Mobile eLearning: Design it Right from the Start for Success

September 16, 2015 | Posted by Libby Black | Training

Mobile communications are taking the lead, and fast: In the U.S. 25 percent of Internet users are already mobile-only. But simply converting an existing eLearning course to run on a smartphone misses out on so many of the possibilities that mobile learning, or mLearning, is opening up.

Imagine the ability to integrate games using the unique capabilities of mobile devices such as a video camera and geolocation, a technician accessing repair instructions on the job, or support from an online community during a training session. We’re just scratching the surface of mLearning’s potential to improve learning.

Informal learning advantages

Roughly 80 percent of corporate learning is informal. With mLearning there is greater ability to manage and track this type of experiential learning. Tracking interactions at a conference, taking pictures, and recording events are just a few possibilities. Another strategy to promote informal learning is chunking material so it’s easy for a learner to return to and review later while on the job. Everything bookmarks.

The ability to bring teams in different parts of the country together through social media such as a blog spot or discussion board as part of a course is also a mobile option. “It allows learners to apply the content and better retain the information,” shares Judy Scharl, Instructional Designer at Alteris Group.

Below we discuss 5 more ways that mLearning is changing the lesson plan of eLearning and how best to take advantage of the opportunities.

1. Training designed to be touched

Gone are the mice, clicks and hover states. MLearning is designed for touchscreens. Add in the varying layout sizes, and a lot has changed from the days of designing strictly for the PC.

“If the user is going to interact with the course by touching the screen rather than using a mouse or keyboard, we work with button size, colors and contrast, so that they can successfully make selections on a small screen,” shares Tim Carraway, Senior Art Director at Alteris Group.

Carraway has designed the art and user interface for several mobile training programs, and added that “off screen content” is another way to improve interaction and navigation.

“There’s additional content outside of the screen space, but it’s in the user’s mind that if she hits that icon a menu lives just off the screen and slides in.”

2. Connectivity and speed

You don’t know where your mobile training is being used. The end user may be in a situation where they don’t have access to a fast or even continuous Internet connection. Efficient design is key when loading content over a variable mobile network.

“We’re working hard to implement flat design for our mobile learning,” Carraway shares. “It’s simplified, which helps the mobile experience and takes up less memory and bandwidth.”

The ability to run on a mobile network is also important for international training programs, as global connectivity is even more variable.

3. Web apps and responsive design

Native apps built to run on specific devices frequently run into one very specific problem, unless your company issues a standard device, you have to rebuild and tweak for each version. Web apps built as a responsive application, on the other hand, can be viewed on multiple devices and operating systems including smartphones, tablets and PCs.

For Alteris Group the answer has been designing and creating responsive, device agnostic HTML 5-based courseware using its Mobile First design process. “It uses HTML 5 and CSS; those are the core technologies of the Internet today,” Carraway explains.

4. Small screen real estate

The other aspect of a responsive design is how content appears on different screen sizes. It is not just a matter of zooming in and making that content bigger.

“Think of a glass of water. You take a skinny tall glass; you pour that water into a wider glass; the water would spread out. So, types of content are built in a modular form, and how that modular form of content flows into a different-sized space is something we design,” Carraway shares.

5. Shifting views: the portrait format

The shift to the portrait format has also changed the way content is laid out.

“If you’re doing a Mobile First course, you have to consider the portrait format versus the last hundred years we’ve been designing for the landscape format,” Scharl says. “That really does restrict you in terms of how much copy you put on a screen and what’s practical in terms of graphics and screenshots.”

Setting the new standards

Knowing what to expect from an mLearning course is as much a learning process for the user as the designers, but working with the right team and embracing the opportunities are key for a successful mLearning course. “We’re developing standards for mLearning that through time users will come to expect,” Carraway says. “It’s wide open, and it’s a responsibility to do it right.”

For more on mLearning and Mobile First, see our video and post on Mobile First: How to Succeed at mLearning without the Drama.