason a deep seated assumption about people's appetite for engaging with digital learning on a smartphone. I have often been surprised to hear it said: ‘Oh people will never do online training on their phones’. We do everything else on our phones, why not training then? If it's concerns around the amount of content involved in workplace learning, then how come there's such an appetite for long-form copy such as online news sites and blogs which people read on their phones?

I'm not suggesting people will rush to do work stuff on their personal phones; I've got a life too! But my hunch based on the data where a mobile first approach was taken, is that there's more appetite for this than people are being given credit for. So why deny them the opportunity should they be mad enough to do so!?

Trust the data

Again the data speaks volumes in giving the lie to the 'no need to worry about designing for mobile' agenda and the missed opportunities that it represents. Let’s go back to Google Analytics and those high take-up figures for the projects I mentioned before. For the content we know was pushed out primarily as mobile,  it's interesting to note that the level of engagement (analytics speak for the amount of time people spend viewing content) shows very similar patterns for desktop and mobile users with plenty of users happy to spend more than 30 minutes on learning. This suggests that people are happy to do their learning on smartphones given the opportunity and encouragement to do so.  

Leave them to their own devices

In a time-poor working world, we should be giving employees every opportunity to learn anywhere, anyhow instead of narrowing the choice from the start. Josh Bersin in his recent report, 'The disruption of digital learning: ten things we have learned', suggests people are overwhelmed with their day-to-day tasks. They spend 1% of their time on learning and about 25% on email. Time is short, and workplace learning is definitely not top of the list.

Spreading the word

So surely it makes sense to make digital learning available on every device going forward and design accordingly, to make a virtue of that and promote mobile with a great deal more vigour and conviction than is currently the case.  The data from mobile-first approaches shows learners are eager and willing, so who is to argue that left to their own devices, a significant proportion of our learners won't do their digital learning on their phones? Consider at least giving them the opportunity to do so and give it a go!

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