Revisiting Blended Learning: Adding Mobile For A Situated Learning Approach

Blended Learning + Mobile = Learning in Context!
Irene Jimenez/SweetRush Inc.
Summary: L&D pros are recognizing that training is not one size fits all and are turning to blended learning to create more effective, learner-centric programs. Adding mobile learning to the mix offers exciting opportunities to learn in context with situated learning and experiential learning approaches.

Blended Learning + Mobile = Learning In Context!

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to learning design. That’s where blended learning comes in. The power of blended learning is that you can make a more learner-centric program, tailoring a learning program to the unique needs of the learner and the learning environment. By finding the right mix of modalities and approaches to the content, you can customize a program to how people want to learn, increasing user engagement and rates of successful training completion.

Adopting a blended learning approach provides a unique opportunity to decrease training resources, improve quality, and connect learners with the culture and mission of your organization more directly. My SweetRush colleague Emma Klosson describes blended learning as “...the Swiss Army knife of learning solutions”—I love this metaphor! Check out her brilliant overview of blended learning solutions with lots of examples and best practices.

I’d like to revisit blended learning by focusing on what happens when mobile is brought into your blended learning mix. Mobile can often be a choice of ready access and convenience. A Pew Research Center survey in 2018 revealed that 77% of Americans own smartphones. This is a dramatic increase from their first survey in 2011, which found that 35% of Americans owned smartphones. And the writers Hamm, Drysdale, and Moore, in their book on mobile pedagogy, share that "…people expect to be able to perform life tasks—work, study, and play all the time and everywhere" [2].

Mobile Learning Enables Situated Learning

Beyond being convenient, the true power of mobile learning is that it allows people to take learning with them to the place or environment where they will actually use their newly-acquired knowledge and skills. This is called “situated learning.”

Situated learning is when knowledge, skills, and behaviors are acquired in contexts or settings where the learning occurs typically or is embedded in the culture, context, or activities.

Here are two examples:

  • If achieving learning goals requires hands-on experience, observing an experienced staff member, and practice, taking the training out of the classroom and onto the floor of the organization allows for deeper learning to take place.
  • If you have invested your heart and soul into building a brand for your organization, situated learning can create training in which your new hire not only learns what is required to perform the job, but also develops a feeling of belonging and investment in the company.

Situated learning is a powerful approach that can be traced back for centuries as apprentice/mentor relationships, internships, and coaching scenarios can attest!

With in-person or virtual classroom training, knowledge, skills, and behaviors are typically taught in the abstract. Yes, we can provide great scenarios and demonstrations! However, Instructional Designers know that learning happens best when mimicking the real-world context (e.g., the learner’s work environment) as closely as possible. With mobile learning, learners can take their devices to the locations where they perform their jobs. We can build authentic learning activities and allow them to interact with their environment. This can result in meaningful, long-lasting results from the learning solution.

Finding The Right Blend For Learning

I still think Emma Klosson’s description of blended learning as the “Swiss Army knife of learning solutions” is the smartest definition I’ve come across. Putting a bit more of an academic hat on, we can say that blended learning is Instructional Design that allows for a multidimensional framework [1] and can support the integration of seemingly opposite modalities (face-to-face with online, self-directed with directed, technology-assisted connections and in-person connections, etc.). The goal of blended learning, as with learning design in general, is to encourage learners to master concepts they cannot understand on their own and achieve learning or business goals more fully [3].

What’s great about blended learning is how it can be tailored to the specific needs of the organization and the learners, conveying the skills, knowledge, and behaviors needed for the unique learning outcomes required by the organization.

Need to learn soft skills that are more art than prescriptive? Integrate self-directed learning with coaching or peer-to-peer learning.

Need to train learners in skills or behaviors that require on-the-job practice? Design your solution with a mix of face-to-face training and performance support with situated learning in mind.

Mobile + Situated + Blended Learning = Engaging And Effective Learning!

At SweetRush, we’re integrating all of the techniques I’ve just described—making mobile learning a key part of our blended learning solutions, and using mobile technology to create situated learning opportunities. Put together, these blended learning experiences raise the bar on engagement and effectiveness.

Here are two mini case studies to help illustrate how this blend of learning techniques can work—and inspire your own!

Mobile-First, Experiential Learning: Technology In Context

Blended Learning + Mobile = Learning in Context!

A large hotel chain was rolling out a new technology in its guest rooms and needed to onboard learners—and importantly, get them excited about these changes and confident in helping troubleshoot guests’ issues. In collaboration with our client, we designed a blended, mobile, experiential learning program that helps hospitality workers learn about new technology in the guest rooms.

Here’s how it works:

  • Learners take their phones into a guest room and, with the support of mobile eLearning in a microlearning (2- to 5-minute) format, they experience how the technology works first hand.
  • After the experiential learning, they debrief with managers one on one or in a small group huddle. They can ask questions or get specific coaching.
  • Back at their workstations, they can access mobile job aids that help them support guests who need troubleshooting help.
  • When new features are rolled out for the guest room technology, these hospitality workers can get the latest by using their phones to access content on an Augmented Reality poster!

Learners love this innovative blended mix: mobile/situated learning, coaching, performance support, and immersive technology.

Product Knowledge Training And Sales Enablement: Out Of The Back Room And Onto The Floor

Blended Learning + Mobile = Learning in Context!

A global manufacturer that sells its products in a variety of stores needed a unique approach to sales associate training on product knowledge. We paired mobile-accessible, animated technology videos with concise product knowledge mobile learning courses.

The animated videos, featuring humor,  storytelling, and memorable characters, educate sellers on the science behind the technology, while the mobile eLearning focuses on features, benefits, customer profiles, and overcoming objections.

Sellers can take these learning materials out on the retail floor as they examine the products, and even show them to customers. This is a great solution for onboarding and new product launches, as well as point-of-need performance support, without taking sales associates off the floor for training. The mobile learning is reinforced by field trainers who visit stores and provide live demonstrations.

Tips For Adding Mobile Learning To Your Blended Learning Design

Inspired to try out this approach with a learning design project of your own? Here are 4 tips to get you started.

1. Learning Objectives First

Start with a sound approach to learning design, including defining the learning objectives and outcomes first. It’s important to have this clarity for the overall blended learning solution as a whole before creating them for each component of the blended learning and the modality of delivery.

2. Observe And Interview

  1. Before you can pitch a mobile-assisted learning solution or a situated learning approach to a client, you really need to see what the work and the work environment is like first hand. It might be that you begin a new training project thinking that a mobile AR solution would be perfect as a performance support piece. However, once you observe the actual work and interview the staff,  their job or task requirements might not allow for a free hand for the mobile use you have in mind!
  2. Confirm that the organizational guidelines allow for mobile devices on the job. It might be that management doesn’t want the learners to be tempted to use a mobile device for personal reasons on the job
  3. Make sure learners have access to a mobile device at all. Although the research supports that most adult learners have a smartphone, it also confirms that not everyone does.

3. Check Out The Internet Infrastructure In The Environment Where The Situated Learning Will Take Place

  1. Access and quality of the Wi-Fi can be a game-changer for your blended learning design. It can determine the types of media and file size limitations that will need to be considered or if you should even integrate mobile learning at all.
  2. Confirm that the organization’s management allows staff to access Wi-Fi in the workplace. You don’t want to ask staff to use data from a personal mobile plan to support an organizational learning program.

4. “Chunk” Out Your Content And Sequence Strategically

As with any learning approach, it’s important to break down the content and sequence flow of the material first before considering the best delivery method in the blended learning design.

Blended Learning + Mobile = Learning in Context!

Mobile Blended Learning: Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants

The character of the workplace and the nature of technology are evolving faster than ever before. Mobile-assisted blended learning design has become more prevalent to meet these changing needs.

No matter how many new bells and whistles of technology emerge to apply to learning design, I am amazed at how we are still standing on the shoulders of situated learning approaches from centuries-old guild apprenticeships to mobile-assisted training of today. With the right blended learning design, the enduring legacy of situated learning can help us make sense of how we can use technology-assisted learning tools today.


[1] Alvaro Hernan Galvis, “Supporting decision-making processes on blended learning in higher education: Literature and good practices review,” International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 15(1), (2018): 1-38.

[2] Scott Hamm,  Jason Drysdale, and Diana Moore,  “Towards a mobile learning pedagogy,”  D. McConatha and C. Penny (Eds). Mobile pedagogy and perspectives on teaching and learning  (Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2014). 1-19. Mobile fact sheet: Demographics of mobile device ownership and adoption in the United States, (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center Internet and Technology, 2018).

[3] Allison Rossett and Rebecca Frasee, Blended learning opportunities, (New York City, NY: American Management Association Special Report, 2006).

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