The mobile communication breakdown

Written by Armin Hopp on 26 March 2014
I recently went to an e-learning industry meeting in London rather than attending the usual webinars. Around 30 e-learning professionals from different countries attended what turned out to be a most useful and productive event. I got a great update on what is moving the industry and met several people new to the interest group.
And as a non-native speaker of English, I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to pick up on new industry vocab or general phrases and terms – that’s the one thing that even our online language training service might not always be better at. So, even though it costs more time, money and effort to arrange for it, nothing beats good old face-to-face communication, does it? 
Not quite. One thing that stood out to me throughout the event is how little time people actually spend talking to one another in person. And that’s not only happening in the UK, of course. I travel a lot and it’s the same everywhere. Sure, we’re all physically present, but do the people and discussions in the room actually have our full attention? Conversations appear to take place at short, sporadic intervals in between working on our tablets or sending texts from our phones. We might be speaking to someone face- to-face, but nervously feeling for our phones at the same time, occasionally even interrupting the dialogue to finish sending something. The same thing happens – probably even more so – while somebody is presenting something in a meeting room. Here, the temptation to take a sneaky glance at our mobiles is even greater, as it’s not a one-to-one conversation and we don’t feel directly addressed. It’s hard to imagine a time when we had no electronic devices whatsoever and could become completely immersed in a business meeting.  
Is there too much dependency on mobiles?
According to Morgan Stanley, more than 90 per cent of the U.S. general public have their mobile device within reach 24/7. It takes 90 minutes for the average person to respond to an email. It takes 90 seconds for the average person to respond to a text message. UNISYS found that It takes 26 hours for the average person to report a lost wallet.  It takes 68 minutes for them to report a lost phone. 
The adoption of mobile technology – and BYOD – is bringing a new platform of learning at work. Our 2014 Speexx Exchange survey shows that 67 per cent of corporations allow personal mobile devices at work, but only 27 per cent use them for learning. We’ve been wondering about this result and mainly put it down to issues with instructional design and content availability – rather than the demand for mobile learning. 
But lately I’ve been thinking that mobile might also be stigmatised because we often experience it as a distraction rather than a tool for learning. If this is true we’d have to discuss a code of conduct for the use of mobile devices in business before increasing the adoption of mobile in e-learning or blended learning environments. 
Sometimes I think it helps to go back to basics and make the most of these rare opportunities where we get to meet our peers and talk to them in person. All the things that are largely lost through mobile communications – tone of voice, body language, facial expressions – are at play here. Switching our phones on silent and putting them somewhere out of reach for a while can really help to create some thought-provoking discussions with zero distractions. There will be plenty of chance to check our mobiles once we’re on the tube heading home. And by adhering to this rather simple code of communications conduct, we might even come up with some new solutions for better integrating mobile learning in the workplace.  
Of course, learners will want the latest tools and the most engaging design. But cost is also a factor for companies engaged in training their workforces. And succeeding in business also means keeping up with the changing technological landscape. A fully integrated, customised learning management system, supported by local experts, not only paves the way to talent development and mobility, but can also be the key to gaining greater efficiency and a significant competitive advantage on a global scale.
About the author
Armin Hopp is the founder and president of Speexx. He can be contacted via

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