Is mLearning Causing Learner Fatigue?

This concept came up in a conversation I had yesterday with Peter Ranzino, President of Learning Sciences Corporation. He used this phrase – Learner Fatigue – and it struck a nerve. I think the title of this post poses a question that is rife with conviction; and not conviction in a positive sense. Seriously, are we burning out our workforce with a flood of anytime anywhere learning via mobile technology?

Have we once again embraced technology advances to take an ineffective paradigm and enable it with improvements that still miss the mark? This could easily become a rant, so I will fight the urge…at lease for a paragraph or two.

First of all, what is the “mark” we’re missing? It certainly is not pushing learning out the door faster with greater agility than ever before. It certainly is not making learning available just-in-time because we are…any time…anywhere…and on virtually any device.

My position is this…if these things are “the mark” we’re shooting at the wrong target. Just-in-time is important and becoming more so, but is the just-in-time need we are trying to address with mobile technology based upon pushing Training content to an already overloaded workforce? Is it really? That’s just old school training methods pumped through a really cool new technology…and we’ve been down this road before.

I may be showing my age, but I can remember the introduction of the LMS and the ensuing flood of on-line courses that followed. The design and development pendulum swung toward putting most, if not all training on-line, and the results were underwhelming. And what happened? The pendulum started to swing back the other way over the next few years, and blended learning was born. Same training paradigm; newer technology.

Here we go again; enter mobile technology, and what do we do…but shift eLearning onto a tiny screen on a diverse mix of technology that resists a standard development protocol, especially when deployed in a BYOD world. Mobile technology cannot be deployed only as lipstick on the training pig because we’re missing the true power of mobile’s reach to a dispersed workforce.

After attending mLearnCon last year, and Peter attending this year, we both walked away with the sense that what we should be going after is optimizing the application of the technology…not the optimization of Learning delivery…AND…optimizing the technology in the context of where it is best suited to meet a business critical need – Performance Resultsat the point of workat the moment of need. And…here we go…knew it would happen sooner than later…that ain’t Training…it’s Performance Support! It’s mSupport not mLearning.

Numerous speakers at mLearnCon, even one of the keynotes, confessed that eLearning on a smartphone was not an optimal learning environment. I had to scratch my head at that. So why are we doing it? Because we train people… and now we have a cool technology that allows us to push training 24X7 to everybody with a smartphone or a tablet.

For the last five years I’ve been blogging about how stuck we are in the long-held paradigm of Training. We are SO stuck we take an amazing mobile technology and throw old school training content on it in the hopes of driving workforce performance. We have found a way to get training to people wherever they may be and at whatever time of day we can squeeze in some training. We are burning out our user population, and Learner Fatigue is a result.

We talk about micro-learning and shrinking the size of training modules and that helps, but it’s still only Training. We’ve got to get out of our HR mindset and get into the operational side of the business and hear the voice of our workforce users. What do they really need? What assets address their moments of need when a critical action point is reached in their workflow? (See Figure #1)

Figure #1

Moments of Need

Dr. Conrad Gottfredson developed these five moments of need:

  • Learn New
  • Learn More
  • Apply
  • Change
  • Solve

Moment #3, Apply, represents the “Do I cut the red wire or the blue wire moment”. Do performers need an elearning course on how to disarm a deadly Chorizo sausage or do they need intentionally designed mSupport?

The sausage graphic is indeed ridiculous, but you will remember it. This is a classic “just-in-time-just-enough-just-for-me” moment of need at the point of work. An intentionally designed performance support asset specific to the task at hand…that is ticking…and has no margin for error…is the perfect deliverable via a mobile platform delivery. Speaking of delivery, this kind of asset is not PUSHED….it’s PULLED…by the performer at their moment of need…triggered by their own sense of urgency (a.k.a. ticking sausage).

I don’t know about the rest of you but when I have to take an eLearning compliance course to get my annual training box checked, I experience fatigue…learning fatigue to be more exact. It’s bad enough to endure a compliance page turner on a desktop or laptop computer, but force that learning onto my iPhone, and I’d soon opt for a teeth cleaning visit to the dentist. Oh sure, we can turn it into a game and maybe I can earn a badge. I don’t want to play a game. I want to get the checkbox checked, and I surely don’t need no stinking badges. Sorry…had to go there…

On the other hand, enabling me to access a red-wire-blue-wire job aid when confronted with a ticking sausage; I’m not fatigued, I’m focused. I’m being served by a technology that enables “Apply” assets that are task relevant and support my performance in generating positive business outcomes.

So…my closing point is this…once again, technology’s capability has outrun the paradigm we cling to, and as a result, we leverage only a fraction of its potential. We are not using mobile technology for what it is best designed to handle, and our workforce and the operational stakeholders in our organizations do not have access to the assets, tools, and resources that align with their work. To successfully accommodate this alignment there are a few things we must address including:

  • Addressing their needs requires our adopting a Performance and Learning paradigm that moves beyond Training to leverage what mobile technology can deliver relevant to the downstream, post-training work context.
  • Addressing those needs requires adoption of performance assessment skills to accomplish discovery of role-specific, task-centric work and their associated performance indicators.
  • Addressing those needs requires integration of intentional design and development methods that leverage agile attributes posturing performance solutions ahead of training solutions.

We already have the technology in the hands of the workforce. Let’s evolve our scope and charter as a Training department to put that technology to use in a business-relevant way.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to get off this rant and log into the LMS via my iPad to take my annual checkbox IT Security training. The good news is that the only thing that might explode is my head, but then…the fatigue will end…and IT will be secure.

Thoughts? Costs nothing to share except the time you spend…

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