What’s really ready for prime time in corporate learning?

primetimeIt’s easy, with all the buzz around new technologies, to get excited about the possibilities. We can imagine implementing machine learning, chatbots, Virtual and Augmented Reality, the list goes on. However, in the excitement of the potential new, we can’t forget the possible now. There are things that are of proven value, and yet aren’t being seen. They’re ready for the spotlight, and it’s worth considering what’s on the table.

This reflection got started when I was asked to give a presentation on mLearning. For context, my book(s) on mobile came out 6 or 7 years ago! However, the organizer made a comment that stuck with me, to the effect of “to you it’s old, but to many it’s still new”.

I think it’s time to consider some technologies that you should already have implemented and are refining, or should get on right away.


Obviously, mobile is one area of established value. The devices are ubiquitous and there are many ways to take advantage. The trick is to go beyond ‘courses on a phone’. And that requires a different mindset.

As I blogged previously, you need to get your mind around mobile. Once you recognize that your own use of mobile is more around notes, navigation, calendar, contacts, pictures, and more, not courses, you can start to explore the possibilities.

People are already finding value in things like quick references, how-to videos, expertise finders, custom calculators, enterprise search, and more. Further, most if not all of your enterprise apps are already mobile enabled. It’s also increasingly easy to develop your own solutions.

The easy solution is mobile web. If you’ve a site that’s responsive, or can make it so, anyone can point their browser to it. For prototyping, it’s really the way to go. Once you’ve got it tested and refined, you can wrap mobile web to make dedicated apps. Mobile web makes updating information the easiest as well.

Of course, you can start with apps for the optimum experience (if not the cheapest solution). This can be important if it’s customer facing, in particular. It’s been a tradeoff about whether to keep information on the device or pulled through an app, but both are straightforward.

One of the easiest solutions is to use a dedicated mobile content platform. Here, they provide the platform and infrastructure, and you choose the content to be delivered. They can now report back to LMSs as well, so you can track. Your authoring tools can typically now generate mobile content as well. And I’m not touching on so-called microlearning, because that’s already been discussed.

The take-home is that mobile is easily available now. And, with the trends towards increasingly mobile workforces, mLearning is increasingly important. Mobile is a reality, with proven benefits. It’s past time to get moving.

Note that mobile provides access to both broken up (extended) courses and performance support. And I believe performance support is mobile’s natural niche. The pattern of mobile access is short quick bursts, which is typically a better match to help in the moment than developing people over time. Which brings up performance support as another ‘ready for primetime’ players.

Performance Support

The cognitive benefits of performance support are many. The big picture is providing help in the moment to counter our cognitive gaps. Our brain architecture is powerful, but like any solution, there are systematic gaps. Performance support to the rescue!

There are limits to our brains. We don’t remember large amounts of information well, or any arbitrary information. Certainly not the specifics. Similarly, we have trouble following exact steps time and again. Our working memory is limited, and we can’t do complex calculations in our head. In addition, research has shown that our thinking is ‘distributed’, across tools and representations. Which is why performance support has evolved.

Writing emerged as a mechanism to record thoughts verbatim (surpassing oral storytelling). Similarly, photography, audio recording, and then video recording likewise surpassed our personal memory. In a variety of occupations that involve people’s lives – like aviation and medicine – success depends on checklists to ensure that steps aren’t missed. Decision support tools also minimize errors and time, while maximizing success. And lookup tables are a far better tool than trusting to recall. Particularly when they’re automatically up-to- date.

We get more reliable performance when we identify the cognitive tasks to be performed, the gaps that can exist, and design to prevent those occurring. We can reduce errors, avoid omissions, and provide timely information. The outcomes are better effectiveness and efficiency. This shouldn’t, however, be left to chance. While individual business units may develop such tools, there’s a benefit systematic and organization-wide approaches. It could be IT’s job, but they’re not the human performance experts.

And it’s now easy to create and make available these resources. Portals are inherent in most IT installations, and again mobile access is now commonplace. More recently, it’s become easy to make support resources available at the time and place of need! There are tools that make it easy to bring in specific help in applications and websites, triggered by what tool the individual is using and the goal they’re trying to achieve. We can also do things because of when and where people are.

Performance support is a proven solution, and in many cases it’s a better solution than a course! If things are changing too fast, as increasingly is the case, it doesn’t make sense to try to put it in the head. It’s both hard to do in the first place, and hard to change. If and when you can, put the solution ‘in the world’.


An interesting result of looking at performance support is recognizing that not all tools are coming from analysts or L&D. Instead, many tools are created by the people who need them! Thus, the mantra of ‘curate before create’ has not only been heard, it makes sense. As things move faster, you can’t create everything, though you may still want to vet them.

The move towards ‘user-generated content’ is part of a larger move to tapping into the power of people via social networking. And like the previous approaches, social is a move that already makes sense. Now, you may have heard of increasing numbers of fancy tools, but the chances are there’s already a social tool built-in somewhere in your IT architecture. As the saying goes, pave the paths people are already using when you can, rather than try to manage a large change.

What’s needed are really two things: tools to communicate, and tools to collaborate. And the former seems obvious; we have email, and probably a microblog tool (e.g. Yammer, SocialCast, or the like). Do you have blogs, however? They’ve been on the radar since Google purchased Pyra back in 2003! And increasingly the benefits of Working Out Loud or Show Your Work are being seen.

The underpinning idea is that when people are better aware of what’s happening, they’re better able to align. The key component is people being able to ask and answer questions. The ability to interchange information is critical in this increasingly information-dominated society.

The second component is the one that’s offering big benefits, and that’s collaboration. What starts as wikis has now morphed into collaborative versions of white boards, documents, presentations, spreadsheets, diagrams, and more. The benefits here are the ability to tap into the power of ‘we’. As the saying has it: ‘the room is smarter than the smartest person in the room’. (If you manage the process right.)

More than the others, social is dependent on creating a culture, but the tools are available. The technology is no longer the limitation. Our willingness is at stake.

Organizations are already benefiting from these readily available and implementable solutions. The barriers are now mental, in terms of buy-in and support. It’s past time to be riding on these bandwagons. The rationale is there, so it’s now a matter of making the case, and then making the move.