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Today’s Learning Sweet Spot

Venn diagrams. In elementary school I can remember picking out my favorite color of construction paper (definitely orange at the time) and freshly sharpened crayons to plot the similarities and differences between frogs and toads. I remember using it yet again when trying to decide which college to attend (Hmmm… They both have a football team, but one is 11 hours away).  It has showed up again and again, even now in the working world. The Venn Diagram, as simple as it is, seems to be some what immortal – helping to bring clarity since the 1880s. A magical lucidity seems to shine through the overlapping section(s), allowing individuals to understand the similarities and differences between two (or three or four) things.

Residing within the intersection between mLearning and performance support is a beautiful collaboration of the unprecedented performance support that mobile devices enable.

Venn Diagram: The Learning Sweet SpotMobile Learning

Mobile learning, also known as mLearning, is defined as “any sort of learning that happens when the learning is not at a fixed, predetermined location, or learning that happens when the learner takes advantage of the learning opportunities offered by mobile technologies(i).” mLearning is any learning done on a mobile device, both formal learning and informal learning.

A sales rep can finish a learning module in an LMS on a tablet while waiting in the lobby to talk with a client. That same sales rep can also pull up reference materials in that meeting with the client. mLearning has given learners the opportunity to access learning materials anywhere and at any time.

Performance Support

Performance Support is anything that helps you do a job better. It gives you what you need when you need it. It is part of the trainer’s bag of informal learning tricks.

Take a checklist, for example. With names like “The Californian” or “Ham Extravaganza,” it may take a couple of days (or weeks) before a new employee at the local deli has committed the full list of sandwich orders to memory. Keeping a simple checklist available behind the counter with what ingredients belong on each sandwich helps to increase sandwich-making efficiency and accuracy (perhaps even decreasing stress). This is performance support in its most helpful and simplest form, successfully giving the learner what they need when they need it.

Performance support has molded into different forms as technology has progressed. Electronic performance support systems, which came around in the early 1990s, use computer software to improve user performance. Do you remember “Clippy” from Microsoft Word? He popped up and offered help based on certain actions you took. For example, if you wrote an address followed by “Dear” Clippy would pop up and say, “It looks like you’re writing a letter. Would you like help?” Clippy is electronic performance support. Arguably, another form of electronic performance support is Google search, which lets you ask any question anywhere, assuming you have access to the Internet. Many students today can’t even imagine starting a research project without a search engine.

The Sweet Spot

Individually, mLearning and performance support are each powerful tools. The real sweet spot, however, is at the intersection of the two learning methods.

What are some examples of this magic?

Imagine you are in pharmaceutical sales and you are in the hospital leaving a meeting with Dr. Jones. Suddenly, you see Dr. Smith walking down the hallway – the one doctor that since your first day on the job always seems to escape you. Excited, you duck into the nearest bathroom, pull out your iPad and review all of the information on diabetes, which is her specialty. Five minutes later, you walk into her office to request a meeting, confident and ready to pitch.

Now, lets move to wine country for another example. The process of making great wine requires constant attention to detail. With a mobile performance support application, staff can perform and log tasks like pruning, weeding, pest control, soil amendment, and monitoring climactic conditions all on their iPads. This real time data collection and monitoring ensures the best possible crop without going back and forth from the office to the vineyard.

What if you are a sales rep – any sales rep. You are going to see a customer you last met with two months ago and you can’t remember where your conversation left off, but you know that you definitely took notes. So, you jump onto the CRM on your mobile device to get caught up. After a quick refresher, you enter your meeting ready to pick up where you left off.

Now go up. I mean really far up – like in the sky! You are a wind turbine mechanic. You do not want to be juggling a bunch of things while you are 300 feet in the air. So, besides your equipment, you take one other thing up with you: your mobile device. Easily navigate, filter, and search through your manual and complete tasks efficiently with checklists tailored to your specific goal.  And, if you need to phone a friend from 300 feet up to obtain assistance, you can take a picture, send it and get feedback without having to make the long descent back down to Earth.

As you can see from these four examples, the most complete learning comes from a blended approach that ties all delivery methods together. Refreshing your memory in a mobile performance support application will be more powerful when you can relate the content of the app back to other forms of formal learning you received. I suggest that you do not limit yourself or your learners to one delivery method. Spend time in the mobile performance support sweet spot, but jump around to all parts of the Venn Diagram for a complete learning package.


“Guidelines for learning/teaching/tutoring in a mobile environment.” MOBIlearn. October 2003. p. 6. Retrieved June 8, 2009

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