Leaders in mLearning Series: Q&A with Stephen Bruington, Learning Strategist

If you’re like most learning professionals, you probably have a few questions about “going mobile:” What does “mobile learning” really mean? How does it look different than eLearning or performance support? And perhaps most importantly, why should you care?

Of course, each company will have different learning needs, which means there aren’t necessarily clear-cut answers to these questions. But to give you a place to start, we’ve asked Stephen Bruington, a seasoned learning strategist with a knack for staying ahead of the curve, what he thinks. Hopefully, his responses will spark ideas for your own company and what mobile learning should mean for you.

Stephen Bruington

Stephen Bruington is a Learning Strategist with Anthem, Inc. His focus is on facilitation, social collaboration and informal learning. Stephen works to predict and anticipate what the role of Learning & Development will be in the near and distant future. Through his work, he is preparing the organization to be flexible and responsive. Learn more about his work by visiting his website, thelearningdude.com.

1. Where can mobile make the biggest impact in the workplace?
It sounds almost silly, but the biggest impact can be made with anyone who is mobile. The workforce that is remote (not work-from-home) can very much benefit from having access to mobile devices and content on-the-go. It’s incredibly empowering to the individual and the organization; it allows you to push notifications and content to all of your field employees, as well as more directly to specific people.

2. How have mobile devices changed how we learn?
With the advent of mobile technology—in particular smartphones—learning has dramatically shifted from observing the “sage on the stage” to on-demand learning. However, rather than a subtle “I’d like this when it’s easy for me,” you have a “Give it to me now or I’m never coming back” attitude from a lot of users. UX and UI are critically important in the mobile space, and if you don’t get it right, learners don’t have to stay because there are dozens of alternatives just waiting for their attention.

3. How should print learning content look different than mobile content?
The first distinction is the most obvious: print content is static, and has zero connection to location, time, and any other data. It’s permanent the moment the ink hits the paper. Aside from the serif vs. sans-serif debate (print versus digital, respectively), there are capabilities with a dynamic display that you can mimic on paper, but at what cost? As mobile becomes more ubiquitous and cheaper, print is losing the necessary weight it used to carry.

4. How should eLearning function differently from mLearning?
To be clear, I consider eLearning to be just that: electronic learning; the device I use to access that content is irrelevant. mLearning is content specifically created for a mobile device, such as a phone or tablet, and accessed from that device. Having said that, eLearning should function differently because it must be accessible on a broader range of devices. It’s tricky to do that with a simple PowerPoint. Don’t be lazy. Plan out your eLearning and be prepared to respond to any device requesting its content.

5. Do you differentiate between mLearning and performance support?
There’s an important distinction between mLearning and performance support. I think of mLearning as mobile apps designed to teach. I think of performance support as mobile access to resources, people, or places that help me do my job at the “moment of need.” mLearning is a casual consumptive experience, whereas performance support is an aggressive demand because I’m in the workflow and I need something right now!

6. What common misconceptions do you think business users have about mLearning?
The first misconception is that simply accessing content from a mobile device is mobile learning. Mobile learning is learning content or courses specifically designed for mobile devices. There’s also a misconception that if it’s an app, it’s teaching something. That also, to some extent, may be true, but that doesn’t necessarily categorize that app and the user experience as mobile learning. Finally, it’s easy to singularly equate mobile learning with smartphones, but that category should include tablets (at least), and may include wearables and even laptops, depending on who you ask.

7. What has been your experience with mobile learning at your work? What has been most frustrating, and most successful? Or, if you have not yet implemented mobile learning, why?
The most success we’ve had in mobile learning is agreeing on the need and a definition. The most frustrating has been getting agreement from IT and security to move forward with ideas for development. We haven’t fully implemented mobile, but we have a project team that has representation from a diverse cross-section of the business. I’m hopeful that within the next 12 months we’ll have a fully-functional homegrown app for download, and a mobile strategy in place for learning at our organization.

8. What makes you most excited about mobile learning? What do you think is in store for its future?
I’m not one who considers personal computing a dying breed; I think they’ll be around forever. However, they’ll continue to exist in the shadow of mobile—a shadow that continues to grow at an exponential rate. What makes me most excited about mobile is the unknown: what we haven’t discovered yet. Touch display has evolved to include, in some cases, more than a dozen unique points, and now includes pressure sensitivity. Phones today are filled with sensors—accelerometer, barometer, gyroscope(s), etc. All these inputs allow for an incredibly diverse range of experiences.

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