The pace of mobile technological change is accelerating at an exponential rate. Information technology research company Gartner predicted that this would be the year that mobile phones would overtake PCs as the most common internet access device worldwide and that by 2015, over 80 percent of the handsets sold in mature markets will be smartphones.

On a local scale, there are now an estimated 75 million mobile phone handsets in the UK, which actually equates to more than one per person. According to the International Longevity Centre’s Ageing, Longevity and Demographic Change statistics, three out of five over 75 year-olds, four out of five 65-74 year-olds and 99 percent of 25-34 year-olds own a mobile phone. Of these people, more than a third of 45-64 year-olds own a smartphone.

The proliferation and evolving use mobile technology, including smartphones, tablets and e-readers, is resulting in new behaviours relating to the consumption of information – a trend that has captured the attention of Skills for Care and Development.

Skills for Care and Development, the sector skills council for social work, social care and children’s services in the UK, is managing the Mobile Knowledge and Learning Solutions (MK&LS) project. This particular project aims to develop understanding and raise awareness regarding the potential for mobile technology to support knowledge and learning in social care across the UK. While in England, the employer-led authority on the training standards and workforce development needs of social care staff, Skills for Care, are leading on the MK&LS project .

Sara Dunn is one of two external project managers supporting Skills for Care on MK&LS and she explained how the project will help to meet the needs of employers, workers and carers in the social care sector.

“This project is really about developing mobile-friendly resources that will support learning and development across the sector as a whole, and enable employers and their staff to continue to provide high quality care services,” Sara said. “In England, Skills for Care is investigating the potential of mobile technologies for the adult social care sector.”

“Until this point, there has not been a lot of early adopters of technology across the social care sector and while there are some, by and large it is a sector that remains relatively cautious about the adoption of technology for a variety of reasons,” she said.

“The sector as a whole is made up of many small to medium enterprises that typically don’t have the economy of scale to invest in shiny new technology solutions so they remain rather sceptical about it. While there are a lot of practical issues around resource constraints, there is also still a nagging resistance to technology within the sector because some people see it as dehumanising or replacing human contact. A lot of people want to work in the sector for the interaction and face-to-face relationships and in some sense, people believe that technology is not compatible with those values.”

But mobile technology is making it easier – and cheaper than ever – for employers to empower their care workers by providing the learning resource on the go, where and when they need the information.

“The interesting thing about mobile technology is that the social workforce predominantly delivers services on its feet,” Sara explained. “Most people delivering social care are not sitting with their feet behind a desk so in order to provide benefits to care workers, there is obvious potential for use of mobile technology. For this reason, we may even find that mobile technology will get better traction and penetration than desk-based technology has within the sector so far.”

“The key to success will be working out what the pressure points are for each organisation, and what are the optimal places that you can use mobile technology to support learning and development at the moment it’s most effective,” Sara added.

Mobile learning and development resources that are developed as part of the MK&LS project are by no means intended to replace training, face-to-face mentoring or on-the-job learning. Instead, they are designed to play a role in the learning process and deliver the right learning, at the right place, at the right time.

For many people, accessing mobile learning resources in the form of a document, presentation, video, podcast or app, are helpful supplements that can be used at the point of care, where the information is needed most. A great example of this is the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) and its e-learning model which innovatively used Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) consoles to deliver on-the-spot training to the social care workforce and improve their learning retention.

The SSSC’s award-winning e-learning model sought to take learning as close to the point at which it was implemented. The PSP consoles were pointed at barcode icons either in workbooks or fixed to a physical item such as a medicine cabinet, which would trigger training videos on the screen via special software.

In an article about the e-learning model published in The Guardian, Keith Quinn, the SCCC senior education and workforce development advisor, revealed that the workers using the PSP consoles retained more information and that people found the technology very accessible. He also said that the relatively cheap off-the-shelf software meant the SSSC could afford to replace them if lost or stolen.

Alexander Braddell, the second external project manager supporting Skills for Care on the MK&LS project, emphasised that the widespread uptake of mobile technology across the sector would come down to understanding the varied nature of the sector, from drop-in centres and residential care, to care and support service delivered at home.

“It’s really hard to overstate how pressured most of these work environments are in terms of delivering the care services required. The challenge is, how can we best support these people and implement workforce development in such demanding work environments, with increasingly limited resources? If mobile technology can help us achieve that, then we all want to take full advantage of it,” Alexander said. “By investigating these areas further, in ways that individual employers may not have the resources to, we will be able to share this knowledge with the sector as widely as possible.”

For those organisations interested in delivering learning resources on mobile devices, Sara suggests in Learning Technologies in Social Care to asking these basic questions:

  • Where and when would your staff prefer to undertake their training and learning?
  • What kind of learning would they like to access on a mobile device?
  • Do they already own a mobile device?
  • If so, what makes and models are preferred?

For more information on the Mobile Knowledge and Learning Solutions project and the resources already available, please visit the Skills for Care website.