In the near future, workplace learning and development will take place in the palm of our hand, says Rayvan Ho, the founder and CEO of edutech startup ACKTEC Technologies. Specifically, via the mobile phones in our hands.
"Why mobile phones? Because today, it is the most effective way to deliver immersive learning," he told People Matters. Ho, a serial entrepreneur in the L&D field, started ACKTEC in 2018 with the idea of driving an immersive learning model that allows people to learn on the go. The technology behind immersive learning, which involves augmented or virtual reality, has so far tended to be pricey and high-end, but Ho believes that it can become far more accessible.
His bet is on mobile phones, because, he says, they are the best L&D option for people whose jobs do not permit them to spend time at a desk or in a classroom—people whose work is of a manual nature, who work on a tight schedule, or who simply do not have access to traditional learning resources. "They may not have a laptop or access to their own computer, but they will always have a smartphone," he says. "It doesn't even need to be the latest model."
Besides vocational training, Ho says that mobile learning can be applied to C-suite learning for skills upgrading—his company has already successfully implemented C-level leadership training via the mobile format for clients in the financial sector.
A perceptual change driven by the pandemic
The ubiquitous nature of mobile phones, of course, is only part of their appeal as a learning tool. COVID-19 has changed people's perceptions of online learning and accelerated its adoption for a variety of reasons. Physically attending courses became impossible due to lockdowns, and at the same time, business disruptions and layoffs led to a large number of people looking to switch job and even to switch industry entirely, which required upskilling. All this has made workers and managers alike more open to the idea of departing from the traditional classroom format.
"In the past, learning was face-to-face. But now, given the situation, online learning is much more efficient," Ho points out.
This applies to onboarding as well. When hiring has to be done virtually and there is no way to physically bring new staff in for training and orientation, online learning has to fill the gap. "People are already transiting away from the old method of bringing everyone into the office and showing them PowerPoint slides," he says.
This is also where the technology begins to alter the way content is presented. Slides, he says, are static, and while static information has its uses, the technology now exists to cast content in more interactive forms. Gamification is already gaining popularity for L&D and employee engagement applications—on top of this, mobile phones are now powerful enough to host three-dimensional simulations or 360-degree virtual reality for training purposes.
"This will allow users to steepen their learning curve—for example, they will be able to understand how to operate machinery easier when gaining experience via simulations than through second-hand instruction," Ho says.
Ease of use: the first step to a learning-positive culture
Mobile applications tend to be associated with greater ease of use than desktop programs, simply because of the screen size and other hardware constraints. To add to this, the content hosted on a mobile learning platform can be made highly engaging, and the platform itself easy to use. The idea, says Ho, is that even those unfamiliar with technology, up to and including seniors, will have no trouble accessing the platform and picking up the content as and when they need it. That, he believes, can take care of any potential barriers to gaining users' interest.
Beyond immediate users, the accessibility and on-the-go nature of mobile learning can also go a long way to overcoming typical managerial concerns around the amount of time and resources spent on training and upskilling employees. For example, on-demand micro-learning does not require employees to take time out from their work—they can do a little during lunchtime, a little during their downtime, or even during their commute if they wish.
At the same time, mobile learning presents significant opportunities for HR and L&D professionals to better understand the needs of the workforce and how they can upgrade their L&D strategies. They do not need to become experts with the technology themselves, Ho says, but he does feel that they need to be aware of the options available to them and the use cases where these technologies can help in training, recruitment and learning. "For example, HR can leverage AI to allow them to push relevant content to new hires once their learning gaps have been identified by the system."
Technology is the next step
"Technology may take over a large part of our learning," Ho predicts. Already, he points out, tech trends such as gamification and Internet of Things have worked their way into how L&D is designed and implemented, while artificial intelligence has been filling in for trainers with humanized chatbots that can provide customized, on-demand learning assistance around the clock.
The next step, he believes, is social teleportation—the technology, akin to something seen in science fiction movies, that allows a person to project their digital avatar into augmented or virtual reality, producing the next best thing to physical presence. With such technology, the concept of online learning and virtual trainers might take on a whole new meaning.
The hologram technology to accomplish this has been around for some time and is commercially available today, but it is either rudimentary, or tends to require high-end and expensive projection equipment. However, Ho predicts that hologram functions for mobile phones may actually be available within the next three to five years, if hologram lenses can become incorporated into mobile devices. "Should that day arrive, training can be a lot more immersive and personal," he says.