5 Tips to Engage Your Workforce Through Mobile Learning

Shauna Carson

The next time you’re on public transit, look around. You’ll notice that most of your fellow passengers have one thing in common – they are intent on a mobile device. Mobile devices have become increasingly common, so it’s only natural that instructional designers want to capitalize on this with mobile learning, or mLearning. But is mobile learning right for your organization? And, if so, how can you ensure you best engage your workforce?

What is Mobile Learning?

Mobile learning allows learners to access information and learning through their mobile devices, meaning that support and knowledge is available anywhere, anytime. In her article, What are The Benefits of mLearning? Featuring 5 Killer Examples, Asha Pandey attributes the increased use of mobile devices to changing workforce demographics and advances in mobile technology, noting that "a significant percentage of users... prefer using tablets and smartphones for learning."

According to the Cisco Annual Internet Report (2018-2023), "devices and connections are growing faster (10 percent CAGR) than both the population (1.0 percent CAGR) and the Internet users (6 percent CAGR)" and "over 70 percent of the global population will have mobile connectivity by 2023".

So, more and more people are using mobile devices, and a significant percentage of the workforce prefers learning this way. Sounds like your organization should be investing in this new trend, right? Well, not necessarily.

Is Mobile Learning Right for Your Organization?

According to the Impact of mobile technology on student attitudes, engagement, and learning study, work products produced on mobile devices "were rated significantly lower on evidence of critical thinking... than those produced using laptop computers or paper and pen."

In addition, mobile learners were found to display fewer engaged behaviours and more disengaged behaviours. The mobile device itself may be encouraging learners to disengage.

In order for mobile learning to be effective as a learning tool, it must be used to encourage communication and collaboration. Learning collaboratively, rather than in isolation, is the key to ensuring that users experience significant learning, and retain the knowledge for future use.

Ultimately, should you decide to use mLearning, the authors note that you need to ensure that the mobile application you choose "creates opportunities to enhance student learning rather than complicating or distracting from learning." (p. 97)

Making mLearning Work for You

mLearning is certainly popular, and certain mLearning tools, when used correctly, can be used to facilitate learning.

But mobile learning by its very nature opens learners up to distraction and therefore disengagement. Should you decide to incorporate mLearning, you need to be mindful of this, as well as what else you can do to encourage knowledge retention, and engage your workforce.

When using mobile learning:

1. Focus on your User

There is a LOT to consider when you are designing your mLearning courses. But the key is to know who you are trying to reach. This means knowing how your audience browse, which devices they use, and how they find and use your products.

Knowing your user helps you tailor the mLearning experience to best appeal to the learner, and keep them engaged.

Consider introducing user surveys to your mLearning experience, so you can get feedback on what is (and is not) working for your learners.

2. Create Bite-Sized Learning

Though mLearning is a subset of electronic learning, it is important to remember that it is not the same thing. While both allow learners to access learning on the go, the delivery method of mLearning changes how the learning should be delivered.

You cannot simply "shrink" your eLearning for a mobile device. Instead, mLearning should feature bite-sized modules - take short attention spans into account, and make sure that learners are not expected to spend more than a maximum of 3-10 minutes on each module (compare this to the recommended maximum time of 20-30 minutes for an eLearning module).

3. Use Gamification

The multiple (and sometimes seemingly never-ending!) distractions on a mobile device present a huge challenge to any attempt to keep your learner's attention.

Gamification, which increases productivity levels for 90% of workers and increases awareness of co-workers' goals and tasks for 86%, can be a powerful tool that helps keep your workforce engaged.

To learn more about game-based learning and what it can do for you, check out 7 Benefits of Gamification in eLearning.

4. Keep it Simple

MLearning should feel like "interacting with oversized Fisher-Price toys." Focus on using large elements, easy navigation and simple designs. Multi-tasking on a mobile device means you are fighting for your learner's attention - make it as easy as possible for them to concentrate on what you are trying to share.

As Joanne Chan notes, "We access our phones on the go - during our commute, in between meetings or during lunch - and with all the potential distractions, we can only spare a short period of time to browse through content. This means that mLearning needs to be concise and to the point. Transferring eLearning content to mLearning simply will not work." Read the entire article here: mLearning: The Way of Learning Tomorrow.

Here are some tips to keep it simple:

  • Consider the condensed screen size.
  • Focus on one idea per screen.
  • Create large elements with simplified designs, easy navigation and simple interactions.

5. Diversify Your Content 

Mobile learning is flexible, and allows for more varied content. As Joanne Chan notes "mLearning creates an informal learning space by enabling access to learning outside the classroom, empowering learners to take charge of their own learning."

Take advantage of this flexibility by using what works best for your learners. Use learning modals such as videos and podcasts to engage your workforce and keep their attention.


Mobile learning, when used purposefully and mindfully, can be a powerful part of your learning strategy. It allows you to reimagine teaching and learning, and in its most effective use, can encourage collaboration and higher-level learning, but you need to ensure that any mLearning process you introduce enhances the learning process instead of complicating it.

The engagement tips outlined here can help you find mLearning strategies that will keep your workforce engaged, but remember that, just because something is trendy, doesn't mean it's right for you. Mobile learning has many benefits, but isn't always effective. Read Benefits and Challenges of Mobile Learning to identify the benefits and challenges associated with mobile learning.

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Shauna Carson

Shauna graduated from the University of Toronto in 2002 with a Master of Arts in English before moving home to Calgary to work in the fast-paced, detail-oriented oil and gas industry. Now certified as a technical writer, Shauna is comfortable writing in a variety of styles, and for a variety of audiences.