Have you ever used a mobile device to take an eLearning course that was originally designed for computer-based training? If so, how did you feel about the overall learning and user experience

Designing for mobile devices requires planning, and assumes knowledge of the target device(s) you are creating your content for. Viewing mLearning content on a tablet is a different experience to viewing it on a computer or smartphone. The physical properties, and the way the device is used, mean that tablets and smartphones have different requirements from each other, as well as from desktop computers. Any well designed mobile learning content will need to consider these differences. If designing for both tablets and smartphones, bear in mind that the smaller device is the one where the learning experience will suffer most without a suitable tailored design.

How do we go about making Mobile Learning a useful and engaging experience?

  1. Content plan
    As learners may choose to use short chunks of mLearning at a time, they need to know how each learning nugget fits into a whole course or curriculum. You can help them identify this by making the structure of the overall course clear when they access each learning nugget. A content plan of the whole course at the beginning of each learning nugget would be a useful strategy for achieving this.Similarly, it is important to make the objectives for each learning nugget clear at the start, so that learners have an overall indication of what will be covered.
  2. A blended approach
    One of the major ‘mistakes’ in designing mLearning, is that too much content is inappropriately used for smartphones and tablets, resulting in a poor user experience. Instead of attempting to create whole eLearning courses for a small screen size, a different type of approach should be considered. An mLearning course can form part of a blended approach or blended solution. For example, ‘just-in-time’ elements of mLearning such as revision modules that can be taken immediately before presentations or meetings, job aids and top tips can all be used alongside traditional eLearning or instructor-led training in a blended approach. Learners can access these ‘learning nuggets’ on their mobile device whenever and wherever they need them. Materials such as these would sit well in a blended approach, perhaps alongside traditional eLearning, or instructor-led training.If your learners want further information on a specific topic area, make this available to them. You could do this by directing them to other modules in the course, other aspects of the blended approach, or alternative resources, such as websites or supporting documents.
  3. File size
    With the advent of content being delivered using bring you own device (BYOD), learners using their own mobile device for mLearning will be keen to keep their personal costs to a minimum. Learners may not always have access to a Wi-Fi connection, and may be very reluctant to use their own data allowance for learning content. Your design should therefore consider the overall file size of the course you’re creating, and what’s included within it. If your learners will be using their own smartphones to access your course, in location where they may not have Wi-Fi, they may be reluctant to watch large videos, or download other external media heavy content. Bear in mind, also, that the storage capacity of some devices may be quite restricted. Another consideration in your design is to make your content available both online and offline to allow for intermittent internet connectivity.
  4. Mobile usability
    Most users of mobile devices expect a good user experience. They expect applications to integrate well with their operating system, and don’t expect to need to learn new navigation systems or unconventional gestures. Consider mobile usability heuristics to ensure that you’re providing a positive useful experience for your learners. Aim to build content where users won’t notice the usability experience. If they notice it, it’s probably for the wrong reasons.
  5. Device orientation
    In some instances, most mobile devices utilize both landscape and portrait orientation. You’ll need to consider whether you want your learners to be able to use both, or whether you wish to present content that is fixed to one orientation.

So, there really are many factors to consider when designing mobile learning. These will invariably change and evolve over time and will also depend on your customer’s specific need or requirement.

4 Key principles to remember when designing mobile learning

  1. Know the device(s) you are designing for – getting this agreed from the start will enable you to know your design limitations early on and will be invaluable when thinking specifically about learner interaction.
  2. Design with the smallest device firmly in mind – when you are designing for multiple devices, you want the learning experience to be functional on each mobile device.
  3. Know what is suitable for your audience – consider whether or not using videos and/or audio will be a suitable option for your learners; you want to make the content as accessible and attractive as possible.
  4. Keep it simple – stick to a design that your learners will recognize and that meets their expectations; you want the learning experience to be as intuitive as possible.

As with all training, keep the end user at the forefront of your mind. If you do, then an engaging, useful and pleasant mobile experience will be appreciated by your target audience.