Designing for and developing eLearning courses for mobile delivery is for many a foreboding, even mysterious topic. It should not be. The fundamentals of the ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement and Evaluate) Process still apply. Additionally, as with courseware designed for standard web delivery, a firm foundation in the delivery technology including its capabilities and limitations is a necessary first step.
As the first step in the ADDIE process implies, embarking on a mobile learning project requires the designer and developer to Analyze the project from a number of perspectives. First, what is the user platform– iPad, iPhone, Android, perhaps any or all of these? Second, what is the delivery platform? Is it a Learning Management System or other Content Management application? If so what are its features and capabilities for supporting mobile applications? Third, what are the characteristics of the user population? Since we are already assuming a mobile application is required, we must assume that they are mainly un-tethered, that is not tied in time and/or space to a standard internet connection. Many types of users, and in particular sales, management and other professionals value the availability, accessibility (including Section 508), and “just in time” format provided by mobile learning. Fourth, is tracking required, and if so what reports on learning are needed? Many mobile authoring applications and some learning management systems require specific players or publishing settings. Rapid authoring tools such as Articulate, including Storyline, or Lectora may require publishing for the Tin Can/x API in order to meet specific data communication needs.
After the Analyze step come a number of Design considerations. First, consider what was learned in the Analyze step about the audience, as well as learner and delivery platforms. Most of the rest of these should already be familiar for anyone accustomed to designing for a web environment.
• Chunk content into smaller pieces. Users may access the material for only a few minutes at a time, so content should be “chunked” in smaller pieces Chunk your content into smaller sections. with an objective of 4-8 minutes maximum. Focus the chunks around clearly defined learning objectives or even performance steps to optimize the limited time users will spend with the material– think just what is needed, just in time when making these types of design decisions..
• Consider the authoring tool. The capabilities and limitations of the authoring tool must be considered for efficiency and effectiveness in creating the user experience. This means the instructional designer and developer, if they are not one in the same, must collaborate to design then develop content that is responsive on mobile devices.
• Avoid rigid layout standards. Mobile users may experience the courseware displayed on devises of varying sizes. This means that rigid standards such as tables and some style sheet conventions may adversely impact accessibility and user experience. Using a fixed layout can completely collapse or create very small type when viewed on small mobile device screens.
When you Develop for mobile devices remember that the user will likely be limited somewhat in both bandwidth and the time available to load long or complex screens. There could also be data charges for downloads. The best rule of thumb is to K-I-S- Keep it Simple.
• Avoid large files. Solutions include breaking files into smaller parts, limiting the use of large graphics and removing unnecessary images and backgrounds from things like pdf or ppt files. Audio and video can be used, but sparingly. If you do use video, consider a streaming service such as YouTube that reduces file sizes and that are already mobile-optimized. On the plus side– get to know your authoring tool. Native capabilities can help build in amazing activities
• Use mobile friendly media. You discovered during the Analyze step what the capabilities of the various platforms were for supporting different types of media. For best cross-platform compatibility avoid Flash and Java. HTML5 is almost always a good choice.
Finally, when you Implement the courseware it is important to test, test, test. Because there may be a number of user platforms and configurations it is necessary to anticipate the user issues and identify as many potential issues as possible before rolling the mobile courses out to a wider audience. Evaluate both its efficiency in reaching your intended audience and well as its Effectiveness in helping the audience reach their performance objectives.
More tips on designing mobile courseware can be found in a number of blogs and on websites. Some particularly useful ones we have found include: