Mobile learning in action

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Written on 13 April 2016 in Features
Features

The ‘mobile first’ content providing a game-changing solution for Save the Children staff

Save the Children is the world’s leading independent organisation for children, working across 120 countries worldwide. Its aim is to give children a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm.
 
By transforming children’s lives, the aim is to change the course of their future and help them fulfil their potential.
 
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Skill Pill has created a buzz with its smart, mobile-first content for corporate learning and development. Its content is primarily designed to create a bridge between a moment of intervention and the moment of application. Learners use the content to get in the right frame of mind, refresh learning and focus on specific information.
 
This enables them to become better, faster and smarter at the moment of delivery. Skill Pill works with Save the Children on a voluntary basis, but it also works with other companies, including: American Express, Open University, Telegraph Group and Pacific Gas & Electric. 
 
The challenge
As an international organisation, Save the Children faces many training challenges. A recurrent theme is how to develop local staff to take up senior positions. This is more critical than it may appear. Many people in Middle and Far Eastern countries are uneasy and fearful about taking advice from Westerners.
 
Likewise, Westerners may not understand important nuances inherent to good management in a specific locale. In countries like Nigeria, staff turnover is around 70 per cent a year.
 
Samantha Davis led the project for Save the Children, she said: “We have two clear learning needs. The first is management development. We’re keen to discover how mobile technology can encourage managers in different cultures and provide good clear messages.
 
The second is for induction. We have just gone through some major transitions and changed our induction processes. So we need to deliver consistent core messages across the movement to support local managers and provide a bespoke mobile content library that covers emergency and central policy issues.”
 
To meet these needs, Skill Pill created a series of bespoke objects on the sensitive areas of safety, security, and child safeguarding. The rationale for the mobile content was to support existing classroom courses. These bespoke objects were also supplemented with around 200 other off the shelf mobile learning objects. 
 
For many in the West, it still comes as a shock to discover how commonplace the smartphone is in places like the Yemen, Nepal and Ethiopia (all places in which Save the Children operates). Today, it is often the only dependable way to reach people.
 
Travelling can be dangerous and difficult. In some countries, cultural barriers can make education from outside the immediate family frowned upon. In these places, received wisdom is king. Questioning the status quo is discouraged. Hardly surprising, then, that Save the Children saw a real opportunity for mobile learning.
 
Davis added: “We needed resources that could reach out to learners whenever they were able to learn and had that desire. We also needed tools that would provide a ‘just in time’ learning capability and mobile is perfect for that. Mobile is also the main platform for our existing staff anyway. So it just made logical sense to go this way.”
 
Why mobile?
Skill Pill and Save the Children worked closely to ensure the apps worked effectively. A key requirement was that the content had to be downloadable and viewable offline. This would enable learners to go to a Wi-Fi connected area (not always readily available in some countries), top up the content and then use it offline in more rural areas.
 
Managing director Gerry Griffin headed up the project at Skill Pill. “Mobile learning content lends itself to a more coaching and collaborative tone of voice rather than the prescriptive and didactic style often found in learning designed to be accessed on the desktop. In fact this works incredibly well for Save the Children.
 
It is consistent with the tone of voice they prefer and really need to adopt to reach their learners because it suits the sensitivity of the subject. It is also more welcomed in some of the regions that may be more resistant to messages from Western authorities.  Mobile doesn’t like preachy prescriptive material – it prefers a more personal message,” explained Griffin.
 
Like all Skill Pill content, the design is specific for mobile, using simple screen colours and animation builds. Text is appropriate to small screen sizes and the content itself is rarely more than three minutes long.
 
The pace is also different with a screen transition each 1.5 seconds. Content is delivered though their mobile app that provides a background framework and communications tool for the videos themselves.
 
Davis said: “The rationale for mobile is that it reaches part of the infrastructure that other solutions can’t. There is still practically no web infrastructure in some countries so it had to be portable.” 
Barbara Watkinson was responsible for taking the management development programme to 12 countries, including the Yemen and Ethiopia. Explains Watkinson: “One of the most important aspects was that it was both engaging and interactive.
 
These basic precepts are recognisable globally. The short, punchy style broke down objections that we can face with more formal delivery methods. Another important factor in take-up was the use of non-race specific animation. The small screen prefers simple delivery and animation [rather than real video], which again helps circumnavigate cultural issues.” 
 
Achieving learning needs
Save the Children hoped that mobile learning would contribute to organisational needs by making it easy for the primary learners to transfer their knowledge to local representatives. Indeed more than half of those who attended the classroom courses then passed on their knowledge by encouraging others to use the mobile courses.
 
“Our use of mobile technology has really turned heads,” explained Davis. “There is now serious interest across the organisation to develop its use. We have unquestionably demonstrated its potential in the field and its effectiveness to meet organisational needs.”
 
The induction programme was critical to achieving organisational goals. Davis continued: “As we had gone through a major transition, it was the ideal time to realign content to organisational needs.
 
The Code of Conduct and Child Safeguarding courses were critical to establish our position and expectations as an organisation. But we also used the Skill Pill management shortcuts to help manage the high performance programme. The fact that we were able to roll this out alongside this programme was a big advantage.”
 
Watkinson revealed how the programme helped them achieve their needs for local management growth: “Promoting managers locally in the organisation, especially in places like the Yemen, where there is resistance to learning being ‘pushed’ at them by foreigners, is still a challenge.
 
Academic ability is patchy. Many learn English, not at schools, but just through received broadcast media and the streets. Most challenging is that few learners have any knowledge of the language of management. Phrases like ‘setting objectives’ just have no meaning. This makes it extremely hard even to begin delivering standard management training courses. Using mobile to ‘set the scene’ in these circumstances is invaluable.”
 
The major course objective was to create employees who think for themselves, not just wait to be told what to do. We had to change the ethos of the students and help them develop an attitude of permanently learning.”
 
Driving adoption 
Ultimately the mobile learning programme formed part of a blended approach that included webinars, a four-day management programme, a series of shared events and a new competency framework.
 
Davis elaborated: “We drove adoption by identifying key champions at country, regional and head office and encouraging them to support us by showcasing the apps.”
Deploying mobile learning also helped establish the mobile device as the primary method of communication (be it by telephone or text) between the learner and tutor. The content included a built-in feedback tool to encourage discourse about the material.
 
The mobile programme was also designed to foster discussion and collaboration. Watkinson continues: “For the management development content, users can’t just register by downloading the app. We wanted to spread the word in training sessions and by simple word of mouth.”
 
One effective tool was, perhaps surprisingly, QR codes. These were distributed and displayed at learning sessions and associated events. Anyone could then download the content directly using the QR code. Users were also encouraged to access content through a range of digital postcards posted on the intranet. These helped raise awareness and made it easier for users to access the content.
 
Impact and results
Save the Children introduced the programme worldwide (with the exception of the US and Spanish-speaking South America). The biggest impact has been in Asia and the Middle East where there are 14,000 Save the Children employees.
 
Initially, mobile content was used in conjunction with 16 formal programmes running over four days to around 170 delegates. Those delegates were themselves trained as trainers so they could deploy their knowledge to others.
 
As each month goes by, the word about the programme spreads and usage increases. Today, many times the number of the original 170 users access it every month.  The mobile content has formed a bedrock of information that can be transmitted to thousands more. The course, supported by the mobile content, has in turn enabled the delegates themselves to deliver the full four-day programme to others.
 
Unlike ‘traditional’ eLearning, it was not always easy or even appropriate to collect data from the mobile modules via some AICC standard. Instead, to gauge the effectiveness of the mobile learning, Save the Children ran 25 surveys across 9 countries, covering 300 data points.
 
The learners’ evidence was convincing. A user in Iraq explained: “Skill Pill has helped me be more proactive in my work. It’s ideal when you have skills you wish to give to other staff in order to develop themselves and then their county.”
 
Another user in Ethiopia said: “An excellent skill tool with perfect guidance and quick reference, user-friendly learning methods, used examples and is a quick reference.” A Yemeni user concluded:  “Skill Pill offers real benefits by enhancing learning, acquainting with new skills and experiences.”
 
The following data shows that the mobile learning addressed a number of challenges that Save the Children faced:
 
“Clearly mobile learning is a game-changing solution for Save the Children and is proving to be particularly powerful for induction and management training as part of a blended approach to learning. We’re delighted with the impact it is having in remote hard to reach locations where it can provide a real life-line for crucial staff development,” concluded Griffin. 
 
For further information visit www.skillpill.com and www.savethechildren.org.uk
 
 
 
 

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