Just like I can’t fit into my old, medium sized, t-shirts (I should know, I’ve tried), it’s just as difficult to shoehorn a desktop application into a mobile device. Sure, you could try (and many have tried), but it would just not offer a great experience, and users would hate it.
And when it comes to eLearning, things are even tougher. The only entertainment and educational applications that make it to the “most popular” application lists are the ones that have a good mobile story, offering native mobile apps that play to the strengths of their platforms.
Indeed, mobile-friendly courses have higher completion and participation rates compared to applications that don’t run on mobile devices or only offer a shoe-horned, half-baked (how’s that for mixed metaphors?) mobile experience.
Fortunately, TalentLMS falls in the good category. While it already had an intuitive and responsive web-based UI, with the advent of TalentLMS for iOS (and, soon Android; currently in beta), it also offers a fully native experience, optimized for mLearning and microlearning.
What about your content, though? Are there any special rules and guidelines you should follow to offer the most mobile-friendly course possible?
The answer is yes — and in this post, we will share a few tips on how to create the best mobile-friendly eLearning experiences for your learners.
Mobile-friendly Courses: The Design
When you think of mobile devices, you should mainly be thinking of the few mobile OSes that cover 99% of the market. That would be iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.
Just the first 2 would get you pretty far, audience reach-wise, but factor in the different devices (the myriad Android phones, various iPhones, the iPad, etc.) and form factors (phones, tablets, phablets, etc.) and it suddenly seems like a lot of work to ensure that your mobile content plays well in all these.
Fortunately, regardless of the variety of the mobile devices available in the market, the technique to create mobile-friendly courses that work well in all of them is one and the same.
You just need to keep in mind these few factors that distinguish mobile learning from its laptop-based counterpart:
1. One size doesn’t fit all
Mobile devices have much smaller displays than desktop computers. Cater for your content being much more space constrained on mobile, with screen sizes varying widely from one device to another.
2. Small is beautiful
Mobile data network speeds are much slower and less reliable than your DSL or cable connection at home. Be mindful of your content’s volume and image sizes when you develop mobile-friendly courses, as slow mobile download times make viewing heavy content unbearable.
3. Bigger is better
Use a larger font size to avoid having learners zooming in and out to be able to navigate and read your content. Bear in mind that zooming in and out on a desktop PC is much easier than on a mobile device.
4. Formats and stuff
Try limiting your file formats to plain text (the king of eLearning formats), .DOC or .DOCX, .PDF, .PPT, .JPG, .GIF, and .PNG — that is, formats that play equally well on mobile as they do on the desktop, and for which native mobile readers and transcoders exist.
5. Mind your media
The following media formats are desirable for mobile devices. Stick to those, as the last thing you want is the learner having to download a supporting app each time they use your course:
a. Audio: Use the MP3 file format. Use 128kbps audio quality (if it’s speech, e.g. a lecture, you can go even lower). Limit the length of each segment to five minutes or less.
b. Video: Use the MP4 file format with the h.264 codec which has good hardware support in most mobile devices (it will play without glitches and won’t be a drain on the battery). While a lot of devices sport 1080p displays (or better), many don’t. If your target users are expected to have high-speed mobile connections (e.g. in a place with widespread LTE/4G support), you can go to 720p, but don’t go beyond that for the time being. Or else, stick with 480×320 (for the iPhone) and/or 640×480 for tablet users, resolutions that work equally well on most Android devices.
6. Incorporating Blogs, Journals, Wikis & Discussions to your eLearning
The real-time capacity of mobile devices to capture pictures, video, and audio anywhere, can make courses more meaningful and satisfying. For example, you can have culinary art students taking pictures of their latest creation in their kitchen and uploading for their peers to comment. Similarly, you may have a photography class where students use their phones to take pictures, and then have an exciting online discussion on the images taken while travelling.
Sometimes, we learn a new concept or a vocabulary word in the most unexpected places. Since learners always have their mobile device them, they can use it to update Wikis before they forget.
When mobile devices are used as learning catalysts, the possibilities are endless.
7. K.I.S.S — Keep It Small and Simple
Mobile learning is all about the moment and about exploiting dead-time (commuting, waiting, flying, bored at lunch, etc.) to engage in a learning activity. These moments are brief, though, which means that you should plan your content accordingly.
Don’t demand hours of your learner’s time; demand minutes. Don’t stuff them with new information; have them learn what’s essential. They can always do in-depth learning sessions on their desktops — mobile is for short-bursts of casual learning.
TalentLMS’ mobile interface has been designed to reflect and encourage this notion, and your content should too.
8. Plan for offline use
24/7 connectivity is a noble goal for the future, but it’s far from a reality today. Doubly so in developing countries, or out in the countryside. If you’re designing mobile learning content, you’ll also want to design for offline use.
Platforms like TalentLMS already offer offline-capable native mobile applications, but as the content creator, you should do a little work on your end too. Not all content works equally well (or at all) on mobile use.
For example, while video files can be automatically converted and made available for offline use by TalentLMS, they do take time to download before the user goes offline, and they do demand a lot of disk space on the user’s mobile device. And links to videos (e.g. to YouTube and Vimeo files) don’t work offline at all.
Study your LMS offline content guidelines and learn what works and what doesn’t work, content-wise, for courses that you plan on making available for offline use.
Mobile learning is quickly commanding an increasingly important share of the eLearning pie, either as a standalone or combined with a desktop learning strategy.
The tips and guidelines offered in this post are part of a platform-neutral approach that will help you develop eLearning programs that work well on all kinds of platforms and devices.
By being mindful about what works for mobile-friendly courses, training content developers can motivate learners to engage in training beyond the confines of their offices and homes.