New Study Shows How Mobile Learning Has Gone Mainstream

You knew it was coming. It was only a matter of time before mobile devices like cell phones, smart phones, PDAs, iPads and the like invaded every corner of our lives.

Yes, it’s a fast-moving world, and the faster it gets the more mobile devices become a “must have” tool for staying plugged in and informed.

That’s why it’s not a huge surprise that a new research study by Bersin & Associates now says that  “mobile learning finally has gone mainstream, driven by consumers in both the developed and developing worlds, and by mobile-technology oriented industries including high-tech, business services, and health care.”

According to the Bersin study titled m-Learning: Mobile Learning is Finally Going Mainstream – And It Is Bigger Than You Might Think,” the use of mobile devices for learning has risen from 9 percent of U.S.-based organizations in 2007 to an estimated 20 percent or more in 2010.

A quarter of the world now uses a mobile device

In addition, more than a quarter of the world’s population now uses a mobile device, and frequent mobile Internet use has almost doubled in the past year, according to the study. The research report also notes that the informal uses for mobile learning (they refer to it as m-learning) vastly outnumber the formal, and that these new applications increasingly empower today’s workers to access the information they need on demand.

“Mobile learning is ushering a new era – one of unprecedented speed, scale and reach that can connect employees to the knowledge and expertise they need, when and where they need it,” said Josh Bersin, chief executive officer and president, Bersin & Associates, in a press release about the new study.

“Today’s enterprise learning functions risk becoming irrelevant if they do not rapidly respond to the power of new mobile technologies to both deepen and hasten the sharing of information across organizations, and to the changing needs and expectations for learning by new generations and geographies of employees.”

Here are a couple of examples that Bersin points to that show the spread of mobile learning:

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  • Accenture created a uPodcast program that enables subject-matter experts and the organization’s leaders to share knowledge at a minimal cost. To date, 180 podcasts have been created and more than 20,000 employees – 11 percent of the total workforce – have accessed them.
  • Coca-Cola turned to Kelley Executive Partners to create an alternate reality game that combines social and mobile technologies – including GPS and smartphones – along with collaborative and competitive team problem-solving. The game was designed to drive understanding of how millennial consumers use Web 2.0 technologies (and avoiding television) to help Coca-Cola develop a more effective marketing strategy.

Rethinking how to support mobile learning

Bersin & Associates is an organization that is very plugged into training, learning, and talent development, so they very much have their finger on the pulse of this area and know what they are talking about. And although it may not be a big shock to most executives and HR professionals that mobile learning has grown the way it has, it will push companies everywhere to reconsider what they’re doing if it isn’t part of how they are currently delivering training to their workforce.

According to David Mallon, a principal analyst at Bersin & Associates and author of the study, learning organizations will need to rethink their methods, practices and perspective to help support meeting business learning needs at the speeds of business, and via the formats and modes used by business.

“Timeliness, proximity, versatility – these are among the key measures of today’s high-impact learning organization,” Mallon said. “m-Learning plays a critical role in helping organizations meet the demands of these measures.”

Yes, mobile learning is here whether you like it or not, as the Bersin study makes clear. If your organization isn’t making use of it, you better take another look and see how it can fit into your training and development system, because it’s also clear that workers everywhere are using their mobile devices for just about everything under the sun — and that now includes workplace training and learning.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.