Another way to think about it is where learners are in their development. We use formal learning when they’re novices, and don’t know what they need or why they need it. Once they’re on the job, when they’re practitioners, they know what they need and just want access to it. The role of performance support is that information in the moment, and mobile can give us that. For instance, inherent in our architecture is a tendency to skip steps unintentionally. Checklists are a great support tool to help us make sure we do things in order and don’t skip steps. Another opportunity is showing us how to do something with photos or videos, just the sort of support that optimizes outcomes: taking less time and reducing errors. Being able to access those resources when and where needed is a big opportunity. Similarly, having computational resources on tap is a big benefit as well.
There are two ways to think of this. One is of a custom calculator that does things you can’t. For instance, ducting in a building requires complex calculations. Typically folks take the measurements then go back to the office to do the calculations and send out a bid or order materials. Now they can use a special HVA calculator and know as soon as the measurements are done what the requirements are. A second is of a wizard (something like TurboTax), where it’s a mixed initiative: the device asks some information from you, then based upon your response asks different questions. Together, you work through a procedure to get something accomplished. This can be a troubleshooting dialog, a proposal building process or more.
Another big opportunity mobile provides is the ability to connect to people. There are times when it’s not worth creating a resource if the situation is changing too fast or it’s too unique. So sometimes just having the right person available is the best solution. Fortunately, most of the social network tools you might be using in the organization have a mobile solution as well, but think of this as a continuum of support from resources to people. Also, those resources don’t all have to be created by you. If people can create resources, they typically do, and you can do less creation and more curation. This is both a pragmatic response to decreasing resources and increasing complexity, and a principled way to empower people to contribute.
Of course, mobile can be used to augment courses, but ideally not to put a whole course on a phone. While, again, it can make sense on a tablet, instead the opportunity is to extend the learning. Making the models and examples available via mobile for use when performing is an extension of the above. Also, reactivating and reapplying the knowledge is an important part of making learning ‘stick’. Providing continuing new ways to represent the concept, new examples, and more practice, spaced out over time in small bits is a powerful way to augment formal learning. Microlearning is the new meme here.
And, finally, there’s the unique capability of mobile, doing things because of where and when you are, contextual support. The classic example is the GPS: it knows where you are because of those lovely little satellite chips, and it knows where you want to go, because you tell it, and then it helps you along every step of the way. Now imagine doing that for sales, or service, or meetings, or… In short, mobile can be that assistance. It may be able to prep you for a meeting, support you during it, and then check for followup actions afterward. It can help you use local resources to accomplish a goal. If content is king, context is emperor.
And, most interestingly, it can do what’s called augmented reality, whereby additional information is layered on the world through a digital heads-up display or audio, and reveals the intangibles. So , for instance, looking at an engine you can see the parts labeled, and be led through the steps by wearing glasses that have a camera and a can project onto the lens, or more. Or just be talked through it by voice. The point being that we begin to put information where and when it’s needed and the information adjusts as you do things.
Now, this latter is exciting, but also quite advanced. Yet there are real opportunities just in making sure people have access to support at their request, not necessarily contextual. How do we make this happen?
The usual answer is “there’s an app for that”, but that’s only one potential development path, and there are others. Mobile web, e.g. delivering capability through a website, is an option that offers a number of advantages. There is no distribution of apps required, people just need a browser. The development costs are lower. And it’s easy to adapt to changes. I suggest developing a mobile web site first as a way to test and refine capabilities. Of course, there are tradeoffs: you may not be able to tap into all the unique features of a device, it’s not as slick as an app, and it doesn’t work where you don’t have connectivity.
Apps, of course, can take full advantage of the developers toolkits so can be made to perform smoothly and quickly, and can use all the hardware features. On the other hand, they’re more costly to develop, harder to deploy and control (though there’s mobile device management software that makes it feasible). There’s also an in-between solution, whereby you can ‘wrap’ mobile web into a localized app that doesn’t require connectivity. And, for content with limited interactivity, ebooks are a deployment opportunity as well. Having a platform that can distribute content to a generic app on the device is another solution that’s easy to manage.
To get going, you need a mobile strategy. While I don’t dismiss the idea of deploying an initial solution as a way to get prepared, it’s important to be developing your mobile strategy in addition. The reason is simple: mobile is a platform. Anything you deploy will likely lead to requests to expand to new offerings. Whatever platform you choose for a pilot has a strong potential to be the default platform that will go forward. That’s something to be wary of, and prepared for. Don’t choose your pilot platform loosely. But with an awareness of the possibilities, mobile has huge potential to improve outcomes in ways that aren’t training. And that’s a good thing.