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Does Your Association Need a Mobile Learning Strategy?

By / Dec 5, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Many of your traditional onsite learners have turned to e-learning in the past few years. But now there’s something new to consider: mobile learning. Should your association implement a strategy around it?

I’m sure you’ve dealt with this too: You’re on your smartphone, and you type in the address for a website you’re trying to visit. You wait a few seconds for the page to load, and this happens: The site is not mobile-friendly, making it frustrating to use, which will likely cause you to leave the page.

Now imagine the day when one of your association’s e-learners logs on to your learning portal from a smartphone to access education content, and he or she faces that same issue. Truth be told, that day is not too far off, if it hasn’t already happened, so it would do your association some good to put thought behind a mobile learning strategy.

Lucky for you, Tagoras released a new white paper on this topic earlier this week. Called “Mobile Learning and Associations: A Chance to Move the Dial,” it discusses not only how associations can develop a mobile learning—or m-learning—strategy but also how doing so will benefit an organization.

The white paper draws on data collected in a survey conducted by Tagoras for its 2014 “Association Learning + Technology” report.  Out of the 200 respondents to that survey, 88.7 percent indicated their organization offers technology-enabled or technology-enhanced learning. More than a third of this group (36.8 percent) said they offer a mobile version for at least some of their learning content. Another 28.3 percent said that while they didn’t yet offer any mobile learning content, they had plans to start within the next year.

It’s no secret that mobile technology is on the rise:  Analysts predict that more tablets will be sold in 2015 than PCs; 40 percent of YouTube videos are viewed on a mobile device; and 80 percent of the U.S. workforce is estimated to have a smartphone. According to study authors Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele, this communications sea change means that associations must develop an m-learning strategy derived from the organization-wide and education strategies.

The first step, they say, is to determine the driving force behind your association’s mobile learning business. They offer up four typical ones: Do you want to use m-learning to expand or improve your products and services? Do you want to use it to expand beyond the markets you target or improve how you serve your current markets? Are you focused on increasing revenue through m-learning? Are you aiming to grow the organization and members you serve?

Once you determine that driving force, the authors say you need to evaluate what it means for your learning business in six areas:

  • products and services offered
  • the market that will be offered the products and services
  • the capabilities you’ll need to offer these products to the target markets
  • growth goals
  • revenue goals
  • responsibilities for action

It’s only after an organization identifies a driving force and understands mobile learning’s impact on these areas that it is ready for design and development.

Cobb and Steele see four approaches to m-learning:

Imposed. Learning is available only as mobile content.

Optional. M-learning is a choice among other delivery options, such traditional classroom or e-learning.

Supplemental. Mobile content is blended with other non-mobile content.

Accidental. Organizations haven’t thought about learners accessing content from mobile devices and haven’t developed the content for mobile consumption, but learners are accessing it that way anyway. (The authors say this is the case for every organization.)

While onsite education and meetings and conventions are integral to most associations’ learning strategy (and just as important for their bottom line), m-learning, in my opinion, is an additional opportunity for associations to grab learners in moment when they may have some spare time—during their commute, while waiting in the doctor’s office, or while waiting for whatever’s in the oven to be done. (Earlier this year I pondered whether binge learning could become the new binge watching; m-learning is something that might encourage that type of learning.) It’s unlikely that m-learning will ever replace face-to-face learning. Rather, it will provide additional moments when your association can connect with members (Cobb and Steele’s “supplemental” approach).

Associations may even be able to offer m-learning opportunities following their large face-to-face meetings and conventions. Perhaps you could offer 10-minute snapshots of various sessions where viewers answer questions at the end, or you might send additional information to attendees based on sessions they attended onsite. Both extend the lifecycle of these events and can be another nondues revenue opportunity if your association decided to charge for them.

Is your association experimenting with mobile learning? If so, let me know how in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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