Why mobile learning is important (4 reasons)

A whopping 91% of the US population now owns a smartphone. How does this impact your elearning? Are you accommodating the modern, mobile-first learner? In this article, Steve Penfold shares four reasons why you need to consider mobile learning.

mobile learning

Any technology that has high penetration into a segment of the population should be looked at closely to see if it can be leveraged for L&D purposes.

Smart mobile devices fall very squarely into this category. Think about the following statistics.

Some predictions put smartphones into 90% of adults’ hands by 2016 in the UK. In the US, 91% of the population is already using them with fast 3G/4G connectivity.

2014 was the year that the number of mobile users globally overtook the number of desktop computer users.

The following table highlights recent tablet computer ownership in the US, UK and Australia.


1. Mobile learning is convenient and flexible

If we accept that the adoption of mobile technologies is already high and likely to get higher as infrastructure and devices get faster, smarter and more affordable, why is this important in an L&D context? Consider these four reasons.

Mobile learning (mlearning) happens on a smaller form-factor (screen) than conventional desktop elearning and is often undertaken by people on the go.

This has encouraged instructional designers to embrace a bite-sized learning paradigm, i.e., smaller, specific learning sessions that are easy to digest, than they might design for a more conventional elearning audience. This highly granular approach gives mlearners great flexibility in what they learn and when they learn it. They don’t have to spend an hour going through a comprehensive course when they have access to a five-minute video that tells them the specific thing(s) they need to know.

And this can happen on a device that learners are comfortable using, that’s always with them, always on—and increasingly one that their employer doesn’t have to purchase, maintain or upgrade!

Sometimes learners don’t have access to desktops; so mobile is the only real alternative. This award-winning piece of mlearning that Elucidat created for Johnson & Johnson Vision Care (JJVC) was influenced by the fact that many time-poor practitioners didn’t have access to desktop computers in their workplaces.

mobile learning example

2. It empowers learning any time, any place

We know that learners forget a percentage of what they learn during a training session and that the percentage increases as more time passes between learning and applying the materials.

Imagine these two learning situations where a learner has access to materials showing best practice in selling product X.


By providing learning materials in a mobile format (i.e., delivery situation 2, above) when the learner needs them—wherever he or she is—the offering becomes more powerful. The course, or elements of it, can even be taken as a refresher on the way to a sales meeting. This just-in-time flexibility gives the learning a built-in context that embeds the information into long-term memory and gives it real significance and personalized emphasis.

In addition, when learning is enabled at the point-of-need, learners are more likely to see the training as something useful rather than something they have to endure.

3. It enhances learner engagement and interaction

As well as being available to learners at any time and in any place, mobile learning can also incorporate features that conventional elearning can’t. For example, geolocation functionality on mobile devices can give learners a location-specific, highly contextualized learning experience. Imagine an induction piece of learning that adjusts itself automatically depending on the regional office you are in when using it.

Another example is push notifications that alert or update learners even when the specific learning applications aren’t active. Think about how social media notifications on your phone grab your attention whether you’re in another app or not using your phone at all.

The way learners interact with their mobile devices, using movement and hand gestures, gives a kinesthetic dimension to learning that can make it a more engaging and memorable experience. Just touching the screen to interact with buttons and other elements on a mobile device screen gives a more direct sense of interaction than moving a mouse and clicking. Lifesaver ‘Crisis Simulator’ from Unit9 is one of the best examples of this aspect of mlearning.


4. Ease of implementation

It’s as easy to develop mlearning content as it is to create elearning. In fact, many modern rapid elearning authoring tools output content that is mobile ready and responsive to a wide range of screen sizes.

This case study from Utility Warehouse describes how powerful and successful their authoring experience was—albeit after a few false starts!

responsive mobile design utility warehouse

A colleague of mine conducted this simple experiment using nothing more than a mobile phone QR code reader. This is a good example of leveraging the power of mobile in a simple way to give learners an experience that would be difficult to replicate with conventional elearning.

Related: 7 outstanding examples of responsive elearning

In conclusion

It’s important to remember that mlearning isn’t just the next generation replacement for elearning in the same way that elearning isn’t a replacement for face-to-face learning.

It does make sense, however, to leverage technologies that lend themselves to your L&D objectives. In light of this, when you consider mobile’s . . .

  • Penetration
  • Availability at a learner’s point-of-need
  • Potential for learner engagement
  • Ease of content development

. . . it’s easy to see why mlearning is an important innovation in the L&D industry.

If you’ve seen examples of mlearning that made you go, “WOW!”, share them with us in the comments section below.

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Steve Penfold

Steve Penfold

Steve Penfold is Customer Success Director at Elucidat. He helps large companies and training providers speed up and simplify their elearning authorin
Steve Penfold
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