The mobile devices in our pockets have officially taken over. As of October 2014, there are now more mobile devices than people. Mobile devices have now become the primary internet device for many web users. In fact, the 2015 Internet Trends Report found U.S. web users turn to their mobile device for almost 3 hours of internet time each day.
As usage becomes ubiquitous, we expect these devices to never be out of reach. They have also become an effective learning tool. Hence, the rise of learning now being pushed to the mobile experience.
Just like we learned that taking a classroom experience and putting it online does not make an effective web based training or online learning experience – neither will simply scaling down existing content so it fits on a smaller screen.
Learning Solutions Magazine said it best:
“Being able to view eLearning content on a smartphone doesn’t make it mLearning in just the same way that throwing slides meant for use in instructor-led training onto a web page doesn’t make them eLearning. Redesign is always the best option.”
An effective, strategic mobile learning or performance support program requires new thinking and new approaches. Here are three strategies we have learned building mobile programs for NetDimensions’ clients.
Tailor the Experience to How Users Actually Use the Device
The simple solution might appear to be to take an existing course, scale it down to a smaller screen, and expect users to watch it on their mobile device. However, internet video trends show that users rarely watch long video segments on their mobile phones. So this won’t work.
This presents an opportunity to rethink content relative to “what” and “how” you present learning content on a mobile device.
NetDimensions has found success in creating learning opportunities that are short or ‘bite-sized” with the optimal time for a mobile session being 5 to 10 minutes and 15-20 minutes as the maximum time a user will engage. Examples of effective mobile learning opportunities that fit this criteria include:
- Short Videos of 10 minutes or less fit into how users take breaks and “snack” on content on their mobile device. Examples may include brief how-to videos or short deep dives on a very specific subject
- Brief Assessments that can be quickly taken without a lot of “off device” work (e.g. worksheets, flipping through course materials, etc.). Limit the number of questions and screen length to reduce scrolling and multiple page loads
- SMS Quizzes with brief questions and short answers sent to learners for short interactive bursts
Will a Device Agnostic Solution Work for Your Organization?
For sake of budget and timing – target existing personal devices already in the hands of your employees rather than target corporate devices – the easy answer might be to simply use responsive design. Responsive design minimizes concerns over device types and is often the direction taken for BYOD environments.
While this can be an effective solution for many types of content, this approach does not address individual device requirements for interactive exercises. As responsive design becomes more pervasive, a shift in the learning experience and how content is presented will occur. Traditional instructional design may be replaced by more of a learner controlled environment with interactive exercises becoming less important for the overall learning experience.
Our research and experience has found that mobile learners use iPads and other tablets more like a scaled down laptop and engage with it for longer time periods, typically in a static, extended session. However, mobile phones are more likely to be used in short bursts of 5 to 7 minutes and are being used on the move while accessing information.
Additionally the way a user interacts with the device is different by device type. Most iPad and tablet users hold the device in one hand and have a free hand for navigation and interaction. Others sit down and prop up the device and then use two hands or even an extended keyboard. However mobile phone usage tends to be one-handed with the phone cradled in one hand and the thumb is the primary navigation and interaction method. This means the interaction and user experience for the learning module and content will have to change between devices.
Lastly you have the built-in device features that can be used including the camera, microphone, location services and more. A desktop web based training scaled down from computer to mobile device will not have this capability.
For example, a learner could be asked to take a photo with their phone and upload it through an app. The photo’s meta-data could capture not only the time of the photo but the location and that could be factored into the assignment or assessment.
Consider the Full User Experience
From bandwidth to content to interactions, the mobile experience is very different from the desktop. Also, keep in mind that while iPad or tablet users might be in an office or home with broadband, mobile phone users are more likely to be “on the move” using their mobile data plan which could vary from speedy LTE to slow 3G coverage – all impacting the download time.
Some user experience tips to keep in mind when designing a mobile learning experience include:
- Use larger fonts (at least 14 points) so the content is readable on the smallest screens
- Use images sparingly as they not only take up screen space but also increase download times
- Make buttons and interactions large and able to be tapped quickly with a thumb. Leave lots of space around your buttons
- Limit forms and complex fields or interactions
Research by David Wentworth of Brandon Hall Group has demonstrated that setting about to extend learning to mobile devices should not be approached haphazardly. Companies most successful with a mobile learning initiative have developed a strategy first to understand their audiences, the devices to be utilized, the benefits and risks of considering the conversion of existing eLearning content, security concerns, design approaches and best practices to incorporate.
With so many variables to consider, a solid plan will help you navigate through potential pitfalls to a successful launch and program.