A New Day for Learning

 The rise of mobile learning, combined with social media, is changing how employees learn in ways that are “absolutely transformational,” said Josh Bersin, president and CEO of Bersin & Associates during a presentation at the HR Technology Conference entitled “E-Learning Becomes We-Learning.”

More people are buying iPads today than PCs, he said. Investment giant Morgan Stanley predicts more than 10 billion mobile-capable devices will be in circulation by 2015, while fewer and fewer young people use email, preferring texting, Twitter and other forms instead, said Bersin.

All of this has changed what people want from learning and how they want it delivered to them, he said. “People want to learn on the devices they’re most comfortable with,” said Bersin—and their device of choice these days is increasingly likely to be a handheld device instead of a desktop computer or laptop.

Mobile learning has a checkered past, Bersin acknowledged. Earlier versions were often expensive and needlessly complicated, he says. Now, thanks to the ease of creating new apps on the iPhone or iPad, for example, that’s no longer the case. “It’s quite easy to find a recent college grad who will build you an iPad learning app very cheaply,” he said.

The “small-screen” factor means not all learning is suited for mobile devices, he said. But companies such as restaurant chain The Cheesecake Factory have bundled mobile learning along with “gamification,” another trend sweeping over the learning space, to create learning that’s fun as well as mobile, said Bersin. “They needed their workers to understand how to make hamburgers, so they created an iPad app in which the hamburger ingredients—bun, meat patty, onions—are cascading down and the learner has to grab them and quickly build as many hamburgers as they can to the restaurant chain’s specifications, and the app keeps scores on how well learners do and posts them publicly,” he said.

Bersin discussed the results of a two-year study his firm conducted on the state of the learning space, which found that learning comes in three categories: “on-demand” learning, which helps learners quickly solve problems; social learning, in which they can speak with an expert who can help them solve an immediate problem; and embedded learning, a business process—such as an after-action review or a conference call—that serves as a catalyst for learning. Mobile learning, he said, is well-suited for all three categories.

A number of small firms have sprung up recently that specialize in building mobile-learning apps and/or providing mobile content, said Bersin, including Intuition, OutStart and OnPoint Digital. Vendors such as Bloomfire, meanwhile, specialize in tools designed to make it easy for employees to create their own educational videos, upload them to a portal and allow other employees to subscribe via an RSS feed, he said.

These developments have hardly led to the demise of more traditional learning-management system vendors, said Bersin. “You can’t do training in most firms without these administrative tools, and many LMS firms have devoted a lot of resources to creating new mobile learning as well. Most companies continue to use an LMS for formalized learning and then use other apps for creating more informal learning content,” he said.