To BYOD or Not to BYOD

Giving learners the opportunity to access learning via their own mobile devices offers your workforce great flexibility, but opens security and other concerns.

By Margery Weinstein

Most smart phone users check their phones a whopping 150 times a day, 100 hours of video per minute are uploaded to YouTube, and tablet shipments surpassed desktop PCs and notebooks in fourth quarter 2012, according to The Meeker report, presented at the D11 Conference in May.

Clearly, people today are in love with their mobile devices—and many of them want their workplace training delivered on those devices. But while BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) training is tempting, the risks can be high. Organizations must balance employees’ preferences with the need to keep confidential company information and strategies secure. They also must think about how to create equal, consistent access to the training material for those employees who do not have their own devices.

Security and Legal Concerns

The flexibility allowed by BYOD comes at a potentially high cost, says Kimberly Gerber, founder and CEO of communication training firm Excelerate. “Allowing employees to access training via their own devices, including laptops, smart phones, and tablets, opens your company up to wage and overtime issues,” says Gerber. “It also can lead to employees accessing or converting company intellectual property for their own use. BYOD is not a learning danger, but more of a security issue. For hourly or non-exempt salary employees, they could lose perspective if they are required to do training on their own device. It opens up the possibility of paying for overtime.”

Likewise, there is a constant concern over how much control a company can have over its employees’ personal property, notes Gerry Griffin, director of Skill Pill M-Learning. “The devices used on a daily basis in the workplace contain massive amounts of confidential information, from learning content to client information. What happens, for example, if an employee’s mobile or tablet device is stolen? Many personal mobile devices aren’t password protected, and a large majority of employees don’t know how to remotely wipe their device’s data.”

Griffin believes upcoming products such as Dell’s mobile access solution will help with the security issues. Ultimately, he says, “for mobile learning to succeed in a BYOD environment, there needs to be a change in approach. When it comes to BYOD, the clinging to security has to be supplemented with a desire to socialize the learning in the most user-friendly way possible. It has to be accessible; BYOD promotes this accessibility.”

Aside from the security and HR concerns Gerber believes that allowing employees to use their own devices can spark greater interest in the material. “It’s the gamification theory, meaning people will engage more in the learning,” Gerber points out. “There is more of an upside in allowing employees to use their own devices. As long as the wage and hour issue is dealt with, training on their own device can equal higher frequency that they access the training and greater retention, making them more engaged.”

Cost Concerns

It might seem like the most economical option to allow, or even expect, employees to use their own devices, but there are some hidden expenses to think about, says Dr. Gary Woodill, senior analyst, Float Mobile Learning. Dr. Woodill says mobile devices are dependent on wireless service charges and BYOD will alter these costs in three ways:

  1. Compensating employees for those portions of their bills that were accrued to the company’s benefit. This often is handled through a stipend, but some additional charges may occur if the device is under heavy use or incurs justifiable roaming charges.
  2. Handling additional expense reports
  3. Loss of negotiating power for bulk service provision

“IT will need to handle an additional workload to support BYOD, especially because they will not be uniform brands or versions,” he says. “This includes logging the devices into their systems, enabling access to company data, designing and implementing an appropriate security framework, providing support for devices and applications, and possibly developing new applications for a multi-platform mobile environment. Should IT fail to support these devices, a third party may need to become involved, and involving third parties to resolve mobile device issues may be an unacceptable element of risk and a major additional expense.”

Consider Supplying Devices

A compromise to expecting employees to use personally owned devices is to allocate low-cost devices to them, which, it would be understood, they were only to use for company training and business. “An enterprise-issued, low-cost tablet could be a great alternative,” says Krish Kupathil, CEO of AgreeYa Mobility. “The concept of using low-cost tablets in education already has been implemented in India with the Ministry of HRD distributing tablets priced less than $35 to students of all grade levels.”

If you decide to provide access to company training material via personal device, there are some ways to ensure that all employees have a consistent experience regardless of the device used. “Ensuring the material can be accessed equally, regardless of device type, is done through cross-platform-compatible, cloud-based solutions,” says Kupathil. “This approach guarantees that no matter the platform used by a company’s employees, they have access to a consistent learning experience. The advancements in HTML5 and other cross-platform technologies enable learning content to be presented to a wide range of devices, such as desktops, laptops, smart phones, or tablets.”

Greater Danger Not Allowing BYOD

With many people hard-pressed to put their smart phones away even when driving or walking down the street, some training experts believe companies are better off going with the flow and allowing employees access to training on their personal devices. “The real key danger is in NOT allowing employees to use their devices during training,” says Bill Rosenthal, CEO of Logical Operations. In addition to the statistics mentioned at the beginning of this article, according to IDC, the average knowledge worker uses 2.8 devices, and by 2014, the average will be 3.3 devices, Rosenthal points out. “Professionals are widely using personal devices in the workplace and in their day-to-day routines,” Rosenthal says. “The lines between work and personal have blurred and the training experience needs to follow what people already are doing in their day-to-day lives. Today’s classroom needs to meet this demand.”

Rosenthal says employees are likely to learn better on their own devices, making training more effective. “Nothing is easier for students to learn off of than their own devices. They already are familiarized with the technology and intricacies of the device, and training time does not need to be spent on teaching the student how to use the device,” Rosenthal notes.

If you are still uncomfortable allowing employees to use their own devices, there are compromises, he says. “A cost-effective alternative is to provide ‘rentals’ of mobile technologies such as tablets that information workers use frequently and can enhance the learning experience,” says Rosenthal. “Getting them acclimated to using a tablet to extend the learning experience in class translates to a higher percentage of learners continuing their learning on the job when they need it most, with post-class support tools such as video learning, social peer-to-peer collaboration, and quick-reference tools.”


  • Think about security. If you want to ensure your company’s confidential information and strategy remains secure, strictly regulate the content of the training employees access on their own devices and work with your IT department to create a secure log-in training portal and avoid the need to have employees download material onto their personal device.
  • Address potential workforce law issues. If you expect, or at least allow, employees to use their own devices, do you also expect them to train on their own time? If so, you may be facing overtime pay demands. Think about providing employees extra time at the office to complete their training, or having them access the training from home primarily when it is understood they are “working from home.”
  • Consider providing low-cost mobile devices to employees. Another option is to look into device rentals.
  • Partner with IT. Once you decide employees will access training from personal devices, work with your IT team to ensure the material can be accessed from any device employees may own and that the experience is consistent, regardless of the type or brand of device.


By Gerry Griffin, Director, Skill Pill M-Learning (

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has emerged as a cost-effective solution allowing organizations to adopt a mobile learning approach without having to provide the devices. Here are two potential opportunities associated with delivering learning via employees’ personal devices:

  • Consumer devices are more advanced. In terms of technology, the consumer market tends to be leaps and bounds ahead of the corporate market. Using high-tech devices as the vehicle for delivering learning allows m-learning providers to develop advanced solutions, thus, providing L&D departments with a better quality product. It also shouldn’t be underestimated just how much users’ relationships with their devices dictate their use of them. They’re far more likely to spend time accessing learning on the device they understand and are comfortable with, than one forced upon them that they don’t have the time or the patience to navigate.
  • Organizations can focus budgets on content instead of the delivery method. If employees have their own smart phone or tablet, the cost to supply these devices is wiped out. Then it’s just a case of populating these devices with content and tools. This can be generic skills-based content or custom-designed content that pays for itself by reducing the need for face-to-face training and provides users with the ability to upload their own knowledge to share with their colleagues.

I believe it’s only a matter of time before BYOD becomes a widely embraced workplace initiative, a bit like casual Fridays or working from home. Employees already use their personal devices within the workplace—a trend that cannot be ignored by companies or m-learning providers. The combination of work and play makes the personal smart phone an ideal space for the delivery of learning content–and needs to be leveraged as such.

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training Top 100 and Emerging Training Leaders.