What is “mobile learning,” anyway?

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Last week I attended an Association for Talent Development (ATD) Mobile Learning certificate program. In the past, I’ve also gone to the eLearning Guild’s mLearnCon event, where I learned that what we typically call “mobile learning” can take many forms. By definition (at least the definition that ATD uses) mobile learning is “the use of mobile technology to aid in the learning, reference, or exploration of information useful to an individual at that moment or in a specific use context.” To me, that’s a bit of a mouthful – but I think the idea is that mobile learning can really be different things.

The instructor in my recent certificate program took this idea a step further and suggested that we actually do mobile learning a disservice when we don’t distinguish between two distinctly different types of mobile learning: training and performance support.

Here’s how ATD defines the difference:

  • Training is formal instruction that enables you to learn something that you do not already know.
  • Performance support is informal learning that supports you in using existing skills or knowledge.

Using these definitions as a framework, most mobile learning would fall into one of these two categories. For example, short instructional videos that actually teach new skills would be an example of mobile training. While a mobile app that allows you to look up a product code while on the job would be an example of mobile performance support.

According to a recent ATD whitepaper, only about one third of companies are currently delivering any kind of learning to mobile devices – and of those who are, about 80 percent are primarily focusing on performance support. That means that mobile training implementations are still few and far between at this point.

Where does your organization fit in this picture? And what opportunities do you see for adding mobile performance support – and mobile training – to your overall learning mix?


3 thoughts on “What is “mobile learning,” anyway?

    Erin Dwyer said:
    October 28, 2014 at 2:57 pm


    It is interesting that you bring up the fact that many companies do not have “mobile training” implementations yet. I find that surprising. I remember when I first started my first retail job in college that all my training was done on a video. You would think that it would easily convert to being done on a website or app on your phone?! Good thing we are being trained in the field we are in right now. Maybe we can be the ones to make this change for companies around the country!


      elearnable1 responded:
      October 29, 2014 at 8:56 pm

      I hope so, Erin! Interestingly enough, just today our senior director let us know that a big ‘sales mobility’ project has received the green light and is coming our way in the new year. I’m excited to hear what it will entail.

    Brian Long said:
    November 2, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    Hi Allan,

    I would agree with the argument that there is a distinct difference between mobile training and mobile performance support. As someone who is hoping to move into a training role with Verizon (the company I currently work for), I was attracted to the way Verizon trains and supports their employees. We use both degrees of mobile learning to grow our employees. All employees start their career with Verizon by going through a 3-week mobile training course and continue with mobile performance support throughout their careers.

    I think you will see more and more companies go in the directions of mobile training because of the potential impact it will have on their bottom lines. And it sounds like there is potential for you to see it transform your current role!

    Here’s to change that energizes us!

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