Providing timely, useful and relevant content, tailored to the needs of your audience - which helps them perform their jobs more effectively - is the most important aspect of designing mobile learning materials. However, there are many other factors to consider.
These can be split into three main areas.
- Content. How was the content designed and built, and is it optimised for mobile delivery?
- Delivery vehicle. Mobile content is best delivered via a mobile App. How is your content managed on a user’s device and can they view it offline? Is the user in control of the device storage holding the content and is that content updated regularly and users informed of updates?
- Supporting infrastructure. Only the smallest mobile learning solution do not require a mobile learning platform – cloud-based platforms are easiest to deploy and most cost effective and scalable. Does your platform let you update and distribute content easily and provide proper analysis of who’s using what content and when? Without this kind of information it will be difficult to measure the success of your mobile learning strategies or to refine them.
Here are some top tips for mobile learning:
1. Design a mobile optimised user experience (UX)
I’m sure you already know that using a non-mobile optimised website on your phone is a frustrating experience. It’s the same for mobile learning content. Create a user interface that’s similar to other mobile content your users are already using, and at the same level of proficiency and presentation. If not, users will pass it by.
Interactivity to increase engagement is a standard principle of traditional eLearning. This is not so much the case for the world of mobile learning, where interactivity can sometimes lead to unwanted problems e.g. fitting control features on to a small screen without making them horribly fiddly. Additionally, you also need to produce content that fits the way people use the medium, it needs to be short and engaging; mobile user are not sitting down to work through a one hour eLearning course on a PC, they are, well, mobile, and using their device anytime and anywhere.
So how should you respond?
- Optimise your content to account for screen size changes from device to device, use HTML5 content with responsive characteristics.
- Ensure you use clear typography. Your user may be using a small screen device so ensure you choice of font, colour, line spacing and layout is crystal clear and readable.
- Make navigation simple, if using buttons make them big and avoid fiddly drop down menus.
- Always use common gestures the user is familiar with, such as pinch for zoom.
- Use appropriate interaction, i.e. a flip tile interaction will work better on a small smartphone screen than image with lots of hotspots.
Following these guidelines and you’ll produce great content that gives users a good experience, which they will enjoy consuming (as long as it’s also relevant and well designed and written).
You’ll be aided in this aim if you choose the right authoring tool - one that can produce mobile optimised content. If you don’t have that then you’ll need to handcraft your content using web authoring tools, a slower and more costly approach.
2. Compact and concise modules
Good mobile content is compact, modular, bite sized and focussed. Watch your word count and avoid lengthy paragraphs - use bullets, good typography, and plenty of spacing to produce text that’s easy to read and won’t strain the eye. Video content is very well suited to mobile devices, but ensure you encode the video appropriately and compress it as much as possible.
3. Provide a great search experience
If you follow the modular, bite-sized mobile learning route you’ll soon accumulate a big library of content. Make sure this easy and quick for users to search and find, locally and server-side.
Have options for searching titles, descriptions and content. Have search results grouped by content type, i.e. all relevant videos or PDFs. Use taxonomy definition to tag content with specific search keywords.
Gather user’s search data to develop personalised recommendations. This is rarely found in today’s mobile learning solutions, but I believe it will soon be the norm.
4. Provide a great offline experience
It’s important that your mobile content is available even if your user is offline. Connectivity is not always guaranteed and users won’t thank you if they incur large data charges!
A good offline experience will need a native App (to manage and host the content) or an offline HTML5 solution. Ideally, whichever solution you choose should give the same level of tracking when offline as when online, including completion tracking, score tracking, and usage analytics. The data should be automatically synchronised with the server the next time the mobile device connects.
NOTE: The Experience API (Tin Can) has opened up a wealth of new opportunities in this area and is ideal in offline situations.
5. Keep content updated
If content is cached and stored on your users’ mobile devices, how can you make sure it’s updated when it needs to be?
You’ll want to keep sales or regulatory information up-to-date, so how can new and updated content be reliably and easily updated and how will you inform users?
To achieve this aim, you could add a ‘new’ label to all new content, have an area in your user interface solely for new content, use number ‘badges’ on the App icon or use push notifications to alert users directly.
6. Put your user in control
Provide a simple, intuitive way for your users to delete locally cached content once it has been used. They can always download it again if needs be. Don’t push your users’ patience and risk your App being deleted by encroaching on memory the user wishes to expand their music library into.
You can also:
- Display the byte size of content – so users know how much data will be downloaded.
- Provide a warning message if the user’s device is not WiFi connected – informing them they may incur charges.
- Give both individual and “download all” options.
7. Gamification keeps it interesting
Hopefully, your mobile learning is so interesting and so relevant to your users that they’ll keep coming back for more and more! Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for a new mobile learning program to prove extremely popular for a few months, but then for adoption rates to fall as the novelty wears off.
Gamification is proving a good way to keep up interest levels in existing mobile learning programs – particularly where the audience tends to the competitive (sales) or has a younger profile. Gamification provides engaging elements of surprise and competition. You could try, for example, giving achievement awards when users try features in your mobile learning App for the first time, or for adding an item to favourites, or for downloading a specific piece of content. You could also award points for performing well in quizzes, creating a leaderboard if you wanted things to get really competitive!
8. Think about your blend
Performance support type mobile learning solution, offering just-in-time reference materials, work well on their own (as long as the content is relevant and useful). However, those that aim to provide short, sharp bursts of training materials work best when blended with a complete training strategy, which also features eLearning and possibly classroom learning. In these situations, mobile learning is complementing, not replacing, wider learning and seeing it otherwise is a mistake. For example, simply porting all existing learning over to mobile devices simply doesn’t work.
Approaches that are successful include providing bite sized training bites as ‘pre-training’ before a formal course. The same approach can then be used after formal training to reinforce and refresh it and address the forgetting curve.
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