In today's everything-at-your-fingertips world -- smartphones, tablets, wifi at 30 thousand feet -- it’s no surprise that the demand for mobile learning options is skyrocketing. People want their learning on the go. Or at least pieces of it.
Fortunately, mobile compatibility has, in recent years, become the easy part of offering mobile learning solutions. Most eLearning and web-authoring tools produce responsive, mobile-compatible output with little or no incremental effort from the content creator. Developing learning solutions for mobile devices, however, involves more than checking the “responsive design” box.
A true mobile learning solution must offer a clear benefit for users, help individuals and teams improve performance, and ultimately provide a return on investment by delivering better business outcomes.
Here are five things to consider when producing a mobile learning solution:
1. Put Mobility First
The Mobile First philosophy is the subject of much debate. Simply put, the essence of Mobile First is to develop for the smallest screen first, and then add additional content and features for larger and larger screens.
Why do this? Because much of the functionality and design that appears beautifully on larger screens like computers looks and behaves awful on a phone screen. This is why “mobile compatibility” means nothing on its own. Regardless of the screen you decide to design for first, mobile should at least considered first, so that good design choices can be made throughout the instructional design process.
2. Know Your Audience
Who is your audience? That question must be asked before designing any type of learning solution. “Where is Your Audience” is more relevant to mobile learning. Where do they use their phones or other mobile devices? On the bus, on the couch, in the bathroom, everywhere. In some of these places it's inappropriate to play audio out loud. It’s necessary to design a solution that takes the most likely learning environment into account.
Here’s another question. “When is your audience taking this training?” Most people aren’t likely to take a 45 minute eLearning course on their phone. Ideal mobile learning courses are between 5-10 minutes in length, or even shorter. With limited time and space, everything on screen must add value. As Suresh Kochattil explains in a post at eLearningindustry.com,
“Each element in the mobile learning course -an image or text- must have something to offer to the learner. For instance, an image in the eLearning course may have added aesthetic appeal, but it need not be included in the mobile learning course if it doesn’t add value.”
4. Understand User Experience
Like any eLearning course, the mobile user experience is critical for learner engagement. Any interaction designed for mobile must work flawlessly on the small screen. The tried and true KISS Method (Keep it Simple, Stupid!) has never been more true.
Seemingly minor details have the potential to become a major pain if not well thought out. In fact, there are a surprising number of interactions that we take for granted on a desktop computer that don’t behave as expected on a mobile device.
Here are a few examples of good and not-so-good mobile design:
Not-So-Good: This first image is of an interactive driving course meant to teach road safety. The interaction works fine on a desktop, but on a phone the course has too much going on for a small space. If mobile design had been considered first, the developer may have decided to cut some content out, reduced the number of elements appearing on the screen, and adjusted the interactions to the bare necessity.
Good: Compare the call to action button found in this image with that in the following example. It isn’t hard to see which is more mobile friendly.
Not-So-Good: This screen is BUSY. This amount of content on a phone screen would frustrate the user. Depending on the absolute needs of the course, it's possible most could be eliminated other than the image and the content with the interaction.
Good: Menus like this are much easier to use on mobile devices. A person would have to zoom in to find the tiny button in the corner.
Finally, it’s important to remember that mobile learning may never completely displace computer-based eLearning. The modern workforce still sits at a computer for a most of their day. So, mobile learning should complement your other delivery modes as a part of a complete blended learning program. When designed with the mobile audience in mind, for more than just compatibility, mobile learning solutions will add real value to your learning programs.