Why Mobile Training is Like an Eclipse

Image: NASA via Reuters

On August 21, 2017 I travelled to the small town of Chester, Illinois to witness a once in a lifetime event: a total solar eclipse. Chester was one of the winners of the celestial lottery and was nearly on the centerline of the Path of Totality that spanned the United States. Even though Chester is the home of Popeye, the eclipse was the biggest event to ever happen to this sleepy, quaint Mississippi river town. Thousands of eclipse chasers descended on Chester to experience the unparalleled event.

Now that I have seen one, a total solar eclipse is an extraordinary experience in the true sense of the word. There is nothing like it. I could even appropriately utilize the overused word “awesome” in that it evoked a sense of awe of our universe. It is a natural wonder that produced a deep emotional, and even spiritual, response that I have felt in seeing other natural wonders like the Rocky Mountains. But, as I noted to some of my fellow eclipse watchers, all of those other wonders you have to travel to see as they are in a fixed place. The August 21 eclipse was reported to be the most-watched event in human history. NASA reported 4.4 million people were watching its TV coverage midway through the eclipse and millions were able to see it live. So, it was if you were dragging the Grand Canyon from Oregon to South Carolina. 12 million people live in the Path of Totality and the natural wonder was brought to the sky above their yard.

Maybe it’s a blessing or a curse but the eclipse made me wonder if the event is a metaphor for other parts of my life. One of those thoughts made me realize how an eclipse is very much like the changes that have happened in enterprise learning in the last ten years. Yes, the eclipse is not unlike mobile training. (Note: I use the term “mobile training” instead of “mobile learning” as the word “learning” has connotations for me of a very passive experience.) Now before you think that the UV rays affected my brain or that I was abducted by aliens during the event, let me explain.

Because of mobile devices and other new technologies, businesses have had to dramatically rethink how they train their employees. Not long ago, people travelled to a fixed location or spot for a training experience — a classroom or a bulky desktop computer. They stopped what they were doing, absorbed information, and then went back to the job and we hoped that they retained even a small percentage of the learning. Sound familiar?

Now, with mobile technologies, we bring the training into their world and strive to integrate the information into their workflow. Instead of trying to immerse them into our world, the old way, we ask to be immersed into theirs. The context for the training experience is completely changed and now instead of asking them to come and see our “natural wonder” on our terms (an online eLearning module?) we need to deliver the wonder to them in their environment. We can no longer say, “Come and see the eclipse,” we should say, “We’ll bring the eclipse to you.”

Another startling aspect of the eclipse was how the world around me changed so dramatically especially during the 2:29 of totality. A unique darkness fell over the hilltop I was on and cicadas and crickets began to sound as if it was 9 pm and not 1:20 in the afternoon. There was an eerie glow in the sky as only the sun’s corona was visible. It was breathtaking.

Mobile training deployment can significantly change the environment of the end users. Now they are getting learning on demand and at the time of need. The information often causes them to behave in a certain way or take a specific step to complete a task while they are doing the task. It potentially has an immediate effect on their job and their world. That’s a lot of responsibility for the trainer/content creator/designer to deliver useful, accurate and timely information. We want to make the lives of our users better and easier. We want to equip and support them instead of delivering training baggage or boring content. The eclipse resulting in crickets is an amazing result, mobile training resulting in crickets — not so good.

After the eclipse was finished, I immediately began plotting my attendance to the next solar eclipse in the US in 2024. Coincidentally, it passes through southern Illinois again! I will be there and you should join me. Mobile training can have that same type of impact. Maybe not life-changing but at least leaving the audience wanting more. It’s the goal to be “sticky,” creating something so useful that the end users keep returning to it on a consistent basis. Say you made an application that scanned safety warning icons that told the user the warning message and correct steps to take. That mobile training could avert an injury or even save a life. I don’t think an eclipse can do that!

I admit that no type of mobile training is going to result in someone standing at the top of a hill in darkness agape at the wonders of the universe. Maybe if you are equipping mobile astronomers. I do believe that enterprise training departments have unprecedented opportunity to make substantive impact on the jobs and lives of their employees by delivering training that is useful, innovative and “sticky.” It’s a big charge but the potential outcomes are unlimited. Don’t deliver everyday training — deliver an eclipse.