Given the term, “mobile learning,” you might be tempted to think that the answer to the question in the title of this article is an easy one. Since “learning” is the verb and “mobile” is the adverb modifying “learning,” it would seem that whoever is in charge of learning in your organization would also oversee mobile learning.

Normally this is the Human Resources department or some performance improvement group. However, by taking a deeper look at business goals and the technologies behind mobile learning, it may become apparent that several other groups might want to own this particular space.

What are the factors that could drive some group other than those traditionally responsible for learning and development to want to lay claim to mobile learning for your organization?

First, the “mobile” in mobile learning is a complex animal. From the technology standpoint the layers of various platforms, carriers, and devices, as well as development decisions such as native apps vs. Web apps, add complexity when considering who controls it. There are other issues to consider as well, such as which devices to support, and knowing how to measure effectiveness and uptake. The reality is that developing mobile solutions, whether for learning or another purpose, requires a significant investment in technology and skills, either or both of which the current HR or learning department may not possess.

The second major factor influencing who owns mobile learning is the incredibly wide definition of mobile learning and the amount of territory it claims.

It can get complicated

Mobile learning has close relationships with other mobile areas such as mobile marketing, mobile performance support, and mobile applications and tools, and organizations may incorporate it into one of those areas. As a result, there is a substantial gray area between the traditional definition of corporate learning and the various areas mobile learning can encompass.

What are the arguments other departments could use for owning mobile learning? Each one has specific justifications for claiming ownership.

Information Technology (IT) – Your IT department can make a legitimate claim for controlling all things mobile. Given the complexity and the number of technical issues surrounding mobile development, IT will want to be involved no matter who owns mobile. Given the ties mobile will have to the organization’s Web infrastructure, IT will want to have input to issues such as security, the devices involved, sharing of data, bandwidth, and customer support (who gets called when there is a problem), as well as a myriad of other issues. If your learning and development organization can adequately address all of these issues, then IT may be fine taking a “hands off” approach. If not, they will certainly want to be involved in development of mobile learning plans.

Marketing and Branding – Marketing and Branding may have a keen interest in mobile learning for a number of reasons. Mobile learning is about access to information “anytime, anywhere” and often makes use of devices that many people have with them 24/7. As a result, mobile learning extends much more naturally to customers and external parties than to traditional e-Learning applications. Whenever messages are delivered external to the organization (i.e., through an app store or via the mobile Web) Marketing and Branding are going to want to be involved to ensure consistent delivery of messages and that there is no dilution or compromise of the organization’s brand.

Individual Product Groups – As with traditional forms of learning (instructor-led or e-Learning), product groups and individual departments are much closer to the needs of their employees and customers than is a department such as Human Resources. Often the need to rapidly conceive, build, and deploy a mobile learning solution for customers, salespeople, technicians, and other specialty areas has such a tight time window that getting a scope document and the functional and technical requirements identified and written and then sent to a development center is not practical or desirable. In an ever-changing mobile world, speed to market is critical, and some of your internal groups will often want to be able to control when and how things happen that impact their world.

Sorting it out

So what does all this mean, and what is the impact to any group that wants to take the initiative and lead their organization in the area of mobile learning?

First, be aware of the many groups that have a stake or interest in mobile development in general, not just mobile learning. Many of the questions and issues that the implementation must address in order to produce high-quality mobile learning are equally relevant to other mobile development areas.

Furthermore, effective mobile development requires a myriad of skills and expertise with learning requiring an additional skill set on top. It is highly unlikely that it makes sense to duplicate all of these skills and experience across multiple groups within your company.

The best advice is to figure out where each group excels and then determine a plan for how best to work together. This will have the advantage of creating a consistent mobile strategy across the enterprise while leveraging the areas where each group is most effective.