Our company recently completed a project for a Global 2000 enterprise to implement a mobile learning solution with a highly customized set of training apps for salespeople, optimized for delivery to their company-issued Apple iPhone handsets and iPad tablets. Thirty days after the launch, that company’s CIO announced imminent IT support for what he termed an “open door” bring-your-own-device (“BYOD”) initiative that quickly reset expectations for how workers might access organizational training content on a wider variety of devices including Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry-based devices.
That company’s T&D team had been aware of the future possibility of BYOD becoming a long-term reality, but everyone was taken aback by the overnight policy shift that unlocked the previously closed and dead-bolted “supported devices” door. The ramifications of that swing in strategy impacted the T&D teams’ efforts to deliver training. The impacts include the in-process content creation, the tools being used, the interface design being deployed, the internal help-desk and tech-support teams’ support capabilities, integration and security policies, and even procurement since supporting personal devices would be altogether different than supporting corporate-owned and sanctioned devices.
This and other recent customer examples of device policy “loosening” leads us to offer some words of caution for organizations seeking to announce sweeping change in a show of mobile-device acceptance and employee devotion. Adopt what we’d refer to as a “screen door” policy for BYOD—one that, on a nice summer day, allows fresh air in but keeps all the pests out.
The immediate challenges
BYOD policies are beginning to transform the way many organizations distribute information and provide training and support. The obvious benefits are a reduction in device and operational costs, by promoting anytime, anywhere access to business services for workers using their trusty “daily communicators”—the phones and tablets they bought and/or prefer (or those legacy devices they have grown accustomed to relying on) versus company-owned devices issued by their employers. But broad, open door (read: everyone is welcome) BYOD policies introduce an array of new challenges and considerations for IT and T&D teams alike that a company’s leadership may not fully appreciate or have planned for. Compounding these challenges, the support is really three times the effort. Knowledge workers now regularly perform work-related tasks on an average of three unique, intelligent devices every week—commonly that’s a laptop or desktop computer, an app-capable smartphone, and a personal or shared tablet device or eBook reader. That is likely to only increase with the newer devices like smart watches, head-mounted displays, and other cloud-enabled gadgets aimed at keeping us better connected, informed, and motivated.
The challenge this plethora of devices introduces is exacerbated by the notion that different communities of workers often carry different generations of devices. A healthy segment of workers are enthralled by the fancy new gadgets introduced nearly every month while those at the other end of the adoption spectrum view their devices merely as a way to stay connected with their family and friends for essential, occasional communiqués. Wherein the first group loves the new shiny objects, the latter group is perfectly content in carrying a three- or four-year-old device that hasn’t been updated for just as long, which often equates to them being several generations behind in terms of device support, security, and functionality.
Thankfully, a variety of tools and approaches exists that T&D teams can adopt to ensure full readiness whenever BYOD becomes an organizational reality. And an open (screen) door policy can ensure broad support while providing necessary protections from those pesky outside elements.
The top six BYOD considerations for T&D teams
Beyond all the industry hype, there are several central themes and issues you should focus on as you prepare your team for broader BYOD initiatives. Our top six BYOD considerations for training & development teams in today’s enterprise learning organizations are:
1. Create flexible learning experiences
You’re going to need a consistent approach to the way you organize, deliver, and manage your learning content. Be mindful of creating a learning experience that matches or thematically mirrors your traditional online learning experiences, which likely also need updating. Assuming learners can just access your standard learning portal via their device’s web browser is likely a poor judgment call when considering what the mobile experience should be.
Implement a learning-portal architecture that is mobile aware and build it using tools and frameworks like jQuery Mobile using flexible CSS interfaces that can be rendered differently for both your online- and mobile-learning communities. And make sure you’ve verified smooth operation on as many internet-connected devices as possible (both modern and legacy).
2. Define your device universe
Next, it’s imperative you determine and document a well-defined list of mobile devices your team intends to permit—devices you’ll allow through your screen door rather than allowing use of anything and everything. Realize that your list may be more concise than the devices IT plans to support under their BYOD policies for tasks like accessing corporate email or intranets. You should consider supporting what I’d term “tier one” devices, which include most of the “top- and middle-shelf” offerings being sold by wireless carriers around the globe. As stated before, real challenges come from older devices with restricted screen sizes and incapable web browsers. Legacy devices also tend to offer poor security features and slower connection speeds, and can force content degradation due to limited support for HTML5.
Support the three most recent handset and tablet models from Apple (iOS7), Microsoft (Windows 8.1, and Windows Phone 8.1 arriving after mid-summer) and Android (Jelly Bean & Kit Kat); also consider BlackBerry 10 devices if you’re in the financial services, governmental, or other highly secure markets.
3. Provide support for mixed learning approaches
Learning on a mobile device is a different experience compared with more traditional instructor-delivered classes and online-delivered courses. Mobile devices are great for short, “bursty” learning activities but also a good way to mix formal learning activities with informal social interactions. Mobile provides easier opportunities to promote the creation and collection of user-generated content (e.g., taking photos, capturing videos, or recording podcasts) that can turn content consumers into content creators. Mobile devices also use competing media formats, storage mechanisms, and encryption methods, which all introduce challenges in a BYOD environment unless properly organized and managed.
Look for mobile learning solutions that allow you to combine formal training with informal learning interactions across highly targeted use cases. For example, leverage the always-connected aspects of mobile to structure delivery of leadership training or onboarding campaigns for learners who invariably have their preferred device in their pocket or purse wherever they may roam.
4. Adopt strict mobile security policies and practices
The only devices IT really wants to allow through their open door are the ones they feel confident they can control. But the very nature of BYOD introduces a spectrum of lost control that you must properly manage so it doesn’t inflict any damage to your organization. Where, for years, assigned usernames and passwords sufficed to restrict access on online resources and applications, most IT organizations now mandate a wide set of security features to manage access to business services from worker’s mobile devices. These range from PIN codes, to single sign-on methods, to two-factor authentication, to private app stores, to time-based restrictions. IT teams are also implementing sophisticated mobile device management (“MDM”) platforms that can control the installation of native apps on company as well as personally owned devices. MDMs and advanced mobile application frameworks also have features to allow for scheduled content updates and remote-wipe functions used to remove intellectual property from lost devices or on apps still residing on the personal devices of former employees.
The best way to secure access through your BYOD screen door for personally owned devices is via a combination of private-store native apps delivered through an MDM platform accompanied with single sign-on control (with preference for federated security assertion markup language [SAML]).
5. Future proof your content
Scores of books, articles, and webcasts have covered the fact that yesterday’s eLearning courseware is not today’s mobile-friendly deliverables. Beyond the concepts of Adobe Flash not being supported, displays being constricted, and seat times being shorter, instructional designers must identify and learn new ways to make their digital deliverables more flexible and device agnostic to reach the learning communities at their BYOD endpoints. A variety of authoring tools and systems based on responsive web design principles are now available. Some are from the “old guard” authoring-tool vendors, but many more are from their more nimble challengers that can package and deliver content that dynamically adapts to the various delivery modalities of a defined BYOD population unimpeded by variations in screen sizes, operating systems, and browsers etc.
Consider responsive tools whenever creating your new content. And endeavor to make sure whatever tools you use can output packages that support traditional SCORM-style progress tracking and bookmarking today, and can provide support for the upcoming Experience API (xAPI) activity streams soon to appear everywhere. Intelligent tracking makes the mobile experience more seamless for your learners across the full array of their connected BYOD devices.
6. Tighten integration with L&D & HR platforms
All previous considerations flow nicely through the screen of our sixth and final consideration—tighter connections between mobile workers and your backend systems of record; e.g., your learning management system (LMS), talent management system (TMS), and human resource information system (HRIS). Mobile workers outfitted via their own devices want assurances that their efforts to learn and grow will count where it matters most—in the training records and histories managed by T&D. Nothing can divert interest faster than the realization that a mobile learner is unable to use his or her device of choice to complete the required or selected training.
Make sure all mobile learning apps directly connect with your LMS/TMS platforms and ensure connections are possible between your learners and the various document stores, media servers, and internal social networks your teams use to leverage organizational preparedness.
The weeks and months that followed the example cited at the beginning of this article were interesting (to say the least), but proper planning and controls delivered all of the desired outcomes and made “bring your own device” at that organization both practical and approachable. If you make good choices for the devices you want to support, the tools you use, and the approaches you take, you’ll be similarly prepared to allow all the good in and keep the bad out through a well-managed open-door policy for BYOD.
(Editor’s Note: Several speakers at mLearnCon 2014 (June 24 – 26 in San Diego), including the author of this article, will present sessions directly relevant to readers who have an interest in learning to deal with BYOD issues and other challenges of mLearning implementation.
Neil Lasher and Steve Howard will present Is IT Giving You a Hard Time? It May Be About to Get Worse.
Robert Gadd will co-present a featured session with Sarah Gilbert, What You Need to Know to Get Started with Mobile Learning; a concurrent session with Mira Mendlovitz and W.W. Grainger, Getting New Sellers’ Feet on the Street Using mLearning; and Next Gen mLearning: Mixing Formal and Informal for Your Mobile Workers.
For details and registration, please go to the mLearnCon home page.)