Mobile-based microlessons offer a new paradigm for training deskless workers. Consider:

  • Brandi works as an occupational therapist, paying home visits to patients following surgery or an injury. She guides them through rehabilitation exercises and assists them with adjusting to daily tasks that are more difficult as a result of a temporary or permanent disability.
  • Jamila manages the garden center of a busy home improvement store. Pallets of trees coming in for spring planting must be unloaded and arranged; managers constantly track inventory; customers on the floor require assistance.
  • Teo has been a driver for FedEx for 15 years. He knows many of the residents along his route, and has watched paper forms give way to technology as he’s trained dozens of temporary and seasonal drivers and assistants.

What these individuals—and millions of other workers—have in common is that they are nomads on the job. They have no desk, no physical base. A key characteristic their jobs share is that technology is taking on a larger and larger role. Brandi fills out patient charts and tracks medication and appointments using a tablet. Jamila uses inventory and scheduling software to track incoming and outgoing stock, schedule employees, and more. The entire sales system, not to mention the phone system and staff paging system, runs on constantly changing technology. And Teo has seen paper lists and receipts give way to trackable packing slips and electronic devices for collecting delivery verification signatures.

Doug Stephen, senior vice president of the learning division at CGS, in New Brunswick, Canada, defines deskless workers as workers who “do not have full access to a computer while they are doing their work.” They can be in any industry; recent research at CGS found that 20 percent of the 5,000 workers surveyed identified themselves as “deskless workers.” Some have access to phones or tablets while they work; others do not.

The common denominator that CGS focused on is that these employees need regular training—to learn to use new technical devices and programs, to keep up with changes, to master safety procedures, and to complete tasks critical to their work performance. Stephen said that lack of training is a significant factor in employee turnover. Many companies, he said, have a “sink or swim attitude” and employees “want to be able to feel secure and comfortable that they can succeed.”

Managers could pull them away from work, along with groups of their colleagues, for instructor-led training or require that groups of employees log into virtual platforms for synchronous training. But that option is not feasible for many businesses, both because of the cost of pulling large numbers of employees away from their jobs during work hours and the logistics of covering vital ongoing work during group class times. For ongoing training and skills refreshers, it doesn’t make fiscal sense to pull groups of deskless workers off the job.

This is a use case built for mobile learning.

“When people take a job, they want to do well,” Stephen said. “And in this environment, where things change very quickly, you can’t take people and put them in a classroom environment for extended periods of time. But there has to be something where people can be fed.”

The solution that CGS has developed is a form of continuous “performance training” based on feedback and continuous improvement—essentially microlessons that managers offer as part of regular interactions with employees.

“The manager has a tablet and they basically do this ‘over the shoulder’ review of how a person is doing. What’s really cool is, they come back and say ‘you’re doing this great’ or ‘you might need a little bit of help—oh, and by the way, take my tablet; here’s a one-minute video on how to do it,’ ” Stephen said.

The one-minute videos are essentially short coaching sessions. CGS works with their clients to identify areas where many employees need coaching, identify high-performing employees, and create the short videos of the high performers talking to their peers. This approach motivates  all involved: “Your peers are being recognized as top performers, so they’ll want to get better at it. The people who are getting the tips from those peers want to be in those snippets. It just creates this really fantastic, ongoing thing. People want to be part of it,” Stephen said.

The regular feedback and continuous development has proven effective in improving skills and performance, Stephen said. “They’re getting fantastic training because they’re getting continuous review, they’re getting rehabilitation, they’re getting it in small chunks. We see the efficiency of that worker getting better.” CGS tracks the results using established industry benchmarks as well as individual company history. Data from learners’ activities can be correlated to measures of individual and store performance.

Benefits of mobile learning for deskless workers

Mobile microlearning offers several benefits to both the employers and the workers:

  • Workers can complete training on their own schedules—during a quiet time of the day.
  • Workers can complete training on their own devices or on a manager’s device, during their work day and in the workflow.
  • Training can be adapted to the needs of individual workers, rather than requiring people to sit through one-size-fits-all training that includes content that is not relevant or that they already know.
  • Training and job aids can focus narrowly on specific needs—product information updates, answers to specific questions, instructions for processes—that workers encounter while doing their jobs. Stephen said first-person vignettes—perhaps about how a worker solved a problem or dealt with a challenging customer—are especially effective.

Mobile training fits digital learners

Short video stories are not the only option managers can offer their deskless teams. Mobile training encompasses a vast variety of formats and approaches to teaching employees skills and supporting them in their work. Much training is now designed and developed for exclusive use on mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablets, to suit the way digital learners seek and consume information.

This training—for microlearning and performance support—can use video, audio, text, and graphics and take any form:

Deskless workers aren’t the only learners to want and benefit from mobile learning. Learner behavior is shaped by consumer behavior—which is increasingly oriented around using mobile devices to find information and solve problems. Mobile microlessons that learners can use anywhere can support workers and managers in a huge variety of roles.