This is straightforward piece of advocacy, a simple call to action for the training/e-learning industry to stop using the terms “desktop” versus “mobile” training and start talking instead about “segregated” vs. “integrated” solutions. We hope that this simple shift in terminology will encourage a far more important shift in the ways we conceptualize training design and delivery: whereas “desktop vs. mobile” foregrounds the technology, “segregated vs. integrated” emphasizes the nature of the solution itself.
The terms “segregated” vs. “integrated” refer primarily to the different contexts of the solution’s deployment, in contrast to the technology used to deliver it.
If the term “segregated” solution, as we use it, usually refers to a desktop-based e-learning course, it is because the term signifies a type of training that is generally experienced in a space which is temporally and/or physically separated from the workplace environment itself. When you sit down at the computer to do your state-mandated sexual harassment training in California, for example, you are legally required to carve out two hours’ worth of time from your usual work schedule to complete the course. If you are a retail or hospitality worker, this experience will also take place in a back-of-house office, physically and temporally separated from yours peers and customers and the areas where you spend most of your workday.
Not all segregated solutions are desktop e-learning programs, however. Perhaps a more pointed example of a common segregated solution is the multi-day, offsite, instructor-led training session. In this case, trainees are geographically removed from their workplace for an extended period of time, with the intention of creating a space entirely focused on education, new skills building, simulated practice, and long-term retention. To extend the logic even further, the paradigm of the segregated training solution might actually be graduate school. Going to law school entails leaving home and devoting oneself 24/7 to the acquisition of a new, highly-complex set of business skills —skills which will only be fully applied after three years of study and a few more years of low-level apprenticeship.
At the other end of the spectrum, an “integrated” solution is defined by its embedded-ness in the rhythms and demands of the workplace itself. This type of solution is designed to provide just-in-time (JIT) answers to on-the-job knowledge gaps. The in-line help features of most modern software applications — Microsoft Office, for instance — provide the means for a user to ask “how do I. . . [do a specific task]?” and get the answer in the exact moment it’s needed. The fact that we’re talking about a desktop situation in this case goes to show that the “integrated” vs. “segregated” way of thinking about training is meant to be technology-agnostic. Conversely, just because a restaurant worker may be taking his or her hour of compliance training on a tablet does not mean that it’s an “integrated” training experience merely by virtue of the fact of its being consumed on a mobile device.
Not Either/Or, But Both/And
While the primary distinguishing feature here has so far been context, the direct corollary to this is the degree of learner focus that goes along with it. The greater the separation of the training solution from the immediate demands of the job, the more dedicated attention and absorption we can reasonably expect on the part of the learner. Therefore, there are some types of training problems — new skills acquisition, complex, critical decision-making, and general know-how requiring long-term retention — for which segregated solutions are totally appropriate.
As the training industry struggles to adapt to the rapid technological changes brought about by mobile, it is critical that we not lose sight of the distinct advantages of segregated solutions for these types of training objectives. Likewise, we cannot afford to think that just because the same segregated content is being transported into an integrated context, it will be received in at all the same way or have nearly the same impact.
The chart below attempts to parse out some of the defining features of segregated versus integrated solutions in a way that calls attention the advantages and disadvantages of each:
|Technological||Desktop Computer||Mobile Device|
|Temporal||Dedicated seat-time, significant time-investment||Just-in-time, minimal time-investment|
|Content Format||Multi-part Course||“Microlearning”|
|Pedagogical Orientation||Traditional Training Model||Performance Support Model|
|Content Stability||Long-term mastery-based, changes slowly||Volatile information-based, changes quickly|
|Hierarchical||Business-mandated, push model||On-demand, pull model|
|Learner Attention Level||Continuous, Focused||Intermittent, Distracted|
|Evaluation strategy||Comprehension Test||Performance Assessment|
|Skill-building support||Simulation, open-ended exploration, trial-and-error||Information support, drill-and-practice reinforcement|
|Skill Type||Complex decision-making||Process/procedure driven|
|Workforce Characteristics||Long-term, career track||Low-skilled, high turnover|
The oppositions in this chart are not meant to be absolute or inflexible, and in most cases, the contrasts have been exaggerated in order to make the distinctions as pronounced as possible. It is certainly possible to deliver training on complex decision-making processes on a small-screen device, for example, but the strategy for how to craft that experience in a way that will be effective and engaging for the mobile learner requires some additional thought and creativity.
What are the takeaways from all this? First, that we should not let considerations of technology take priority over the nature of the solution itself as we plan how to provide the most effective training in- or outside the workplace. As we have all come to realize over the past decade, simply porting desktop content that was originally designed to operate as a segregated solution onto mobile devices is almost always a bad idea. At the same time, there are a whole range of new and innovative integrated strategies that mobile devices make possible which are only beginning to be explored.
Second, no comprehensive training program should ever restrict itself completely to one side or the other, either fully segregated or fully integrated. When we as training professionals hear from business stakeholders that “we need to go 100% mobile,” we should probably hear alarm bells going off in our ears. Our mantra should always be “the right technology for the right solution,” and we should always remain vigilant towards the profound, even determining, influence that context has on training content and strategy.