Mobile has truly unlocked a world of potential when it comes to learning. Organizations now have employees’ attention during their downtime and, in some industries, during their off time. Today’s mobile-driven environment means that people are always connected to one another, and if we can embrace a few simple design principles, we can also increase their connection with their respective workplaces.
Most people want to learn and improve continually. There’s an inherent desire to do our jobs well and grow in the process. Yet many employees cringe when they hear the word “training.” When you think about it, it’s really not that surprising. After all, traditional training has not always delivered on its promise of help. Sitting in a classroom, listening to hours of instruction, or parking yourself in front of a screen to take a lengthy course is not typically effective. In fact, research shows that most employees tune out—largely because, based on what we know about the brain, they can’t process all of the content, let alone remember it, if it isn’t reinforced. As a result, they don’t take the learning back with them to the job, which means the organization doesn’t benefit.
For these reasons, we have a great opportunity to revisit our approach to corporate learning as both an optimal mobile and an optimal learning experience. If we can nail these two things, we’ll be able to impart the knowledge we want to all employees—whether they’re in the warehouse, in the field, on the retail floor, or in and out of the office. Plus, we’ll be able to better share the embedded knowledge that already exists, help our people connect and engage, and ultimately effect change in the workplace in a way that we can measure.
But how do we do this? To understand better, we must look at mobile design practices and at learning design practices and optimize for both. Luckily, the two often go hand in hand.
1. Design for less, not more
It’s no wonder that traditional learning approaches don’t translate into strong learner experiences. Speaking from personal experience, if I have five minutes to spare, I don’t want to spend four of them scrolling through a long list of possible topics and then one minute viewing the introductory portion of a course that doesn’t quite fit on my mobile screen and only tells me what I’m going to learn. Five minutes into the exercise, my time’s up and all I’ve gained from the experience is frustration. This is an isolating experience, not a connecting one. On the other hand, if I could click one button and receive the exact piece of information I needed to know for my job, whether it was via a short video or a few key questions, I’d have it made.
2. Design for the bored
The vast majority of mobile users can be classified as either “bored” or “busy.” We may not like to think of it this way, but the same is true of mobile users in the workplace. The bored users are looking for productive ways to fill their time. They want to connect and engage and, yes, even learn. These are opportunities to leverage gamification to draw them in and then capitalize on those opportunities by embedding the knowledge they need in their minds. Gamification can be everything from game-play to leveraging friendly competition, to rewards programs, to various recognition mechanisms. And since our employees are rarely motivated by exactly the same thing, the best way to engage them, mobile or otherwise, is to offer a combination of all of these mechanisms—so long as we do so in a way that doesn’t complicate the mobile learning experience.
3. Design for the busy
The power of the mobile device is that it’s in your employee’s pocket. Of course, the challenge of the mobile device is that it’s in your employee’s pocket. Employees are now used to accessing what they need in their busy lives within seconds. This rapid access to information needs to be the same experience in the workplace, whether it’s pulling up data in seconds to answer a customer’s question or simply looking up the right steps for completing a daily routine. Effective mobile learning allows learners to get the information they need, whenever and wherever they need it on the job, preferably with the touch of a button.
For example, if a customer enters a store and wants to know the size specification on a specific product, the associate cannot spend five or 10 minutes scrolling through thousands of products or clicking through a course to find the information they need. This will leave the employee distressed and the customer unhappy. Alternatively, if the employee can access that information through an easy click and search interface similar to their typical Google experience, everyone’s happy.
4. Design for your audience
Who is the mobile learner? Is it the Millennial we all envision or the seasoned line worker? Surprisingly, it’s both. Mobile devices of some sort have crossed generations and made their way into almost every work environment, including delivery trucks, factories, offices, and retail floors. For this reason, it’s important to make sure your mobile learning experience is not designed for expert users. Your first impression must be clean, and learners must intuitively know where to go. Many of the most-used mobile applications (Google Search, YouTube, Twitter, and Pinterest) are the least flashy and simplest to use for all demographics.
5. Design around the limitations of the workplace
Video is clearly one of the most engaging ways to share detailed information about a topic. However, the reality of many of today’s workplaces is that bandwidth is often an issue. Designing with a mobile-first approach is not just about user interface, but also about effectively managing bandwidth to optimize the learner experience in all environments. If your video won’t play, or your course is difficult to see and navigate, learners will find greener pastures.
6. Design to capture feedback
Besides being a sophisticated communication tool, mobile devices can also provide valuable feedback with regard to learning, knowledge, and, ultimately, behaviors. Take advantage of the always-on connection to your learners to keep your finger on the pulse. Sending out quick surveys, obtaining informal feedback, capturing suggestions, and recording behavior observations are great ways to engage with your employees on an ongoing basis and collect their input. Again, you should design these experiences to be quick and easy, and to maximize touch and minimize key-strokes.
You can also help employees provide feedback and learn from one another by taking advantage of built-in cameras, voice recorders, and video recorders on these devices. For example, your salespeople might record a short version of their latest pitch and submit it for review. A warehouse associate might take a picture of a chemical spill and share it with his or her peers for cleanup or to reinforce a best practice. You can capture this information, share it, and tie it back to learning, all by leveraging your mobile device.
The power of mobile learning
The power of mobile learning continues to grow and challenge us in new ways. With so much on the go, it can be difficult to know where to start, but these six design principles can help get you on your way and focused on what matters most—delivering learning to your employees in a way that drives meaningful behavior change and the resulting measurable business impacts. Remember, your employees want to engage with you, your learning content, and one another—in the simplest, most effective way possible that respects their individual needs.