Training Industry Magazine - September/October 2018 - 58



Over 56 percent of the workforce reads
below a sixth-grade level, and onequarter is illiterate, according to Jessica
Rothenberg-Aalami, Ph.D. That's why
she created Cell-Ed, a mobile learning
solution for low-skilled workers that
recently raised a $1.5 million seed
funding round led by Lumina Impact
Ventures. The company was also named
one of five finalists in the Dollar General
Literacy Foundation's $7 million Barbara
Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE.
While it may seem strange to consider
mobile learning a "basic" training
modality, Rothenberg-Aalami says it's
using "something they already have in

their pocket" - and it doesn't need WiFi, which can be a barrier to training
for many people. Automated texting
and phone calls provide literacy,
English language learning and onthe-job training to frontline workers in
industries such as restaurants, hospitality
and health care and organizations
including AT&T, the state governments
of New York and Texas, the Service
Employees International Union, and
Stanford Medicine.
Cell-Ed launched with a two-year
research study, which resulted in
75-percent completion rates and
80-percent faster skill acquisition,
Rothenberg-Aalami says. The company
will use its new funding to grow
its course offerings and reach and

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continue to build its partnerships with
universities and workforce assessment
and training providers. "It really takes all
of us coming together to bridge this gap
in the market for low-skilled workers,
and meeting them where they're at is a
daunting problem."
For instance, one challenge many
frontline workers face is the level at
which most online courses are delivered
- above the levels of their literacy
and job skills. They are also often
inaccessible; most of the learners served
by Cell-Ed's customers don't even have
email addresses to sign on with. Another
challenge is the high demand for literacy
and job skills training; "waitlists are everpresent," Rothenberg-Aalami says, "and
there are often not enough trainers to
reach the frontline."
In addition, because unemployment is
so low, upskilling current employees is
more important than ever. Especially
with automation, mobile learning
can help organizations upskill their
frontline workers at scale. "We can
reach 300 one day and 300,000 the next
with the same platform and service,"
Rothenberg-Aalami says. Because the
platform uses two-way communication
with automated and live coaches, it
can personalize the training it offers
each learner.
"What if we listened to the worker and
designed for them, rather than take a
curriculum that's online or in a classroom
and then just make it available over
mobile phone?" asks RothenbergAalami. "What if we're mobile-first and
design for the worker at that level and
created a platform and solution that was
constantly responsive?"

The other finalists for the XPRIZE are
Amrita CREATE, an edtech initiative that
provides personalized learning and
adaptive assessments; AutoCognita, an
app that teaches basic literacy, numeracy
and life skills; Learning Upgrade,
which provides mobile learning for
English, reading, writing and math; and
PeopleForWords, which uses a mobile
adventure game to teach literacy. The
running theme across finalists is that
personalized and mobile learning is
an important way to give low-skilled
workers the tools they need to improve
their lives, especially at work.
"Service workers," according to Gallup
research, "are among the least engaged
in the U.S.," with their engagement
levels decreasing as levels for other job
categories have increased. Training is
a great way to improve engagement.
In an article for Forbes, Beth Benjamin
and Emma Sopadjieva point out that in
addition to the direct benefits employees
and organizations experience with
improved engagement, communicating
better with frontline workers supports
a relationship in which employer and
employee learn from each other.
something that many workers already
have - a mobile phone (with or without
wireless internet or even a good
data plan) is a great way to support
skills development and employee
engagement. It can also create an
organization that listens to, and learns
from, the people who know their
customer best - the employees on the
front lines.
Taryn Oesch is an editor at Training Industry,
Inc. Email Taryn.

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