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What is possible with mobile?

Mobile seems to be everywhere nowadays. Nearly everyone is carrying around immediate access to the Internet in their pocket, thanks to a variety of devices that are as compact as they are versatile. Pew Internet, for example, found that in 2012, about 70% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49 owned a smart phone. And that figure didn’t include tablets, which means even more of us are hooked on mobile devices.

While consumers may be leading the stampede to mobile, the staggering potential of mobile devices to save time and money, revolutionize training and ratchet up performance is certainly not lost on business users. Indeed. Consider, for starters, the estimate from Gartner that in 2012 tablet purchases by businesses would reach 13 million. By 2016, they are expected to balloon to 53 million.

According to a January 22, 2013, brief from Bersin by Deloitte, U.S. training organizations increased spending by 12% in 2012 with a similar rate of growth expected in 2013. This is the highest growth in the last eight years. However, mobile is only a small portion of it. Such increases in training spending combined with the explosion of mobile has created an unprecedented opportunity to leverage mobile training and support as a market differentiator.

An estimated one third of the global workforce is now considered to consist of “mobile workers,” defined as employees working from multiple locations and using three or more devices. Maybe that’s what Apple CEO Tim Cook was foreshadowing three years ago when he said, “The iPad has become an indispensable tool worldwide to help employees across the industries to do their jobs more effectively.”

Clearly, such employees need to be supported and their contributions bolstered with mobile business and learning tools that optimize their performance. And it is happening—but more slowly and sporadically than you might guess, based on the volume of devices in business use.

  • Airline pilots are replacing heavy bags of paper charts and documentation with iPad-enabled digital flight manuals. One major airline expects to save more than 300,000 gallons of jet fuel annually as a result of the move.
  • Two major insurance companies have developed iPad sales presentations for their field agents, resulting in an 18 percent sales increase in just three months for one recent deployment.
  • At an energy company, hundreds of technicians are using iPads to perform maintenance at the top of giant wind turbines. Armed with mobile devices, technicians can take a picture, access videos and collaborate with on-ground resources to troubleshot, diagnose problems and make repairs—all during only one trip to the top of the tower. Maintenance is now faster, safer and more efficient.
  • A giant in the food industry is equipping sales reps in the field with tablets to support and enhance their recurring sales calls, upselling, sharing promotional messages—even stocking shelves. Tablet capability is the centerpiece of a whole new onboarding process, which pairs new people with seasoned salespersons in a mentor relationship for several weeks. The new reps’ tablets are loaded with a specific curriculum for the period which includes interactive checklists, short mobile learning modules and interactive evaluation tools. A dashboard ties all of this together, displaying the number of days left in the mentorship, courses available and when they will be covered.
  • A major pharmaceutical company is using tablets to educate and train its sales reps and to refresh them immediately prior to meeting with customers. The app’s dashboard provides a central hub of communication for the training team, allowing the learner and the training team to interact, get a quick snapshot of what’s new, view assignments due and related information from one location. From here the user can quickly and easily navigate through additional sections, including marketing materials and all the product information they need to ensure successful client meetings. This app is breakthrough because it completely redefines self-directed learning and puts individual sales reps in an unprecedented position to succeed because it gives them what they truly need when they need it. The app gives sales reps a quick, easy and highly intuitive way to identify and fill their own knowledge and performance gaps. Elliott Masie would call it “personalized learning on demand.”

In these and other examples, users have discovered and found a way to apply the secret of mobile devices: They are a means to quickly learn what is necessary and relevant for individual needs through a medium that is easy, engaging and convenient because it is completely adaptable to unique schedules. It provides completely customized content and makes no effort to squeeze it into predetermined templates.

Apps that leverage the versatility of mobile devices are ideas whose time has come. They are solutions helping good employees become better by giving them what they require at the point of need. Think of it like this: Mobile learning enables you to continually fine-tune employees for peak performance.

The difference between the old way and the new mobile learning way is the difference between settling for infrequent training events and proactively using performance support as an exciting, dynamic process. In the end, that may be the most profound response to the question, “What’s possible with mobile?”

In spite of all this good news about mobile, there is a sobering, surprising side of the story. In a recent survey, 88% of business and learning professionals said that in the next 3 years, mobile technologies will improve learning in the organization to a moderate, high, or very high extent. However, only 4% of those same professionals knew of any internal learning content that was currently being made available on mobile devices. Worse yet, some studies, including one from MGI Research, have suggested that roughly 70% of the $10 billion lavished on mobile apps for the workplace has been wasted. Yikes! What’s going on here?

Are such training pros afraid? Paralyzed by analysis? Confused? Strategically stymied? All of the above we’re guessing. But you can get there from where you are, and we’ll help you figure out how in part two.

Next time: What’s holding you back?

A version of this post originally appeared on ASTD's blog. You can view it here.

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