Is your desktop learning management system (LMS) as passé as the classroom? As the use of tablets and smartphones becomes more widespread, LMS providers now offer a mobile option to their customers, allowing users to access instruction anywhere, anytime.
Companies are turning to Learning Management Systems to train their teams. An LMS enables employees to complete the courses necessary for certification and managers can track an employee’s progress through the courses. Thanks to smartphones and tablets, learning doesn’t require a classroom or a desktop computer.
The global mobile learning industry is on the rise. According to RnRMarketResearch.com, which specializes in market research reports, the global mobile learning market, educational institutions, and corporations worldwide are projected to grow from $7.98 billion this year to $37.6 billion in revenues by 2020. A compound annual growth rate of 36.3 percent!
“Growing mobile and smartphone penetration across the globe and increasing demand for digital education are visibly driving the mobile learning industry,” the RnRMarketResearch report states.
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Are All Companies Taking Advantage of Mobile LMS?
Mobile LMS, or mlearning, offers several advantages to companies. Employees can undertake skills and compliance training whenever or wherever it fits into their schedule without being tied to a desktop or classroom. Managers, meanwhile, have the ability to view which employees have taken the required courses quickly on a mobile device.
However, going mobile entails more than migrating desktop content to a mobile device. What works on a desktop may not translate to a tablet or smartphone. Further, companies need to map out their mobile LMS strategy. What do they hope to accomplish with it? How sophisticated is their workforce when it comes to mobile learning, etc? Also, choose a platform, i.e., native app or responsive Web design.
Although most LMS vendors offer a mobile capability in some form, not all companies utilize it, according to David Wentworth, senior learning analyst at Brandon Hall Group, a human capital management research and advisory firm that assists organizations in selecting technology. Its latest research found that 29 percent of the 280 companies it polled had no mobile learning interface. When it comes to a mobile LMS, the majority of companies only provide “a handful of content via a mobile browser,” Wentworth states.
The reasons range from not having the technological capacity or a workforce ready to undertake a mobile LMS to security concerns regarding putting proprietary information on a mobile device, Wentworth says. However, as the technology advances to a point where content can be delivered effectively on any device, Wentworth foresees more companies going mobile with their LMS.
Employees Want to Learn…Now
Since smartphones and tablets have nearly supplanted the traditional desktop computer, it was only a matter of time before companies and their employees demanded a mobile capability for their LMS. Those who work in the corporate LMS field agree clients are pushing for it.
“Mobile has become a must-have requirement,” says Emily He, CMO at Saba, which offers [email protected] LMS. “Today, people live on their mobile devices. So unless you can enable them to learn on their mobile devices, they are not going to embrace your learning system.”
Kay Lucas, vice president of product management for PeopleMatter which offers, among other platforms, an LMS called PeopleMatter LEARNTM, agrees in 2017 mobile capability ranks high on clients’ wish lists. “This year, a lot more of our customers have the expectation their LMS must be mobile friendly,” she says. “That is much different than in 2013.”
Mobile LMS strategy dovetails with the current “just in time” learning phenomenon, He says. People now want to “learn on the go,” she says.
Because of that preference, Saba’s He contends employees learn content better on a mobile device. “Learning professionals measure the effectiveness of the learning management system by how much time people spend inside the system,” she says. “If you provide mobile support for your learning system, people will spend more time within the LMS and they will spend more time learning the content.”
Mobile learning is not just for training. Another advantage is on-site performance support or helping employees do tasks even while in far-flung locations without access to a desktop computer. For a technician working in the field or an employee helping customers at a retail location, having a mobile device handy to call up training materials or information in seconds is a benefit.
“If I’m a field support professional and I have a question, I need the answers now,” He says. “I want to be able to go on my mobile device and find the answers right then and there.”
What works on a desktop computer may not translate well onto a mobile device. A three-hour primer on say, combating harassment in the workplace, succeeds best when an employee sits at a desktop computer and is more agreeable to taking in a large dose of content. On a tablet or smartphone, content is better consumed in what He terms “snackable” or shorter bits, like a video.
Saba’s He recommends companies incorporate a hybrid strategy. Whereby longer courses and content are consumed on a desktop or in an instructor-led program. Meanwhile, mobile content tends toward “shorter, more engaging content — content users can find on the fly,” she says. “You have to think about your mobile content very differently.”
J.P. Medved, content marketing director, and e-learning expert at Capterra, which aids companies in choosing software, agrees graphic-based content like videos translate best to a mobile device. Because of the screen size, mobile devices have inherent limitations, such as smaller type size as well as the need to scroll more frequently than a user would on a desktop to access the content.
“Videos and graphics tend to do better on mobile,” Medved says. “But anything that is performance support-type content has been very good on mobile.”
Responsive Website Design vs. Native App
When contemplating a mobile learning strategy, companies must decide on the platform. It’s perhaps the most important decision an organization makes in light of the cost it entails to develop either delivery mode. The two vehicles commonly employed are either a responsive website design or a native app. Each carries pros and cons.
In broad terms, a responsive or mobile-friendly website enables the content to shift to whatever device is used, whether that be a desktop, tablet, or smartphone, typically via a web browser using HTLM5.
With a responsive web design, content changes are easily updated through an Internet connection on any device, Medved notes. This platform, he adds, may be less costly to implement in some instances because it doesn’t require configurations specific to each mobile device.
A native mobile app, meanwhile, is designed specifically for mobile devices, most often as an app or sometimes an ePub manual, according to Capterra. Users download the app from either iTunes, Google Apps Marketplace or Google Play. Another advantage — native apps can be pulled up even offline.
“PeopleMatter develops either platform for customers”, Lucas says. Yet in her view, a native app is probably best suited for the “real estate” a mobile device since less scrolling is required to move about the content. “It provides a more robust, feature-rich environment and is more user-friendly,” she adds. Further, native apps are able to send out push notifications to alert users about course due dates.
“Yet, a native app that lives entirely offline and is available solely on a mobile device is not the norm today”, Wentworth says. Typically, native apps still access learning materials via a web connection.
Saba’s He says LMS content can bridge both online and offline platforms. “For example, an employee breaks away in the middle of a course to travel. He or she can pull up the same course on a mobile device in an airport” He says. “The seamless connection of your learning experience is what is going to make a learner happy”.
What to Look for in A Mobile LMS
Experts concur data protection tops the list of must-have features in a mobile LMS. Many times, the content is proprietary to the company, so it must be secure. Then there is the real possibility of a tablet or smartphone being misplaced by a user.
“The number one question we usually encounter from customers is what about security? Is my data secure on a mobile device?” Saba’s He says. “So it’s important to choose a platform that protects data security.”
Medved advises first researching a LMS vendor’s security processes before making a selection. “Two-factor authentication is a good feature to have. Also, find out whether the vendor encrypts all data or only encrypts in the passage”, Medved stresses.
Beyond the technical aspects, Medved says it’s important to ascertain whether employees will actually utilize the training modules via a mobile device. Some workers simply prefer logging on to a desktop for the LMS. Or, they don’t need a mobile-enabled LMS because they don’t travel out of the office much. Developing a mobile LMS platform isn’t cheap; if utilization is low it is a wasted expense.
The Future of Mobile LMS: The Apple Watch?
New to the mobile scene is the much-ballyhooed Apple Watch. Can it change the mobile learning world? Experts now chuckle at the thought of mobile LMS on a wearable tech device. But add it’s not out of the realm of future possibility.
“It might be too early to say, but I love the idea of it,” Lucas says. “Years ago, we couldn’t have imagined learning served up on our phones. Maybe learning is not going to be as much big content but very short sound bites. I can imagine a world where you can do that from a much smaller device, like a watch.”