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A Comprehensive Guide to Mobile Learning Design

Mobile learning is a popular (and effective)  trend in today's learning realm. When it comes to the format and design of mobile learning, as a designer, you will have many elements to consider.

Here are our top ten  strategies for designing nuggets of mobile learning goodness: 

1) Include Only the "Must Know" Information

Our brains have a limited amount of processing power, and when a mobile course provides too much content at once, it might overwhelm learners and make them leave.

Think twice before dumping all the information you have on the learner. Your content is undoubtedly great, but in mobile, more than in eLearning, you have to keep it shortDecide which is “must-know” (critical to achieving the learning outcomes) and present it.  Then add the “should-know” information (important background information that you can give away as handouts) to additional buttons, and the “could-know” information or the “nice-to-know” information you may even remove from the course.

Deviation from your learning objectives, in addition to consuming valuable learning time, could derail your entire lesson and cause your on-the-go students to lose interest and fail to learn the primary content.

Also read: Understanding The Difference Between eLearning and mLearning

2) Streamline the Mobile Experience for Speed

Mobile learning is considerably different from that of learning via a computer or laptop. Mobile learners expect the speed of immediate response while using their mobile phones for learning. On a computer, students are able (and willing) to switch between different screens while engaged in eLearning when heavy content is loading. Mobile students, however, are more likely to lose interest and abandon the lesson if the content consumes more than five seconds of loading time.

During the design process, you can crop graphics and compress content to reduce their size and therefore reduce their loading time. You can replace large images with image maps which enable learners to touch different parts of the image for image and content expansion, which in turn provides content clarity for the learner; without the heavy loading time of one huge image. Besides, designs of this nature appeal to the learner's curiosity and add an interactive dimension to a mobile lesson.

Also read: 5 Essential Mobile Learning Design Rules You Should Be Following

3) Adapt to The Medium

The medium used by mobile learners is, of course, the mobile phone. However, adapting to this medium may require more of a change than most eLearning designers realize. For instance, consider how a mobile phone is used throughout the day in comparison to the use of a computer in the same period.

Mobile learners don't sit down and engage with your content for long periods. They use mobile phones when they are "in-between" tasks. They engage with their phones while they are in transit on the bus or train, waiting to get to their destination. They multitask, get distracted, and are frequently interrupted. 

This all means smartphones are primarily used in small time lots while other events have either not started or have just finished. In comparison, computers are used in larger time lots. Computers are "the event" when in use.

From a design standpoint, you should design mobile lessons for small-time chunks that learners can access at any time, and from anywhere. Ideally, mobile learning lessons should range from five to ten minutes in length and never more than fifteen minutes. Experiences longer than that may have to be discontinued by the learner and may tend to be left unfinished because of time constraints.

Read more: Mobile Usage Habits of Today’s Corporate Learner

4) Strategic Layout

In a recent report by Search Engine Watch, one notable difference between mobile and desktop eLearning is the learning time spent on the different devices. It was reported that desktop user visits last up to three times longer than mobile user visits. In addition, desktop computer learner views more pages. 

In comparison, mobile users prefer a smooth and seamless transition of learning, while they navigate the mobile modules of the course. The report promotes the importance of the right placement of your important content. 

Mobile users do have the expectation of receiving the most important information immediately after landing on the screen. Designing the course in this fashion allows you, as the designer, to drive the learning from that starting point, and guide the learner to take more actions. This common practice is known as “Keep it Short and Effective” (KISE) and it is an essential element of mobile learning.

The chronological layout of the material according to its importance is the best way to make use of the mobile platform real estate.

  • The most important information needs to be at the top of the slides. If users are unable to finish a module, they will at least have absorbed the key details.
  • Navigation controls can be placed semi-transparently throughout the page while using information and other legal information occupying the bottom of the page.
  • Information should be as succinct as possible. Get rid of lengthy paragraphs!

A program layout such as this will provide the most positive and user-friendly use of the mobile platform real estate.

“Small screen sizes force you to prioritize what really matters to your audience. There simply isn’t room for anything else.” Luke Wroblewsk

5) Test Before Launch

You should never launch an mLearning course until it has been tested on multiple devices to ensure proper function and deployment.

And don't rely on a single person to test the course. Test it with different types of users (from tech-savvy ones to newbies), so you can ensure that it is intuitive enough for everyone. And lastly, record your tests, the results, and the optimizations, for improving the course and even future ones.

6) Responsive Design is the Norm

Starting off as a trend, Responsive Design has fast become the norm in mLearningToday’s students are using devices of all sizes and shapes — their mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and personal computers — and they’re often switching between them multiple times per day depending on their location. Nearly all millennials (87%) say they use two to three devices per day, and employees from all generations are expecting to receive training and learning on their mobile devices.

Responsive means the layout will adapt to the screen it is displayed on.

For example, the screen could be an iPhone screen-sized 4.7", 5.5", 5.8" or 6.5". In comparison, the screen could be an iPad screen sized at 7.9", 9.7" or 12.9". Android phone screen sizes range from 4.5" up to 6.2" or tablet sizes ranging from 7.0" to 10.1". In each instance, a responsive layout will adapt the size of the screen automatically so that the content is viewed perfectly by the user.

7) Keep the User and Context in Mind

Recent research suggests that mLearning should be less like the content found in typical eLearning courses and more focused on support orientation. They are most effective as just-in-time or just-in-place modules or part of a broader learning intervention.

This is why mobile courses need to take into consideration and map out the different stages of the learner’s journey, including how and when they will access your content. For mLearning purposes, you need to focus especially on thinking about the “want to know” and “want to do” behaviors they have throughout each and every day.

When your employees turn to their smartphones and tablets, what do they want to know? How do they best consume information — especially training materials for your company?

Talk to your employees and their managers, or study their habits in the training programs that exist today. It’s essential to understand their common questions, their approaches for gathering information, and how they learn from one another.

If you can understand the questions that employees are asking — specifically what they want to know and want to do — you’ll be able to create impactful mLearning courses that meet their needs and solves their pain points.

Read more: Start Thinking Micro Learning Moments NOW

8) Simplify

The use of too many features and options can confuse learners. Every button, graphic, and parragraph added makes the screen more complicated, thus, overloading your learners.

Also remember, most mobile users use one thumb or two thumbs if they use both hands. If you keep your users in mind while you design your mobile courses, you will naturally design an easy-to-operate lesson based on one to two-thumb interaction, with a clickable area large enough for one adult finger or thumb.

While you are designing the platform for ease of access, you should also avoid uploading large images with too many details because of the chance of detail loss on smaller screen sizes. When uploading large images, consider adding the image as a supporting document PDF attachment or even an image attachment that can be moved around and enlarged or compacted by the use of two fingers or two thumbs when needed.

9) Keep in Mind the Way Learners Interact in Mobile Environments 

Mobile devices use a touchscreen. This means the way users interact is very different: instead of using a mouse to click, roll over, or hover, users tap their screen to interact with the different elements on the screen.

This is a huge consideration for mobile learning design. For instance, if you're on your computer, clicking an embedded link with a mouse is very easy, but on your smartphone, it's a different story – you have to do it with your finger! 

That's why when designing a mobile lesson, it is wise to design it using simple menu styles,  increasing the spatial size of buttons, and enlarging interface elements like buttons.

This table shows clearly the differences when it comes to building interactions for mouse and fingers.

Read more here: 6 ways designing for mobile sites is different from desktop.

10) Design to Capture Feedback

Mobile devices give you access to the "always-on" connection to the learner. Through this connection, you can send out quick messages and notifications about new content available. This way you can provide reminders to the learner regarding unfinished modules for instance.

Mobile devices also allow the learner ease of use to answer short surveys about the specific course content, and also offer the ability for the learner to make suggestions or report any problems with the performance of the lesson platform.

Though eLearning is evolving through the use of mobile devices, and thus present new challenges for designers, the change does not have to be "full-scale." Minor modifications to a lesson can enable a whole new audience for the eLearning platform designer.


responsive ebook


Diana Cohen
Diana Cohen
Education Writer | eLearning Expert | EdTech Blogger. Creativa, apasionada por mi labor, disruptiva y dinámica para transformar el mundo de la formación empresarial.

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