Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mobile learning: Fast and thrifty employee training

Employee training is taking more steps outside the office, even out from behind computer screens, and is making its way into your pocket.

Mobile learning, commonly used in Europe and Asia, is a tool that is just beginning to gain ground in the United States. Large companies across the country have adopted the method as a way to deliver employee training materials to employees on the go.

Mobile learning, sometimes called m-learning, delivers content to PDAs and cell phones, providing flexibility for workers who may not be behind a computer everyday.

Black & Decker has been using mobile learning content as a way to cut down on waste, speed up delivery time and gain better quality control over the training for its 300 field reps, according to a recent article in Workforce Management.

Before mobile learning, Black & Decker was sending each field rep manuals, photographs and other paper materials to guide them in a list of activities including setting up retail displays, educating store staff on new products, shelf placement and inventory control.

“But there was no way to track whether they were reading or following the guidelines, or whether they’d even received them,” said Cesar Saavedra, field sales analyst for Black & Decker. “You get bombarded with so many communications when you work in the field, there is so much waste and no accountability. A lot of it never even gets looked at.”

The company now uses a mobile learning system that delivers quick two- to three-minute information segments directly to reps’ PDAs. The short clips deliver the same information they would have received in paper, but enhanced with product videos, task lists and quizzes.

Mobile learning has helped Black & Decker save money and creates more accountability, because they are able to track who opens and reads files.

“While the idea of replacing paper-based training with multimedia content may sound expensive, it actually costs less and takes less time.”

Cost savings come from the elimination of printing and mailing learning materials, which take time and money to produce and deliver.

Merrill Lynch was recently recognized for its innovation in mobile learning at the 2008 Wireless Enterprise Symposium for its GoLearn project. The project enables employees to access learning materials during down time, including daily commutes and business travel.

Mobile learning using BlackBerry smartphones has produced measurable results for Merrill Lynch in gained time and productivity.

“Using BlackBerry smartphones to deliver learning has been so effective that participants now take their courses in about 45% less time, saving about four to six hours in lost productivity per annum. These employees have also scored hire on competency exams than their colleagues studying in a traditional online format,” said Kristofor Swanson, global HR mobile strategy lead at Merrill Lynch.

As mobile device technology improves and connections gain speed, mobile learning may start to gain more ground as and effective employee training method.

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