e-Learning & m-Learning: “The key is always understanding the employees needs”

Is it possible today to understand the training instances without incorporating learning through mobile devices? A prestigious international expert analyzes the recommendations to develop effective and successful mobile learning projects and the keys to generate attractive and stimulating content for training.

Interview to Timothy Buff - CEO and Chief Learning Strategist at CM Group, a technologically highly advanced company


(@americalearning) America Learning Media talked with the expert responsible for helping in the design and implement online and mobile blended learning strategies of CM Group.


CM Group is a UK/US based supplier of bespoke e-Learning programmes and mobile enabled learning solutions to large international organisations such as Microsoft, RBS Bank, Orange/EE, CA, Intel, Royal Navy, BAE, Three Mobile, QNB, Nat West Bank, etc.


“We specialise in end-to-end mobile and eLearning solutions for large, international organisations. We are experts in the mobile learning space & the use of Apps, & also supply our own HTML5 authoring & delivery tools, & full technical assistance, to give a complete start-to-finish service”, Timothy Buff said.



What are the keys to help an organization to achieve its training and development objectives?

Timothy Buff (@timothybuff: It starts with a top level alignment of the objectives of the Learning & Development team (L&D) with those of the organisation. This means the organisation itself has to articulate clearly its strategic objectives. The L&D team can then ensure that they structure themselves and their plans to support the wider business goals.  By doing this the L&D goals will support the business and the stakeholders in the wider business are much more likely to buy into the L&D team’s activities and support them. This alignment of goals at the strategic level will make it easier to identify and gain resources and enable the more tactical activities to be designed and rolled out. My experience has been that a surprising number of L&D teams do not know and understand the organisation’s strategic goals and therefore are at a major disadvantage.


What aspects should consider a company to generate attractive and stimulating content for training process of its employees?

The key is always understanding the employees’ needs. What do they need to be effective and productive? This may be technical skills, cultural awareness, process knowledge. It may be ‘just–in-time’ training delivered to their desktop or mobile device, or webinars, or social learning interactions. The list of possible options is a long one, but the key is to understand the audience you are addressing and how to meet their needs. Only then you can set about designing a solution which may utilise a variety of blended learning approaches and make the training program relevant, up to date and engaging for learners. Once you have identified the best way of reaching your learners you can combine interactive, multi-media elements with other forms of learning interactions. Budgets will always be a challenge, but rather than start with an assumption that eLearning is the way to go, I think it’s always wise to start with a blended approach which combines multiple different types of learning intervention, then narrow down the options to come up with the optimal solution.


What recommendations can you do to develop effective and successful mobile learning projects?

It is important to understand where and how learners might use mobile learning, then design the content for those usage scenarios. Remember:

- Firstly, people use learning on the different modalities differently. For example people may access eLearning on their laptop from a fixed office or home location, they will tend to make time in their schedule to do it and they will be prepared to sit through longer pieces of eLearning. eLearning is therefore better suited to more formal, in-depth study of a topic. Mobile learning on the other hand is portable and tends to be consumed in smaller duration time slots, it is therefore better suited for ‘just-in-time’ training, reference, reminders and job aids.

- Secondly, consider the most appropriate technical format. At CM Group we tend to produce most of our eLearning in HTML5 format using Luminosity Studio authoring tools. This output works on all PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones (Flash based courses will not run properly on tablets and smartphones).  But, we have found that a piece of eLearning designed for

laptop or tablet consumption is often fairly complex in structure and appearance, it is fine on tablets and although it can be consumed on a smartphone, the user experience is not good. So we have started authoring our mobile content which is targeted on Smartphones, as ‘responsive HTML5’. This is a technology which allows the content to adapt itself automatically to the user’s device screen size. It works on all devices, but it’s especially useful on smartphones because of the very small screen size. We then use this for phone courses with a simplified structure and which tend to be shorter, more concise, with simpler navigation and assessments.



Is it possible today to understand the training instances without incorporating learning through mobile devices, or it is simply impossible?

Reaching an office based set of learners can be done simply by using traditional eLearning delivery. Reaching learners who are working away from the office, or who travel a lot really requires a rethink of the traditional model. This is where mobile learning becomes very interesting. Imagine field engineers with tablet devices having a full set of diagrams on their tablet, accompanied by short video training ‘nuggets’ on specific tasks, a site visit process control workflow, news and event feeds, health and safety updates. All these can be managed and delivered to users from a single central admin console which pushes out updates to the content which are flagged to users who download content when connected and then can work on it offline. Field sales staff or financial services advisors can be supported with all the relevant supporting collateral, brochures, price lists, special offers, up to date presentation slide decks and so on. Offline tracking and assessment results can be passed back to the central server when they next connect. The possibilities are endless and with the technology now fully proven and working, it’s down to L&D professionals to identify where they can useful use the approach.


What are the factors that can derail a project of mobile learning?

User acceptance is the crucial test of success. To ensure user acceptance you have to make sure the solution is very easy for them to use, ie easy for them to install an App on their device (and here BYOD is important), easy for them to download and access content and pleasurable for them to use. The quality of the content itself is the next vital component – it has to be relevant, up to date, accurate and reliable as well as accessible and interesting to use. Finally the technology has to be robust and work seamlessly. We use native Apps for our BYOD solutions, supported by a central cloud based content server and our clients have found that this works well for them and provides a really good user experience, this is vital to ensure people utilise and return to the training and support materials provided to them as part of the mobile solution.


What will be the main trends for m-learning in 2014?

Mobile learning is a form of eLearning. Because of the technology challenges it has previously been considered a separate format entirely. I think in the future that distinction will start to disappear as the two forms merge.

Big opportunities for organisations in 2014 include:

• Performance support tools and reference collateral provided to staff who are based out of office

• Integration of mobile programmes with other company training approaches to give a blended approach

• Introduction of social learning elements such as peer to peer sharing and user generated learning content

• Use of gamification techniques to encourage greater learner engagement


Could you share with our readers some successful and highly meaningful mobile learning experience developed by CM Group?

We recently rolled out a great project for Microsoft’s new manager induction program which combines a range of really advanced elements. Microsoft are an incredibly innovative company and are always seeking new and improved ways of doing things. They have a great HR team in Redmond and we worked closely with them to design and build a complete end-to-end solution. Firstly we took existing new starter content and combined it with additional courses which we created. We mounted this on our cloud based next generation LMS called Luminosity Reach. This enabled selective targeting of content, curricula support, multiple different learning asset types (videos, eLearning , mobile learning, PDFs, eBooks, etc) and staged content release. We added in some interesting gamification elements and a competitive leader board with points, trophies and prizes to help stimulate ongoing engagement. Finally on the device side we provided native Apps for Windows 8 phones and tablets which enabled users to access content and consume it offline, with SCORM tracking and usage analytics data being re-synchronised back to the Luminosity Reach LMS when the user next connects.  This sort of solution is ideal for a large, complex learner base operating in different regions. As our Luminosity Reach LMS supports Tin Can (Experience API), it means that there is inherent flexibility in supporting future directions for the program.



How can students become producers of content? Do you think the appearance of learning solutions based on social networks such as Izzui can help increase this trend?

Definitely. We call it ‘user generated content’ and there are great opportunities now to harness employees to produce learning content which can be shared amongst the wider Learning community. The key is a simple to use content creation tool. Izzui is good, but whichever tool you use, you really need to have it integrated as part of the LMS with workflow and social functions. Let me explain, if a learner does a task and perhaps videos himself doing it, he adds some simple text and some tags to aid searchability. For the process to work it has to be easy for him to create the content, easy for him to upload it to the server and target it on specific learner groups, then easy for a moderator to approve it, and easy for others learners to rate it – that way really useful content floats to the top of the list of available material. Different companies will have different preferences for how this should work, so we tend to understand their preferences before implementing a tailored solution in this area.



February 2014