Mobilemania: the mLearning cult is about to go mainstream

Adriann Haney | 04/22/2013

By Christmas, mobile devices will become the most common route to the internet for most of us. In L&D, the world market for mobile learning products and services will reach $9.1 billion by 2015. And by 2016, business use for tablet devices will have exceeded 100 million.

It’s no surprise that decision makers in L&D are captivated by the learning potential of mobile, but for the vast majority of people in the workforce, learning on-the-go via a digital device is a training tactic yet to be proven. While the big training vendors talk up its potential, real learners on the ground are sticking to the PC.

Even when L&D professionals are asked to speculate on how soon their business is likely to take up mobile learning, only 20% say that the majority of staff training they offer will be mobilised in the near future. When mobile is part of the corporate learning mix, little more than 10 per cent of all course content is accessed via a smartphone or a tablet. For most training experts, eLearning will be done at the desktop for the foreseeable future.

Why then, is mLearning so high on the training manager’s agenda?

L&D embraces innovation, but in today’s tough economic climate, learning leaders equate experimentation with risk, and the result is caution. While the companies delivering learning resources do everything they can to hype up mobilemania and tempt take-up, training managers watch with interest, but at a distance.

When corporate HR executives attend the latest mobile learning seminars or download popular white-papers on the topic, their interest isn’t driven by an excitable desire to explore and experiment: these people are looking for clear answers. They understand the increasing part that mobile will play in the learning mix but they’re smart enough to know hype when they see it. Above all, they want a deployment strategy they feel they can trust.

What most of the hype makers at the sharp end tend to forget is that nearly half of all the people in the workplace today still don’t actually own a smart phone.

And while globally, mobile internet may well be set to overtake desktop access by 2015, regionally, this figure is skewed because very mature markets like the UK and the US compensate for less developed markets (and these less developed markets are not just third world countries: they include critical trading regions in Europe like France, Germany and Spain).  For the average training manager in the average L&D department today, mobile learning is a nice to have add-on with the potential to reach just half the workforce.

We debate mobile learning strategies more than we develop them, and the references we use to make our arguments are predominantly pilot projects that lack genuine enterprise-end scale. We have, according to John Traxler, the world’s first professor of mobile learning, “great examples of good mLearning but no strong evidence that good mLearning works”.