Mobile Technology: Best Suited for “Push” or “Pull” Learning?

The original question… “What Kind of Learning Is Best Suited to Mobile Technology? …surfaced yesterday in a networking group and included three different learning contexts:

–         Acquisition of learning
–         Retention of learning
–         Application of learning

The first thing that popped into my head was… “Yeah, all three are a good fit!” Then the consultant in me kicked in and the answer morphed to what we are all trained to give…  “It depends.”

Having all my bases covered, I attempted to clarify…or was that justify…

The knee-jerk response resonates with my sense that mobile can indeed handle all three, but I think some better than others. I would place acquisition of learning as the third best application. The other two are where “it depends” has the ring of validity, at least in my mind. The consultant’s answer truly is dependent upon what type of learning is being pursued…and to an even greater degree of dependency, “by whom” and “in what work context”?

I say this because I do not think an accurate determination is possible simply by looking at the type of learning desired and the delivery [or access] technology. We need to consider the work context attributes of “space, media, and blended systems” and how they apply. In fact, we need to accomplish discovery across all three phases of the learning continuum framework “prepare, deploy and reinforce” before nailing down best in class technology choices. See Discovery Methodology for a Learning Continuum for definitions of the environmental attributes of space, media and systems and the implications of iterative discovery.

For me, “space” is the foundational cluster of attributes to consider. It deals with the learner’s environment and the potential for pushed learning versus pulled learning, keeping in mind it could be both for different learning contexts. If the learning is being “pushed” to an untethered learner audience and there is a high degree of urgency attached to the content, then mobile was likely included in the mix of potential destination devices when design decisions were made. At least one would hope as much.

Learning retention is a perfect approach for pushing learning assets that reinforce formal learning consumed earlier in classrooms or even on-line venues. We actually do this today with a product called Reality Bytes, where short video vignettes reinforcing key points from formal training are “pushed” to the learner via email and/or mobile devices. We gather their feedback in the form of responses to a multiple-choice question. The objective in this scenario is a purely a post-training “retention” effort and provides an effective measurement method.

Push may also be used for non-training content, and equally as important for impacting or sustaining performance. Consider price changes on a product line for remote sales reps, or even competitive alerts. Sort of blurs the line on what is training and what is information does it not? Technology like mobile can indeed blur a few lines. Get used to seeing this sort of thing.

In another context, if the learner invokes the learning asset during a moment of learning need within a specific workflow, then the application is “pulled” – triggered on demand by the learner. I am a post-training performer support enthusiast, so this application is my pet choice. This is the embodiment of Learning @ the Point of Work and falls neatly into the third phase of the continuum – Reinforcement. It is not a mistake that learning retention also falls into the third phase of the continuum. Why?  Because both are downstream, post-training applications of learning.

As you can see, the varying learning contexts I described can influence ‘for what” and “when” mobile may be a good-better-best fit. I personally do not see myself accomplishing as much “acquisition of learning” on my Android over an option to access it via my computer. On an iPad? Maybe odds improve. Different device = different solution.

The device selection points back to the “space” attributes again. Where is the learner when the moment of need arises? What is the nature of their connectivity? What is the level of urgency attached to learning consumption? And the list goes on as the discovery post reveals. Like it or not, our role as Training is dragging us downstream into this post-training world. We will be seeing more of solutions that address retention and application of learning in the Reinforcement phase accomplished via a mobile platform.

What is behind this downstream movement? I honestly see learning converging with work, and this trend is forcing learning assets to be less traditional and less linear in design. Ultimately, learning is requiring a more objectized design and is aligning as a more task/role centric application…and often more informational than instructional at the outset.

This is an evolution driven by learning-with-work convergence and the presence of all those “space” attributes are pointing more and more toward facilitating this convergence while the learner is in free-range mode…meaning not in class…or tethered to the LMS…or the Net for an on-line/virtual learning event. They are in the work context, in the Reinforcement phase of the learning continuum, and likely under the gun to perform flawlessly. Those attributes matter most to me.

I cannot give you rates of adoption, as this evolution is happening now. However, rapid growth in the use of EPSS technology and the use of web services portals point to the popularity of “pull” mentality of learners at their points of need. I think that trend bodes well for a continued increase in the use of mobile technology; however, I see it supporting informal learning more so than formal.

…and that would be my $.02.

Looking forward hearing what your experiences have been…or what you project that they may be in the future. Where is your best fit for mobile learning?

Take good care!

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker 
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning