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Have Learning, Will Travel

Smartphones, e-readers, laptops and wafer-thin tablets now do things we never thought we needed from personal technology. They get directions, search for restaurants, allow us to chat with friends, deliver news and provide online learning opportunities. Today there are more than 6 billion mobile phones in the world, and nearly every one can deliver some form of online training.

Bersin & Associates research shows that the use of mobile devices for learning rose from 9 percent of U.S.-based organizations in 2007 to an estimated 20 percent or more in 2010. Many major organizations have adopted mobile learning that works. For example:

• Accenture created a podcast program that allows subject-matter experts and the organization’s leaders to share knowledge at minimal cost. To date, 180 podcasts have been created and more than 20,000 employees — 11 percent of the workforce — have accessed them. Accenture’s mobile-delivered compliance training has twice the adoption rate of its PC-enabled versions.

• Coca-Cola turned to Kelley Executive Partners to create an alternate reality game that combines social and mobile technologies — including GPS and smartphones — as well as collaborative and competitive team problem-solving. The game’s purpose is to illuminate how millennial consumers use Web 2.0 technologies to help Coca-Cola develop a more effective marketing strategy.

• Computer storage provider Network Appliance now delivers all its on-boarding and training through a new application called the NetApp Briefcase which runs on the PC, mobile phone and iPad.

Today, vast improvements in mobile technology, the ubiquitous status of mobile devices and the decreasing costs of mobile bandwidth have all positioned mobile learning to take off. But it has taken a while to get here, and it is instructive to look at the factors that led us to where we are. A variety of issues have changed.

1. Until recently, learning budgets were cut, forcing companies to abandon experimental projects. Mobile learning was considered out of the core until the last 18 months.

2. There were too many devices with too many operating systems available. Today the market has consolidated and the BlackBerry, Apple, Android and Microsoft operating systems are starting to dominate the market.

3. Screen resolution and technologies to display information have been transformed. High-resolution screens, coupled with readers like Kindle and iPad publishing tools, now make mobile devices an easy way to read and display information.

4. Location-based applications, complemented with platforms such as the iPad, now make it possible to develop learning and knowledge-based applications on mobile devices that are far more useful than those on stationary computers.

5. People are so familiar with mobile phones there are no barriers to usage. The explosion of non-voice data applications accompanying these changes has driven demand for mobile data access, causing frequent mobile Internet use nearly to double to 55 percent today from 24 percent in 2009, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

All of this means learning leaders must evaluate the following:

First, all new e-learning designs must consider mobile deployment as a channel for delivery. If you build a Flash-based training program — the majority of e-learning programs are still built in Flash — you must determine what that might mean when a user is on an iPad or iPhone.

Second, today’s learning architectures — your organization’s set of technology decisions for development and deployment of formal and informal learning — must incorporate multiple delivery channels, such as classroom, informal and social learning, virtual classroom and mobile.

Third, content, tools and platform providers must invest in mobile interfaces so corporate and government buyers can deploy mobile content easily. The days of building custom versions of courses for various devices are slowly coming to an end. The LMS, LCMS and tools providers must do the heavy lifting for mobile applications.

Finally, we as learning leaders must embrace and welcome mobile learning to our strategies. No longer is it OK to wait for mobile learning to arrive. Employees and customers will run our content on their mobile devices whether we like it or not.

Josh Bersin is the principal and founder of Bersin & Associates. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.