As Jason Haag, research analyst and mobile learning lead at the US government’s Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) so eloquently puts it, “Mobile learning should NOT be merely viewed as a replacement, an alternative, or as a new addition to existing training delivery methods. It should be thought of as a complimentary way to augment or enhance all types of learning.”

Embed learning in work

One of the most obvious ways to augment or enhance learning is to support daily learning through performance support. Performance support, in case this term is new to you, is simply learning embedded in work. (I would like to broaden this common definition to “learning embedded in life,” as we learn all the time, from the moment we wake up to the time we fall asleep. You’ll see how this applies momentarily.) For example, when you don’t remember how to change the toner on your printer and the printer display window shows you how to do it, that’s performance support.

Mobile performance is a natural. Many of us have smartphones and tablets and the number of these devices is growing exponentially. Therefore, it simply makes good sense for us to provide support for learning using devices that we already own and carry around with us all the time. What form might performance support take on mobile devices? Here are a few that rapidly come to mind: PDFs, audio, video, chat apps, SMS (text messages), mobile webpages, and native applications. You probably can think of others that can support performance in the moment of need.

Case study: Sonic

The 2013 eLearning Guild mobile learning research report, How Mobile Learning Is Done: Nine Case Studies from Around the World, showcases mobile performance support by SONIC, the largest chain of drive-in restaurants in the US. Why did they build mobile performance support? SONIC offers a variety of menu items (including 398,929 drink combinations) that are assembled from scratch after the customer orders them. Their mobile performance support comes in a variety of formats. One format lets managers respond instantly to customer questions about whether a specific product contains gluten or nuts, for example. Another shows how to prepare individual food items (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Sonic mobile performance support, product preparation

SONIC doesn’t issue mobile devices to staff so this is a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiative, with Apple and Android devices targeted because these are their audience’s most widely used mobile devices. The initial pilots were a huge success and resulted in requests for more, despite costs to users. And users are actually requesting more video because this kind of performance support is so convenient for managers and franchise owners that it’s worth the added data cost to them.

Another type of performance support shown in the Guild’s research report came from International Red Cross. They offer first-aid training to organizations, at-risk individuals, and members of the public. This type of training has traditionally been face-to-face but International Red Cross realized that a mobile app has the potential to not only reach more people but perhaps, even more importantly, provide essential knowledge at the very moment it is needed most (Figure 2).

Figure 2: International Red Cross performance support, first aid

Send mobile to work for you

If you think about it, providing essential knowledge at the moment it is most needed is the best we can do as learning professionals. Truly, timing is everything. When we provide training too early, it is often forgotten. Too late and it is useless.

So let’s think for a moment about mobile performance support. What’s so great about it? I’ve already listed one thing. Most people have mobile devices with them all the time, so using a mobile device for performance support is a natural … it uses technology that people have with them. And because they can pull the information they need when they need it, it greatly reduces cognitive load, since they don’t have to remember what they need to perform a task.

Here are some examples of how this might apply at work. A salesperson can pull up checklists and reference documents while on sales calls to answer sales questions. People in meetings can text or IM (instant message) experts in other parts of the building, country, or world to get questions answered so that they can deal with action items immediately rather than delay them until the next meeting. A doctor in transplant surgery who encounters a problem can use mobile Skype, Google+ Hangouts, or Apple FaceTime to have a live show-and-tell session with an expert in another part of the country or world so that the patient can have a chance at the best outcome possible. MBA students from all over the world can share real-world stories from their own lives and organization, using pictures and videos from their phones.

I highly recommend that you read the Guild’s recent mobile case studies, which will help you see the scope of what is possible and the types of technologies that people are using to make mobile learning work. This type of learning support has the ability to be a real game changer.


Casebourne, Imogen. How Mobile Learning Is Done: Nine Case Studies from Around the World. The eLearning Guild. 4 April 2013.