I have a confession. I fiddle with my phone at work. We all do this from time, throughout the day, when we’re bored, or our brain is mush, when we’re stuck/blocked, or just when we need a change of pace or break. It’s compulsive (damn you variable ratio schedule of reinforcement!)
The companies we work for don’t tend to like this so much (something about productivity), which is why most of us try to keep it to a dull roar. Many companies have de jure HR policies technically prohibiting such a thing. It’s mostly unenforced, though, because most people are responsible, and because, really, who cares so long as objectives are being met. (Also, front line managers are usually just as glued to their phone screens!)
But what if instead of fighting this tendency, companies were smart about it?
I know. Crazy talk, this. But bear with me.
What if companies and their management embraced that workers mostly have smartphones, and simply accepted as a given that they are going to take them out during the day and use them? What if, taking this as a given, they looked at ways to make lemonade out of lemons, and found a way to harness this natural behavior of employees and channel it toward ends useful to the company and to the worker as an employee?
Mobile phones present an excellent opportunity for companies to help encourage engagement at work and ongoing professional development. The concept presented here is a novel idea for encouraging worker engagement and promoting ongoing professional development in an organization through a combination of mLearning and gamification.
Technological component of solution
Informal learning through short mLearning modules
Workers have phones and use them during the day. The company has new policies and procedures it wants the workers to learn, and also wants to have a workforce committed to ongoing personal and professional development. The company wants workers that are always learning and developing their skills. Combine these two elements and make the worker’s smartphone a platform for employee training and development.
Build continuing professional development materials in small mLearning modules, targetting a length of 2-5 minutes. Design these as informal learning pieces. Include both typical didactic learning elements, but also fun, hands-on activities and games.
Design the modules as stand-alone learning moments that don’t depend too much on other learning pieces, sort of like the late 1990s/early 2000s idea of “Learning Objects.” Design the modules with a “mobile-first” approach, such that they are intended to be seen on mobile phones and look good / are easy to use there. Ensure that the modules are meta-tagged according to some logical schema / ontology of tags appropriate to the workplace or industry so that the modules are easily searchable and findable. Make the learning modules available on some TinCan API /xAPI enabled LMS,
Ensure that there is an interface for searching for and browsing modules that is easy and time-efficient for users to use on a smart phone.
Link it to HR
Track the modules taken by learners and their scores on any assessments or pass/fail. Send this data to HR data systems for tracking.
Link back HR systems the other way so that HR systems could recommend specific modules based on learner time available and on defined professional development objectives.
Allow the system to send suggestions based on most viewed content, most uprated content, and the types of content the learner has enjoyed in the past. Enable a rating system, where learners can provide as much evaluation data as they like. Either “smiley face” basic impressions data or more in depth questionnaire/short survey or both.
Within HR systems, take the data on module completion and track this compared to documented development objectives. For mandated training coming from HR, have subscribed modules or module clusters. This content would be suggested or pushed out from HR. Use notifications, either in app notifications or via text/IM/Lync.
Have a gamification layer to encourage and reinforce engagement with the system, though be careful to keep it within reason so that learners don’t feel “gamed.” Keep a tally of hours spent, courses completed, skills learned. Use gamified elements like badges and leader boards. Give the learners incentives to keep engaging with it. Track some of these stats through HR to have data on how much the employee is engaging in learning activities.
Make it social
Allow users to rate content, whether with a simple upvote/downvote or with a five star system. Allow them the opportunity to make comments. When a user is browsing modules, make information on average ratings or upvotes/downvotes visible to learners to help them with their choice. This gives feedback to designers/developers and also helps to identify quality content for other learners. This data gives a good sense of what sort of content the learners want and like, and this can be helpful for training development teams as a guide for how to allocate resources for future development.
Also, allow workers to recommend or share content they like to others. This will allow workers to help you promote good content and will further encourage engagement with the system.
Help learners get access
Make Wifi readily available to employees without restrictions. Employees are not going to really engage with this if you’re going to make them use their own data plan. You provide wired internet access to employees as a tool of work; do the same with in-building Wifi.
Human system component of solution
As with any human systems intervention, however, technology alone will not do the trick.
Workers need to be openly encouraged to use the system at work. As this is rolled out, the teams responsible need to make a concerted effort to promote this training system, both initially and as an ongoing reinforcement. This has to be more than a mass email to “Employees: All.” A nice promitional video will be helpful, but workers need to get introduced to it as well in a face to face meeting involving their front line management and perhaps their director. Give people a chance to ask questions and get answers.
“Bored? Brain-fried? Need a break? Tired? Stuck/writers block? Switch gears for a few minutes, play with your phone, so long as you’re using it to learn something.” Everyone should be actively encouraged to do this, and made to feel comfortable taking advantage of the policy.
Management at all levels, from the top down, needs to sets an example of welcoming this. Both in terms of words and in terms of concrete behavior. Management have to also be encouraged to (within reason) use the system and be seen using the system.
The tracked data that HR collects about how many hours the workers are engaged in learning what they are learning, and their completion stats can add to or supplement performance data for annual/semi-annual review. Workers should have visibility via some dashboard of the same sort of data that HR has summarizing their learning and training activities. That way, the worker can go into performance review meetings armed with data to demonstrate commitment to new learning and skill development. The learner can use this to start conversations about raises or about getting more resources or support for further deeper training or broadening of tasks. Conversely, managers can also look at the data to start their own conversations.
Workers have smartphones. Workers are going to look at them during the work day. If companies are smart and tech savvy, they can encourage ongoing training and development if they put out learning content in a way that is tailored to viewing through the workers’ smart phones. The effectiveness of this is reinforced if the company includes sucessful elements of gamification and social media and backs up the project with support from HR and management.