Making learning fun, mobile and effective

When it comes to teaching working professionals, companies and employees alike know that traditional classroom-based learning and computer-delivered courses are time-consuming, boring and rarely effective. But one startup is determined to change that with a mobile microlearning approach based on the science of adult learning.

Gnowbe aims to make engaging, effective learning via smartphones the new norm for company training, head of strategic partnerships Loh Chi Ming told The Business Times.

"The main thing we do is provide a platform that helps companies transition their training from classroom or face-to-face, to mobile. By doing that, we help companies save costs in terms of time, productivity costs and costs of training," said Mr Loh.

Its approach, described as mobile-first, participatory, personalised and group-based, leverages andragogy - the science of adult learning - to engage a more mobile, distracted and time-starved workforce. Gnowbe courses convert training content into short, intensive sessions with brief videos, infographics and questions which users can complete on their smartphones while commuting or waiting in line for lunch, for example.

To increase the effectiveness of the training, users are required to apply the skills in some way, such as committing to do something differently in their work the next day or sharing their answers on a discussion board for peer feedback. Leaderboards, notifications and reward emails make the learning experience fun and prompt users to keep coming back to the app.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will benefit from the affordability and customisability of the content and platform, Mr Loh said. For instance, some of the courses available on Gnowbe, such as those created by Temasek Polytechnic, are eligible for SkillsFuture Singapore credit and subsidies, and Gnowbe is working with SkillsFuture to get approval for more of its courses.

Companies can “Gnowbefy” their existing training programmes, and full access to the platform to do so starts from US$9 per user per month.

They can also subscribe to formal courses created by Gnowbe content partners like Bayer Environmental Sciences and local polytechnics and universities; prices vary for different levels of access to these courses. In addition, they can customise the formal courses to teach about their proprietary methods or products.

Companies can monitor their employees’ progress and completion rates through a dashboard to gauge the programmes’ effectiveness. Gnowbe courses have completion rates of 20 to 70 per cent, compared to 3 to 8 per cent for traditional e-learning courses, although achieving these higher rates also involves efforts from the SMEs to encourage employee adoption.

However, they don’t have to do it alone, as Gnowbe's client success team will step in to help if the employees don't seem to be biting.

Mr Loh gave the example of an insurance company that used Gnowbe to deliver its onboarding programme content, but achieved only 8 per cent completion rates, instead of the 50 per cent or more that was promised.

Gnowbe stepped in to conduct an orientation briefing and explained to new hires that the mobile platform was a quicker and more convenient alternative to attending two-hour training sessions for the next four weeks. Completion rates subsequently improved to healthier levels.

“We don’t tell our clients to subscribe to our technology and sort it out themselves. We have a client success team, and our objective is to see encouraging adoption and from that point we go on to behaviour change and work towards organisational impact.”

Local SME Origin Exterminators has been using Gnowbe’s platform and Bayer-verified courses like “Fundamentals of Cockroach Management” for employee training for about four months now. CEO Winston Baptista said employees are more excited and engaged about learning in this way, as compared to classroom-style and computer-based training.

“They had to sit in a room for three to four hours, and you’d see them dozing off to sleep,” he said. “With this, they take it in bite-sized pieces, and what we are trying to inculcate is a habit, like brushing your teeth.”

However, there must be a mindset change for microlearning to be effective. First, the companies must see the need for a mobile learning solution and a radically different mode of learning that will inspire enjoyment and engagement, leading to behavioural change and organisational impact, said Mr Loh.

Then the users must participate in the learning journey for it to be effective, by sharing and discussing their answers, for instance.

“Initially, you need to be prodding them, until you get past that tipping point where they see the value of it, it becomes fun and they want to share,” Mr Baptista said. 

Added Mr Loh: “Driving the culture is very important. If we implement this for 1000 SMEs today, 80 per cent of them may not see the same level of success because they don’t think it’s important to establish a learning culture.

“You have to make it an expectation, incorporate it into performance reviews, tell (employees) to learn on Gnowbe if they don’t know something on the job. It becomes part of life.”