Going Mobile: What You Need to Know before Implementing a Mobile Learning Program

I had the marvelous opportunity yesterday to attend the Government Workforce: Learning Innovations conference hosted by the ASTD Government Community and the Public Manager. One of the first sessions that I attended dealt with mobile learning programs in government. The two speakers, Matt MacLaughlin with the U.S. Army Logistics Management College and Leo Grassi from the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, shared with the audience tips and best practices for setting up a mobile learning program. They emphasized that before you get down to the nuts and bolts of a mobile learning operation, there are two main questions that you must answer:

1. What is your purpose behind going mobile?

Any effective mobile learning program must fulfill a need for your organization. Knowing this need will help you to better determine your mobile strategy. For instance, if want to design an app, will you need it to be a native or web-based app? If you are trying to provide services for users in an office, Grassi recommended pursuing a web-based application because office personnel tend to turn to a computer more often than their phone. However, as MacLaughlin pointed out, if the majority of your users are in the field, a native app may be best because it doesn’t rely on the Internet connectivity required for a web-based application.

Consider also if your organization needs to use a particular software program or device for security or legal reasons. If that’s the case, you will need to figure out which devices and platforms (i.e. apple, android, or windows) fulfill both the information and security needs of your organization. An interesting consideration is that of which devices are compliant with 508 standards. A legal obligation, these 508 standards ensure that technology is accessible to all employees, including those with hearing and vision impairments. Both Grassi and MacLaughlin admitted that the number of devices that are 508 compliant is small, thus limiting the choices for mobile programs in government. However, they have noticed a growing trend of tech companies revamping their devices to meet the government’s 508 standards.

2. Who do you need on your team?

In addition to picking the devices, a major part of assessing and meeting your organization’s needs is selecting the personnel on your mobile team. Both Grassi and MacLaughlin emphasized the importance of recruiting individuals that are passionate about technology and the mission behind your mobile learning program. You need people who are excited and willing to do what’s necessary to develop a creative and effective mobile program.

Beyond these foundational individuals, Grassi recommended that you bring a combination of instructional designers and educational technologists on board. These individuals will not only specialize in the programming side of your mobile initiatives, but will also serve as teachers for others in your organization. MacLaughlin stated that this is an integral part of his job at the U.S. Army Logistics Management College. He and his team design apps for the Army and educate field personnel on how they can design their own apps as well.

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Overall, Grassi and MacLaughlin encouraged audience members to plan ahead before initiating a mobile learning program. They also advocated for applying creativity to any mobile strategy. “Mobile doesn’t mean just phones,” they concluded. Thus, assess your organization’s needs and build a creative and effective mobile learning program using the best combination of devices, software, and programs.

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