Using Mobile Technology for English Training in the Qatar Workplace

Author Information
Mohammed Samaka
Mohamed Ally
Martha Robinson
Abdulahi Mohamed
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Qatar University
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Athabasca University
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

This practice was created for a large oil and gas company in the State of Qatar.
The innovative training delivery using mobile technology is unique for large organizations. Not many organizations have implemented the use of mobile learning (mLearning) to train employees with different backgrounds to improve performance. The mLearning approach combines theories of mobile learning design and multimedia with corporate collaboration to address specific organizational needs. Content is culturally appropriate to the multi-national workforce, including the use of a variety of accents in audio components.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Qatar Petroleum is the national oil & gas producer of the State of Qatar. Located in a region with a small local population, the company depends on a multi-national labor force, most of whom are non-native English speakers. Since the primary language of operations within the company is English, employees require specialized English skills to carry out administrative and production tasks, and to maintain safety in a hazardous environment. As such, the development of workplace English skills is a significant responsibility within the Corporate Training (CT) mandate. CT also plays a crucial role in implementing the energy and industry sector’s nationalization plan, recruiting local trainees, identifying, designing and providing quality training programs to prepare them to contribute effectively to the organization. In 2009, a total of over 9000 employees benefitted from training, including over 2000 nationals.

Due to the nature of the industry, employees are dispersed in several sites throughout the country and offshore. Initial training is normally carried out in the classroom for several months. However, recurrent training requires that employees be away from their worksites for varying periods of time. This limits the amount of classroom-based recurrent training that is feasible.
One of the goals in the Qatar National Vision 2030 (General Secretariat for Development and Planning, 2008) is to develop a world-class educational system that equips Qatar’s citizens to achieve their aspirations and to meet the needs of society. Towards this goal, the nation is funding research into the use of emerging technologies for training, to prepare Qatari citizens for the 21st Century workplace. In the region, many people are moving directly to mobile technology rather than using desktop and notebook computer. A large number own multiple mobile technologies which they use for a variety of activities, personal and professional (Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, 2014). As the use of mobile technologies increases, initiatives have been encouraged that exploit the flexibility of mobile technology to deliver education and training.
Research on the use of mobile technology for education in schools, colleges, and universities has found that mobile learning can enhance the learning experience. Wu et al. (2012) reviewed 164 studies conducted between 2003 and 2010 and reported that 86% of those studies indicated positive outcomes with mobile learning. Ullrich et al. (2010) report that the use of video on mobile devices for classroom-based training improved learners’ mastery of English.
A pilot study was carried out in 2011-2012 by Qatar University, whereby content was developed on a prototype mobile learning application and presented to 27 learners in the oil & gas industry, yielded promising results: the majority of participants found the mobile learning convenient, easy to navigate, engaging and effective for learning and memorization (Samaka & Impagliazzo, 2013). Feedback from learners and course instructors recommended that the use of mobile learning be expanded into other topics and job descriptions. The mLearning project, funded by the Qatar National Research Fund, with the intent of collecting data and producing recommendations for the implementation of mobile learning in the workplace, sought to expand on the body of knowledge. It enabled collaboration between academic institutions, the Wireless Innovation Center, and the client organization in order to develop, test, and document a mobile learning solution developed specifically for the workplace.
The practice
This project has developed three multimedia mobile learning lessons to train employees in blended learning and independent, anytime/anywhere formats. The training uses a variety of learning strategies including tutorials, practice with feedback, and interactive exercises. Employees complete the training using their own mobile handsets or they use the ones supplied by the project. The mobile approach was selected over traditional eLearning due to the flexibility it offered for a workforce that is dispersed across the country in urban and rural settings, onshore and offshore, often with limited internet access. The decision to create a free-standing mobile application rather than depending on web-based content arose from this reality.

The system architecture comprises three components:
• A mobile application installed on a company or employee handset that contains downloaded course content which combines English-language skills with job-based knowledge. Each course includes expository content that reviews English grammar and vocabulary specific to job requirements and workplace skills that utilize this English knowledge. For each topic of expository content, the learner can access practice activities that allow him or her to review, practice, and assess knowledge of the material. Also contained in the application are a topic-specific glossary with the option to create flashcards, functionalities to allow collaboration and communication between learners and instructors/supervisors, and the option to review and submit usage and results statistics.
• A system server and software to allow the storage and transfer of content to mobile devices and the upload of results and statistics.
• An authoring tool that combines interactive editing and multimedia components to enable instructors to edit existing courses and create original courses and practice activities based on the needs of the organization. These can be saved separately as reusable learning objects.

MLearning course design draws from theory in cognitive psychology, constructivism and online learning (Ally, 2008) and includes learner preparation, activities, interaction, and transfer. Advance organizers, summaries, and active practice reinforce expository instruction. Incorporating the Framework for the Rational Analysis of Mobile Education (FRAME) model of mobile learning design, the approach takes into account Learner, Device, and Social Aspects of mobile learning (Koole, 2009).

Expository lessons contain “bite-sized” contextualized English grammar points that are logically sequenced but randomly accessible according to learner needs and preferences through a layered navigation menu that serves as an advance organizer. Interactive practice activities of various styles provide audio and textual feedback. Knowledge on demand is afforded via an integrated glossary and flash card tool. Support and collaboration are available via a chat facility and direct access to email. Finally, the application tracks students’ results, the time on task, and conversations. These metrics can be used by trainees and instructors to monitor progress, and by management to evaluate the practice as a whole.

Users control their own learning via a user-friendly interface that allows them to sequence lessons and practice activities and to easily navigate back and forth. Information is presented using simple graphics and minimal text to prevent information overload. Users have the option to access audio, video, or animation. To accommodate the small screen size, input requirements minimize typing. Users tap buttons, scroll, or stretch the screen to access information.

Multimedia materials use rich medium, such as graphics, video, colour, and animation, to convey the message. Video is used for procedural content. To encourage cognitive processing and storage, narration is available for expository lessons, with the user able to opt out for reasons of privacy (Figure 2). Text and narration are presented in a personalized style to support engagement. Users control audio levels and screen direction as required.

Depending on the category of employee, mLearning is used in a blended learning approach to complement classroom-based learning during week-long courses, or as a stand-alone review and reinforcement of workplace skills and English to be used during down time or outside of work hours to practice and reinforce workplace knowledge. In either case, it offers just-in-time training, as, once they have application on their handsets, employees are able to access it anytime and anywhere, including months after the initial training occurred.

In the first year of implementation, three courses have been developed and programed for use on mobile devices, based on corporate training materials and input from English instructors and workplace supervisors. “Presentation Skills in English” and “Agendas & Minutes” cover selected content from the Corporate Training-English short courses of the same name. Students receive the content at the beginning of the five-day classroom courses and work through it during the week. Those who choose to install the application on their personal handsets keep it as a take-away for future reference. A third course, “Firefighter English: Pumps & Primers,” has been implemented with firefighters at the worksite and is based on content from initial training that was deemed important for the firefighters to maintain current. Due to limitations of shiftwork and required coverage of fire stations, classroom-based recurrent training is a challenge. In this case, the mLearning application is used during down time on shifts or during off-duty time. These courses have been used by a total of 118 employees.
The practice is evaluated in an ongoing manner. Data is collected relating to learner usage of expository content and practice materials. Pretests and posttests are administered to measure cognitive change, and learners complete questionnaires reporting their experiences with the technology and content. Employees learning performance and satisfaction level with the mobile delivery have been evaluated. After each implementation, supervisors and/or instructors have supplied feedback regarding the employee’s use of and response to the mLearning. Follow-up interviews have been carried out with some of the learners and supervisors to determine medium-term benefit of the learning.
Based on the best practices obtained from this project, an implementation model for mobile learning will be developed and made available to other organizations throughout the country and abroad.

Development and features
The innovative aspect of this project is the marriage of pedagogy and technology to develop a solution for employee training. Curricula were suggested by instructors (SME). Based on current theories of instructional design, mobile learning, and computer programming, a course structure was developed and submitted for feedback.

For initial production of the content, a lesson template was created using PowerPoint as a model for proportion, structure, and granularity, and addressing principles of mobile design and multimedia presentation. A storyboard was created for each lesson, based on the course outline. Due to the small screen size of the smart phones intended for use, functionality was a priority: content had to explain, extend, illustrate, or depict in an engaging manner; nothing was for purely esthetic purposes.

Figure 3 Sample practice activities
Multiple choice, true and false, and two simple game structures were developed, followed by templates that include hotspots to select or drag and drop, gap-fill exercises, and checklists. Options for images and audio were added. Feedback options addressed the nature of the practice task. Initial coloured generic textual comments were expanded to include random audio feedback. Finally, personalized feedback was developed that explains why a particular response is correct or incorrect. Self-assessment was integrated via activities that allow the trainee to record video of an activity, complete a checklist, and receive feedback.
Practice type Stimulus Response Options Feedback
Multiple Choice
True and False
Gap fill--timed
Gap fill--falling words
Four corner hotspots
Rearrange into correct order
Select answer from falling
Mind Map
Checklist Text
Text--colour change
Audio--random sound
Audio--random voice

Figure 4 MLearning practice options
As each lesson was created, it was submitted to the SME for review in terms of difficulty and for company- and job-based examples. The prototype was piloted with trainees in context. Feedback was integrated into newer versions, including types of activities, interface considerations, etc.
Dialogue has continued with Corporate Training regarding policies for connectivity, security, etc. to be considered in developing the server functions.
A valuable feature of mLearning is the authoring tool. Specific training can be created by instructors based on identified gaps in knowledge or skills within the company. The company currently has a system of employee development planning whereby trainees undergo regular reviews and goal setting, down to a level of specific skills and competencies. Training is tailored based on these plans, and the medium-term effect of the training is evident in the performance evaluations of the trainee. This in turn can lead to revised or additional training being created in an iterative process that is more flexible and responsive than the creation of traditional classroom-based training, which is less individualized and requires prolonged absence from the workplace.
Firefighter English course development provides an example. The initial course to be developed was the “Pumps and Primers” course, which, once employees go beyond initial training, is not revisited. As supervisors became aware of the nature of mLearning, they immediately saw the potential for such training for “Vehicle Extraction Techniques,” which is more procedural and which skills rarely required by the firefighters and therefore likely to decay. Using resource materials already available within the company, such a course can be created relatively time- and cost-effectively, and assessment can be integrated in the form of procedural checklists which can be revisited as required, with results tracked to measure improvement. Other courses, such as “Presentation Skills in English,”, also benefit from integrated checklists, as the trainee can carry out the procedure, record it digitally or have someone else observe it, and then carry out a self-, peer-, or supervisor assessment based on the checklist provided.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Evidence of Effectiveness:
Corporate Training identifies training priorities and supervisors determine the most important metrics. Courses and assessment strategies are developed based on these. Metrics chosen address the first three levels of the Kirkpatrick Model (Kirkpatrick Partners, 2009):

• Usage and performance data recorded on the mLearning application provides information on individual student utilization and engagement (Level 1: Reaction)
• Questionnaires provide quantitative and qualitative data on trainee experiences with the content and delivery method (Level 1: Reaction)
• Pretest/posttest results: provide quantitative data on cognitive gain (Level 2: Learning)
• Trainee and supervisor interviews provide qualitative information on workplace transfer (Level 3: Behaviour), and the alignment of content with workplace requirements, suggesting alternations where appropriate.

Evaluation of the mLearning practice is continuous, comprising both quantitative and qualitative data, measuring cognitive performance and learner satisfaction.

Learning Effectiveness
At each implementation, pre-tests and post-tests are administered to measure the cognitive effect of mLearning. Since the trainee may use the mLearning resources even after a specified training period is over, these tests give an indication of only the initial learning that took place, and do not account for additional cognitive impact of repeated use of the material.

Based on the assessment tools, individual trainees have shown cognitive improvement as a result of the training. This improvement is evident in contrast to a control group of learners who showed less improvement between pre-tests and post-tests.

Figure 6 Cognitive gain for independent mLearning, independent & blended mLearning, and no mLearning
Results for individual employees include the acquisition of 21st century skills, such as communication, continuous improvement, problem-solving, and competence with ICT. Employees also benefitted from a safer workplace, as safety training can be integrated daily into other workplace skills. The increased skills and learning provide a better quality of life for the trainee and her family, as the learning can be shared and transferred to other people in the trainee’s life. For example, one father was sharing the practice activities with his young daughter, who enjoyed the game-like nature of the learning.

Student Satisfaction
The organizational context has been considered throughout development. Content and delivery are in line with corporate guidelines. Technological capabilities and limitations, such as the availability of wifi in specific locations, have been considered and alternatives developed to optimize learning. The choice of personal or borrowed handsets recognizes individual differences with regard to technological confidence and competence, and socio-economic status, as some employees have several mobile devices, while others do not own internet-enabled smart phones. This combination of theoretically sound approach and sensitivity to the industrial and cultural context result in a bespoke solution for anywhere/anytime training and professional development.

Questionnaires administered at the end of the initial training period provide data regarding trainee experiences with and response to the mLearning courses. This data is useful to determine changes needed to the content and the delivery approach, including app navigation and personalization, available tools and functionalities. The options to mute audio and to choose between online or off-line multimedia arose from such feedback.

Trainees reported that they like the flexibility that mobile learning provides to learn at their own convenience. They have expressed satisfaction with their progress; and praised the opportunity to learn in small chunks with private, immediate feedback. MLearning provides the opportunity to extend training more broadly than is feasible for classroom training due to constraints of time and space, thus increasing the opportunity for career advancement for those who are motivated.

Figure 7: Flexibility

Figure 8: Improved work skills

Figure 9: Navigation

Figure 10: Enjoyment
Increased self-direction in learning can be seen by the fact that learners who have never used elearning or mobile learning before were able to show an increase in knowledge and report satisfaction in using the technology to learn, reported enjoyment of mLearning, and recommended that more courses be offered in this way.

Figure 11: Acceptance

With feedback from the original courses, the project will now move into its second phase, which extends beyond individual handsets. Server software has been developed to centralize storage of courses and trainee data. This software will be tested and refined with the ultimate goal of allowing trainees to download courses as required and upload results and usage data for tracking for Employee Development Plans. In addition, the authoring tool will allow instructors with no computer programming skills to create new courses, including multi-media resources, or revise existing ones, and upload them to the server. A manual to assist instructors in this process is being developed.

The knowledge gained from the mLearning project will be documented and disseminated so that it may be used by other organizations in the region to develop similar training practices to address common needs. In terms of the local economy, the dissemination of information from the mLearning project and the resulting development of an implementation plan for the mLearning to teach English in the workplace will be available for other learning initiatives within the organization and throughout the country.

Faculty (trainer) satisfaction

At the organizational level, benefit was derived from the collaboration of private industry and academia. From feedback interviews, it appears that instructors and supervisors benefited from the theoretical knowledge brought to the program by the academic members of the team. In some cases it helped them clarify and explain what they currently do and why it works or does not work. Comments from follow-up interview include:
• …it was nice that the mobile learning was there to supplement the teacher (so kind of like a facilitator)
• It kind of helped the learners feel a bit more responsible for their own learning
• They could study at their own pace, I could see where the students were taking responsibility for their own learning.
• And they can make mistakes without any…, without embarrassment and stuff, exactly.
• I could see the purpose of mobile learning for stepping outside and for having access outside.
• It makes complete sense to have learning materials on your mobile phone, you are stopped at traffic lights, you’re watching tv, so and it’s so much easier that having a laptop or an ipad…
The team members who developed the mLearning practice learned from the direct application of the practice in a corporate setting, as the interconnectedness of the departments that impact training, notably safety, security, and IT, creates opportunities and obstacles to the deployment of the practice.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

In order to implement this practice, an organization requires:
• System server to store and manage courses and learners. This can be tied to the organization’s LMS.
• Laptop computers and mobile devices for development and testing of the mobile learning lessons.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Costs associated with this practice include:
Course authoring system: The authoring system was creates specifically for the needs of the organization. This entailed costs of programming and testing, both in terms of technology and features. Another option would be to source other authoring systems available via open source or on the market and define a limited number of templates or parameters that instructors can use in order to simplify the process of production. Due to the limited screen size of mobile handsets, less is usually better, making the primary instructional design task one of narrowing down content to the most basic and simple level.
Instructor time: The innovative aspect of this practice is not in the technology and programming, but in the pedagogical approach. Instructors need to familiarize themselves with the opportunities and limitations of mobile learning before they can effectively design content to enhance or replace their face to face instruction. The Instructor Handbook for this project contains background information on instructional design and characteristics of mobile learning as well as descriptions of the expository, practice, and interactive alternatives.
System server to store and manage courses and learners. This can be tied to the organization’s LMS.

References, supporting documents: 

Ally M. (2008). Chapter 1: Foundations of educational theory for online learning in T. Anderson (Ed.), The Theory and Practice of Online Learning, Second Edition, p. 15-44. Edmonton: Athabasca University.
General Secretariat for Development and Planning. 2008. Qatar National Vision 2030.
Kirkpatrick Partners. (2009). The New World Kirkpatrick Model.
Koole M. (2009). A model for framing mobile learning. In M. Ally, Mobile Learning: Transforming the Delivery of Education and Training, p 25-47. Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University.
Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ictQatar). (2014). Qatar’s ICT Landscape 2014: Households and Individuals. Available at
Samaka, M. & Impagliazzo, J. (2013). Developing a Platform for Mobile Learning Using mLearn. IEEE ISBN: 978-1-4673-4969-7.
Ullrich, C., Shen, R., Tong, R., & Tan, X. (2010). A Mobile Live Video Learning System for Large-Scale Learning—System Design and Evaluation. IEEE Transactions On Learning Technologies, Vol. 3, No. 1, January-March 2010.
Wu, W., Wu, Y. J., Chen, C., Kao, H., Lin, C. & Huang S. (2012). Review of trends from mobile learning studies: A meta-analysis. Computers & Education, 59(2), 817-827.

Other Comments: 

Due to its multi-faceted nature, combining pedagogy, multi-media, IT, mobile learning requires a team approach for development. Knowledge of learning theories and graphic design principles, along with familiarity with the affordances and limitations of mobile technology, both the handsets and connectivity are all required to develop an effective mobile learning strategy.
The development of mLearning also requires organization-wide buy-in. This is not just a Corporate Training undertaking that takes employees out of their worksites for a few days per year. Its implementation will depend on IT and internet policies open to access and sharing within the organization, review of regulations regarding employees’ use of mobile phones while at work, and the development of ways to track and reward learning in informal contexts. Because this project aims to improve English in the workplace, the content also crosses boundaries between English-language training and other vocational and professional training within the company. All of these connections must be recognized and facilitated for successful implementation.
On a department level, mLearning requires instructor buy-in and department commitment, in order to maximize the responsiveness afforded by the medium. Rather than presenting the same content despite changes in requirements, instructors must remain informed of changes in job descriptions and expectations and revise course material to reflect these. To do this, the training department must actively seek feedback from the various sectors of the organization.
The development and implementation of mLearning has been a collaborative process throughout, with regular consultation and communication between developers, instructors, supervisors, and management. Regular updates were provided to the organization on the progress of the project. The knowledge gained from this project will be used to develop a model for mobile learning for the development of English skills. This model will combine the current body of knowledge relating to mobile learning around the world with an awareness of requirements and constraints specific to the local workforce and economy to offer a solution that meets the particular needs of this region.

Two primary pieces of advice would be teamwork and communication. In order to create content that is effective and economical, it is necessary to pool resources. For example, an English instructor who has access to images from Public Relations and content from Health, Safety, and Environment will be far more likely to create a high quality, engaging course in a cost-effective manner than one who has to create original images and imagine authentic scenarios. A corollary of this is communication throughout the organization, whereby the IT department understands the potential of connectivity for Corporate Training and Corporate Training understands the limitations of security for IT and both are willing to negotiate for the benefit of the organization as a whole.