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Five mobile learning pitfalls to avoid

7th Jul 2014
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In keeping with our monthly theme, Mark Bennett steers us through the rocky territory of mobile best practice.

It’s hard to miss the mobile revolution that is taking place, transforming how we communicate and consume content in all aspects of our daily lives much like the internet did in the late 90s. With mobile technologies predicted to be the most disruptive game changer for global learning in 2014 and beyond, now is the time to seize the potential that mobile devices offer for learning anywhere, anytime. But beware: transitioning from elearning to mobile learning may not be as straightforward as you might think. Here are the five most common pitfalls and how you can avoid them:

Don’t just shrink it, rethink it

The biggest mistake of all is to think that m-learning is elearning on a mobile. While some legacy elearning content can be made mobile-friendly, the most effective mobile learning initiatives are designed from the ground up with a mobile-first mentality. Think about the whole structure and design of the course - what works well on a desktop might not work at all on a tablet or smartphone. As well as shrinking images and decreasing text volume, it is important to consider how the course actually works. Take ‘drag and drop’ for example: while it’s a good way to test learner knowledge on a PC, screen size restraints make ‘click to reveal’ a better choice for mobile devices.

Mobile learning is all about learning at the point of need. While desk-bound employees may have time to sit through a learning objectives screen on their elearning course, mobile workers capitalising on a spare five minutes before a meeting or on a train journey expect to get to the learning information they need far more quickly.

Failing to use mobile features

There is no point having a mobile course if you just use text, images and radio buttons. Device capabilities such as touch screens, tilt sensors, media clips, GPS, and gesture control all offer the potential for a more engaging learning experience. Apple and its Android rivals have spent millions creating all the latest features on their devices, so use them! Think back to the very first time you used a tablet. Do you remember being amazed at how you could navigate with the swipe of a finger? ‘Next’ buttons take up valuable space; you can win over your learners by making them a thing of the past. All you need to do is tell them at the outset that they can swipe to navigate backwards and forwards through the course. The recent release of Captivate 8 makes it very easy to add this feature to courses.

Not doing the groundwork

It is important to develop a mobile learning strategy which considers what devices you will support, what IT systems may be needed, whether there is a BYOD policy in place and what use cases will be satisfied. Failure to do the groundwork can result in learner expectations not being met and your organisation being ill-prepared for the future.

Never assume your mobile content will work on every device and platform. Learning has moved well and truly beyond the single screen and there are now more than 3500 different versions of the Android OS alone, including one on a Samsung fridge. While ‘pre-breakfast fridge-learning’ may be a step too far, you do need to be aware of which devices learners will be using to access your courses. Responsive design and ‘auto fit’ capability are increasingly enabling media and interactions to work well across multiple screen sizes.

Forgetting to optimise multimedia for mobile

Remember that a 300MB product demonstration video isn’t going to be delivered efficiently over a mobile data connection. So consider download speeds and ensure your multimedia assets are optimised for all required platforms and devices. Make images, videos and audio as small as you can without comprising quality and usability.

You will need to re-encode any .mov files to .mp4 files if you want them to play on PCs, Macs, iOS and Android. Keep videos to a maximum of 1-2 minutes long, with a file size of no more than 4MB. Where possible, try to split videos into smaller bite-sized chunks as learners will be more engaged clicking through a series of 20 second snapshots or ‘talking heads’ than watching one long video.

Don’t just deploy and forget

Finally, the most successful mobile learning initiatives seek continuous feedback from all stakeholders to ensure constant improvement. New devices and operating systems are regularly appearing in the marketplace and it’s important that courses work effectively on them. There is nothing more annoying than a fully working course on launch day which turns out not to work the next day when Apple releases its latest OS. While we can’t always predict the future, courses need to be as future-proof as possible.

With the rapid rise of mobile devices in the workplace, mobile will continue to be one of the most debated topics this year. With careful planning the common pitfalls can be easily avoided, allowing you instead to focus on using mobile learning for real business advantage.

Mark Bennett is a senior content developer at Kallidus and the first person to win the ‘elearning designer of the year’ e-Learning Award. For more information visit www.kallidus.com or follow @Kallidus on Twitter.

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