A mass migration to mobile is underway and it’s bringing the cloud front and center. Unless you’ve had your head in the sand the past year, learning and talent are no longer activities that business leaders think of as boring and not worthy of discussion.

Learning and talent became major factors in the cloud strategies for industry behemoths when Oracle acquired Taleo and SAP acquired SuccessFactors. The difference in perception of learning and talent today compared to what it was before these acquisitions is immeasurable. People may have been talking about learning and development within our own eLearning field, but rarely outside it. These acquisitions changed everything. For the first time the learning space is considered to be hot. This has been my first-hand experience.

The statistics make the point

There is no doubt about it: the cloud is a disrupter for training strategies. Let’s first look at the stats for mobile adoption—the numbers are jaw-dropping:

  • In 2011, the number of smartphones sold exceeded the number of PCs sold. (Business Insider)
  • By 2016, there will be 375 million tablets purchased globally—a 46% compound annual growth rate. (Forrester)
  • The tablet adoption curve will ramp faster than any other mobile device in history, including smartphones. (Morgan Stanley Research)
  • Global Internet users will double over the next few years, and most will be mobile. (Business Insider)

Due to these trends and others, the market is rapidly shifting from a focus on personal computers to a broader device perspective that includes tablets, smartphones, and other consumer devices.

Facilitating this shift in the corporate world are “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policies. According to a study by 451 Research, 77 percent of companies surveyed allow employees to bring their own devices into the workplace. They cite the following benefits to end users:

  • A more flexible work schedule
  • An extended workday that allows employees to work as they want
  • The ability to work on any tablet device
  • The same apps and services are available on multiple devices

While there are inevitable management and security headaches that go along with BYOD policies, the advantages for the workforce are undeniable—meaning this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.

The cloud will be the center of the training universe

According to Steve Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner:

"Emerging cloud services will become the glue that connects the Web of devices that users choose to access during the different aspects of their daily life."

Gartner boldly predicts that within two short years, the cloud will replace the PC as the center of users’ digital lives. They contend that users will employ a collection of devices, with the PC remaining one of many options, but no one device will be the primary hub. Rather, the personal cloud will take on that role. From a learning and development perspective, this definition dictates that the cloud will also displace the LMS as the center of learners’ lives. Exactly like the PC, the LMS will take its place for certain types of training, mostly compliance, but it will no longer be the learning hub that it is today.

What the mobile boom has shown us is that the lines between work and personal have blurred. Today’s hyper-connected learners want to consume and retrieve information for work the same way they do in their everyday lives. However, this requires training organizations to fundamentally rethink how they deliver content and services to their learners. And it means freeing their learning content from the LMS, storing it in the cloud, and delivering sets of content services to tablets, smartphones, and other devices that enable the following set of characteristics.

A self-service learning environment

Today, learners want to drive their own experiences. This shifts the focus from a model of prescriptive learning to one where each learner decides what he or she wants to learn and in what order and sequence. Monolithic courses delivered through an LMS do not meet learner’s new requirements. Rather, content needs to be broken down into small nuggets of relevant information that can be delivered from the cloud to learners at their moment of need.

When designers store granular training assets in the cloud, learners have at their disposal a set of resources for whatever job they need to do. Leveraging this content to create apps, portals, and mashups, training organizations can now create a self-service learning culture where learners pull and assemble content from a cloud of training content to their tablets and other devices based on their individual requirements.

An interactive learning experience

Tablets, more than any other mobile device, are hastening cloud prominence by creating a “work/learn anywhere” environment in which mobile devices connect to the cloud for content consumption and productivity. The compelling user experience of the iPad has forever changed the way learners interact with content. Converting textbooks or slides to a PDF format, or simply providing the ability to log into an LMS on a tablet, just doesn’t meet the needs of learners. With tablets, touch- and gesture-based experiences not only create rich interactions, but speech and contextual awareness is enabling point-of-performance information from the cloud on demand. Training content available from the cloud needs to take advantage of, and keep pace with, tablets’ vast palette of capabilities.

Learning content on any device

In their Forrsights Workforce Employee Survey, Q4 2011, Forrester reports that about 74 percent of information workers use two or more devices for work and 52 percent use three or more. The survey goes on to report that one-third use operating systems other than Microsoft and, unless Microsoft meets user requirements with Windows 8, we can expect this trend to continue.

Because learners now use a collection of devices and operating systems, with no one device being the primary hub, learning content must be fit-to-form for any device.

This creates another dramatic shift for learning organizations where they must now move from rapid authoring to rapid reuse. In other words, it’s no longer about how rapidly designers can author a course for a single platform in a proprietary format. It’s about creating content that is available to any device, application, and platform—the ones available today and the ones we don’t even know about yet. Non-proprietary reusable content has become more important than ever – as we learned when Apple decided to not support Flash on its highly popular mobile devices.

Social authoring

The convergence of mobile and social media, enabled by cloud delivery, will forever change the development and updating of learning content. Learners, empowered and emboldened by social media, will provide a constant stream of feedback and ratings from social networks and apps back to the cloud. Designers will assimilate these ratings and commentary from external subject matter experts into content development workflows, to create continuous and timely updates of training content. In this scenario, monolithic course content updated and delivered periodically through the LMS gives way to agile content that is delivered on-demand from the cloud to learners on any device. Moreover, instructional designers will get data and analytics about how learners use and interact with their content, allowing them to ascertain its usefulness. All of this will happen outside the LMS.

When authoring is social, instructional designers no longer dictate how content is consumed. Instead of creating courses, they will create learning experiences that give the learner the power to personalize and navigate their own training and performance support.

Blended learning

With training assets stored in the cloud, tablets have the ability to become full blended-learning environments. Learners can download training materials from the cloud and to their individual tablets, giving them the ability to navigate as they see fit through text, video, audio, and other interactive assets for more efficient and effective training.

Moreover, the cloud expands the definition of blended learning as we currently know it. With cloud services, the LMS is now only one of many channels to deliver training content. By leveraging the cloud, training organizations can deliver content to any LMSs, internal social collaboration apps, and external networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+, allowing instruction to take place within the apps learners use in their daily lives.

The way ahead

The needs of learners have shifted dramatically and rapidly. The unprecedented rate of adoption of smartphones and tablets, coupled with the prominence of the cloud and mobility, has ushered in a new era of learning. From instructional design to content development and delivery, the old ways of approaching training no longer suffice for meeting the expectations of today’s newly empowered and emboldened learners. Acting quickly on this new paradigm is the key to gaining a competitive advantage.