Mobile learning, or m-learning, refers to any learning intervention that is carried out through the use of mobile devices and wireless technology.
Ever since the concept of mobile learning came into the picture, instructional designers have been coming up with innovative ideas to create effective and meaningful ways to harness the power of mobile learning. It started with focused efforts to convert existing e-learning to m-learning.
Subsequently, educational technology companies now design effective and meaningful mobile learning tools by addressing various challenges associated with delivering content on mobile devices. This article introduces these challenges and discusses some strategies to design effective m-learning.
Why Mobile Learning?
Several factors make a compelling case for delivering learning materials on mobile devices. For one, as per the statistics reported by MobiThinking — a mobile research company, year 2011 ended with about 5.9 billion mobile subscribers, which constitute roughly 87% of the world population.
Second, increasingly, more people are using smart phones and tablets, which make it easy to access any kind of learning materials.
Finally, there has been a consistent increase in the number of employees working from outside their offices, and just-in-time access to information can help them overcome many challenges of working from remote locations.
Mobile learning brings a lot of benefits that organizations can’t ignore. The most obvious ones are convenience and flexibility to access just-in-time information at any location, at any time. It can help employees make use of the down time, such as while waiting in a hospital, during traveling time, and while waiting for an internal or a client meeting to begin.
Challenges Associated with Mobile Learning
Various challenges associated with delivering learning content on mobile devices create barriers in adoption of m-learning by organizations. The biggest challenge is devices working on varying platforms and supporting different formats. There is no formal standard to ensure the auto-adoption of content on different devices.
Further, the screen size of most devices makes it difficult for users to go through a lot of content. Other challenges include connectivity and bandwidth issues, concern for content security, difficulty in integrating devices to LMSs, and high costs of designing programs compatible with different devices.
Strategies to Design Mobile Learning
Here are some strategies that you can use to design effective and engaging mobile learning tools. These strategies are focused on addressing the challenges related to m-learning and making best use of the inherent mobile features to ensure learning effectiveness.
Target Specific Devices
There is no solution to push rich, interactive content to every possible device. So, do not target your learning program for all possible mobile devices. Shortlist devices based on the ones that most of your learners already have or can easily switch to. Organizations can overcome the challenge of varying devices and platforms by distributing a specific device and designing for the same.
Design for Performance
Users typically use mobile devices for short bursts of activity. Nobody would want to sit through a full-fledged, long e-learning course on a mobile device. Therefore, designing m-learning for performance support and just-in-time learning is more realistic.
For example, quickly going through the product updates while a sales person is on the way to meet a customer may help him crack the deal. Or, consider a scenario where your sales people frequently interact with customers of a foreign nationality. Sending texts of common phrases of the specific foreign language to those sales people may help them interact better with their customers.
Package Content as Small Chunks
Most mobile devices have small screens. So, break the content into small chunks to facilitate processing. Avoid excessive downward scrolling of the content. Also, remember that the rule of seven plus/minus two units to compensate for the limited short term memory applies to m-learning as well. Finally, you can use appropriate interactions to help learners dive deeper into each chunk. For example, you may want to use flash cards to summarize each feature of a product. Clicking on each flash card may help users learn more about that feature.
Design a Simple and Intuitive Interface
Mobile devices have small screens and limited processing capacity. Also, users are less likely to use a complicated mobile application, and there is not enough room to explain the user interface on a small screen. So, it is advisable to eliminate complexity and use a simple user interface with only the limited, required functionality that can be accessed easily and efficiently. Keep the screen uncluttered and consider the device types you are designing for. For example, designing for a touch screen is completely different from doing it for a keypad-based device. Selection errors on touch screens are higher than other screens so you may want to surround the touch areas with as much white space as possible.
Use Simple Code and Open Source Products
Use basic HTML code to provide a simple and accessible learning program with basic navigation features. Using simple code helps minimize file sizes, increase download speeds, and ensure compatibility with feature phones. Further, the use of open source products helps increase accessibility and enables local communities to make customizations as per their environment.
Use Mobile Features and Apps
Use the inherent features of a mobile platform to design meaningful interactivity. Some devices, such as iPhone and iPad, present several ways to make the content interactive. Explore the features of the devices you are designing for and use them appropriately. Further, most people define their learning experience on tablets and smart phones by the apps they use. Try to include these apps in your overall learning design strategy.
Design Social / Collaborative Learning
It is a well known fact that mobile devices and social networking work very well together. You can leverage this fact by providing a collaborative learning platform for people to connect with each other, hold discussions, and share information.
Collaborative learning can work very well through mobile devices. Learners can also click photographs or shoot video clips and share with others to substantiate their views. Create an inclusive environment that supports learning through sharing and collaboration by valuing contributions of all participants.
With ever growing use of mobile devices and wireless connectivity, m-learning has the potential to cater to a large number of learners. Instructional designers need to develop creative techniques to get learners to do much more than viewing heaps of text on their mobile devices. This paper captured some strategies to design effective and engaging m-learning.
There may be many more, but hopefully these should get you started on thinking about the ways to create effective m-learning.
About The Author
Anu Galhotra has over 10 years of experience in designing learning products across different industries. Throughout her career span, she has partnered with several Fortune 500 organizations to identify business needs and design custom learning solutions to address those. With an extensive exposure to instructional design methodologies and content development tools, her work in the areas of collaborative learning and organization-wide accreditation won Brandon Hall and ASTD awards. Anu is now heading the instructional design COE at Infopro, aspiring to create a culture of rigorous thinking and continual learning.
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