brainI have two small children who have grown up in the mobile phone era. Scratch that. They have grown up in the smartphone era. A flip phone is as foreign to them as a rotary dialer hung on a wall.

I have heard the lamentations of their grandparents (and other “back in my day” types) of how these kids will never have to remember anything.

With smartphones, every tidbit of trivia and scrap of information is available at your fingertips at any time. Who needs to remember anything anymore? I would love to see a longitudinal study of how well people did at Trivial Pursuit in the ‘80s versus how many questions they could answer today. There are researchers who say that the ability to pull up any information you want has damaged our declarative memory (the ability to remember things like phone numbers). Researchers at the Balance Brain Centre in Seoul, South Korea, have gone so far as to term this state as “Digital Dementia.”

Is there an upside? People have long been complaining (in the U.S., at least) that our public schools have become factories of rote memorization. The constant memorization and regurgitation of facts provides very little room for creative thought. Perhaps this mobile age (and really, the search engine age in general) will eliminate the need to memorize every detail, important or not, and free up our minds to do more critical thinking.

There are studies that suggest the use of mobile devices enhances critical thinking. The ability to receive contextual information (both new and old) when necessary provides fuel for critical thought. There is also a seemingly endless supply of mobile apps available that help develop critical thinking skills.

I see this as yet one more reason to get moving with mobile learning. Most organizations are on their way: Brandon Hall Group’s just-released mobile learning survey – highlighted in my industry perspective piece, Mobile Learning 2013: Gaining Momentum – shows that 79% of companies are doing at least some form of mobile learning.

Food for thought: every single high-performing company in the study – defined as having increased revenues and a majority of key performance indicators over the past year —  is delivering mobile learning, and in a more sophisticated manner than other organizations.

One of the most effective uses for mobile learning, our study finds, is performance support. In other words, high-performing companies are seeing the benefits of putting the information learners need into their hands when and where they need it. It is quite possible that knowing this information is always readily available can free employees up to execute more critical thought, which in turn could lead to more innovation. And if there is one thing organizations chase with almost as much vigor as profits, it is innovation.

David Wentworth

David Wentworth has been a senior research analyst in the human capital field since 2005 and joined the Brandon Hall Group in 2013. He has authored reports and articles on various human capital subjects with an emphasis on workforce technology. He has contributed to several reports published by ASTD, including authoring Mobile Learning: Learning in the Palm of Your Hand, The Rise of Social Media: Enhancing Collaboration and Productivity Across Generations, and Instructional Systems Design Today and in the Future. His work has also appeared in Compensation & Benefits Review and T+D Magazine.

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