The recent Learning Technology Research (LTR) Project focused on how we can best harness mobile technology to improve the training and support we give our people.
One of the surprising findings was the overwhelming importance learners give to the whole area of user experience.
The LTR Project Report makes interesting reading. In this blog, I want to briefly summarise some of the key lessons we can draw around the area of user experience and look at how this can be combined with the content itself to create an effective and holistic learner journey.
Today, more people use their mobile devices to access the internet than use traditional online devices, such as PCs or laptops. The research examined learners’ behaviours, experiences and preferences during a real learning programme with actual learners, all delivered to Apps on their phones and tablets.
“Smartphones have overtaken laptops as the most popular device for getting online, Ofcom research has revealed, with record ownership and use transforming the way we communicate”.
One of the important conclusions from the research is that, no matter how good your content, if your user’s learning experience in finding and consuming the content is poor, then usage and impact will suffer.
Imagine you have created your collection of multiple, instructionally advanced, multi-media learning assets which are a joy to work through. The content is great but that, in itself, doesn’t mean people will use it, or return to it.
What do you need to do to get the overall learner experience right?
For ease of reference, I have grouped my observations and recommendations under six headings.
1. Make it easy, make it smooth
The essential first step for mobile delivery of content is a modern looking, easy-to-use App with good visual impact, smooth use and easy installation. Stick to the familiar navigation and user interaction methods in keeping with your target mobile platform.
Note: there are variations between iOS and Android, for example, so this will usually mean utilising ‘native’ Apps designed for use with a particular family of devices.
Content and other information must be presented clearly and simply. The choice and design of Apps is considered key here – simply using a phone to browse to a mobile optimised website can work, but is generally a poor substitute in comparison to native mobile Apps. Learners are accustomed to very slick commercial and social Apps on their mobile devices, so anything that you give them has to be of equally high quality – otherwise you risk turning them off even before they start.
2. Use anywhere
The ability to consume content offline adds a whole new dimension to the learner experience. By their very nature mobiles are…well, mobile. With many environments out of cellular or Wi-Fi range or connectivity, it is essential to provide learners with the ability to work offline when required. This means they can use their learning, reference materials and job aids when travelling, are up a mountain or down a mine.
3. Rapid access – find and retrieve it easily
Microlearning and other types of content, including reference manuals, worksheets and specific job aids, are only useful if they can be accessed quickly and easily. Your delivery platform can probably group your content into learning programmes or curriculums for your learners. These may have mandatory and/or optional elements, but curricula are a good and easily understood way of arranging content for a learning programme. But in addition, learners will want to access content on an ad hoc basis to answer particular queries or concerns. So easy navigation, coupled with first-class search and tagging capabilities, are really important.
4. Track it
Tracking content completion, assessments, surveys, and so on, are all important for learners, so that they can maintain a full record of their own learning. It’s also important for the employer to track and assess individuals’ progress and competency levels, while content popularity levels can also be identified and managed. The old SCORM approach is very limited here so, if you can, go for a solution that supports the modern and more comprehensive Experience API as the tracking mechanism.
The LTR Project used gamification to display the learner’s percentage-of-programme-completion, alongside others on a competitive leaderboard. In the right environment, gamification can be attractive to learners and useful to employers. The research found that some liked these elements but that it was not for everyone.
Social learning means different things to different people. Findings were mixed here, with a relatively small subset of learners actively participating in discussions. My view is that it is more powerful to set up tracked discussion threads directly related to individual items of content, so that a learner who completes a piece of learning can naturally review comments and contributions from others. I would see separate general interest discussion forums of secondary value.
The content is vital – but learners want slick, fast, easy, convenient access, too.
One won’t work without the other – you have to get them both right!
The Learning Technology Research Project was undertaken at the end of 2016 and examined the learner preferences and the educational impact of a programme of training delivered to Apps on people’s mobile phones and tablets. The programme was delivered at spaced intervals as a set of multi-media microlearning pieces from the Agylia learning management system. User behaviours, experiences and preferences were studied by researchers from Agylia and the University of the West of England. Download your full copy of the report. If you would like to find out more about the LTR Project or the technology used, please email email@example.com
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