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How to get the best results with your mobile learning design strategy

9 minute read

Debbie Hill
By Debbie Hill

Senior Design Consultant


Is your elearning working hard enough for mobile users? With people checking phones 10 times a day, elearning that’s not responsive or delivering quality experiences on smaller screens is missing a trick.

In this blog, we share our mobile learning design best practice tips to help you build a bulletproof mobile learning strategy and optimize your digital learning experiences for the modern learner.

What is responsive elearning design?

Responsive design means that your content adapts to the screen it is viewed on. Smartphones and tablets have less screen space than desktop devices.  With less real estate, you can’t fit as much on the screen, and the layout needs to adjust accordingly. To get you inspired check out these responsive elearning design examples.

Why is mobile learning important?

Mobile learning design isn’t a new concept. It has become an industry essential over recent years with the demand for learning experiences that are optimized for mobile devices growing year on year. In our 2018 analysis of the Modern Learner we uncovered that 96% of learners now turn to their phones and search in moments of need, checking their phones up to 10 times an hour.

Modern learner analysis

They also often choose to learn at the point of need with a growing number of learners choosing to look up content as and when they need it. With a mobile-savvy workforce wanting content on demand, L&D teams have been urged to respond by designing learning experiences that learners can access anywhere and at any time.

Modern elearning authoring platforms – like Elucidat – have been created with this requirement in mind, and are designed to enable you to create learning content that is available to your audience anywhere, on any device.

What kind of content do learners want to access on mobile devices?

While responsive tools like Elucidat allow you to push everything out on mobiles, that doesn’t mean you always should. Microlearning modules and mini learning experiences work well on mobile, as well as learning resources that people can dip in and out of when they have time or when they need it.

Content that works great on mobile:

  • Quick glance microlearning (short, 2-3 minute modules)
  • Video content
  • Simple interactions, such as polls
  • Short quizzes
Great content for mobile learning

And here’s some that might call for a different approach:

  • Longer compliance modules, with a whole series of complex interactions
  • Systems training modules with detailed screengrabs, or for a system that isn’t mobile-compatible

How to evolve your mobile learning strategy – 5 top tips

Every great elearning project starts with a solid strategy and plan.  Here are our top responsive elearning design tips to get you on your way to creating a bulletproof mobile learning strategy.

1. Plan ahead and capture your responsive design requirements

Consider your responsive design needs at the beginning of a project. When capturing your project requirements you’ll likely already be considering the needs of your audience and the type of learning experience that will best work for them. But are you also considering the format in which they’ll be experiencing the content?

Devices used for mobile learning

Gathering key information about the devices your learners are using can help determine the direction in which you choose to take your design, as well as informing further decisions throughout the project lifecycle, such as navigation layout, the interactions and images you use, and your project QA process.

Some questions it might be worth asking yourself:

  • Are your learners issued with company devices? If so, there may be certain smartphones/tablets you know you need to design and test for.
  • Do you have a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy? If the answer is yes, you will need to bear in mind that your learners could be accessing on any device, so your project should be set up accordingly.
  • Do you have any data to show previous device usage? Check over data from previous digital learning projects to find out which devices were used to view the content.  Elucidat’s in-built analytics feature enables you to quickly uncover audience trends like this.
Elucidat's analytic features

Have you been missing a trick? Since mobile usage is so high in ‘normal’ everyday life, you could decide to ask yourself – why haven’t people been using our content more on their mobiles? How can we best tap into that engagement opportunity with our learning?

2. Design your experience with small screens in mind

Once you’ve captured a requirement for mobile-friendly output, you can then apply this knowledge to the design phase of your project.

Be warned! There are a lot of mobile learning myths out there about the best way to design effective experiences.

Here are our 5 expert mobile elearning design guidelines to help you:

  1. Embrace the scroll: Design your UI so it’s a natural fit with the device. Long pages and fewer clicks are best.
  2. Bite-sized is best: Design for the amount of time your users are likely to stay on their phone. Our data, based on millions of learners shows the average session time on mobiles is 10 minutes.
  3. Reduce the number of clicks: Focus on one action at a time, removing unnecessary screens or clicks.
  4. Visually, less is more: Keep it clean, easy to read and easy for your thumbs!
  5. Make it easy to scan: The fast-scroll is inevitable, so make sure your key points will stand out. Use clear headers, numbered points and icons to grab attention.
Mobile learning preboarding example

This preboarding example demonstrates a lot of these principles in practice, showing how multiple interactions can be combined on a single-page for a scannable and intuitive mobile experience.

3. Choose your interactions wisely

Next up,  consider whether the interactions you have chosen are going to work across all screen sizes. More detailed and complex interactions can look great and work really well on larger devices with a lot of screen space, but on mobile phones they may not lead to the best user experience.

Mobile learning interactions

Want to use a drag and drop question? That’s ok! But remember, mobile users will be scrolling so won’t easily be able to drag items around the screen at the same time. Try keeping answer options and drop areas to a minimum, so they don’t cause headaches for mobile users.

What about clickable hotspots over an image? Also possible! But limiting the number of clickable areas will ensure interactive elements don’t begin to overlap or obscure the image for those on smaller screens.

4. Ensure your graphics are clear and simple

This rule doesn’t only apply to mobile elearning design of course, but it does become more essential as your screen real estate becomes more limited.

Keep in mind learners who might access your content on different devices. Avoid uploading images with detail that might be lost on small screens. These might include complicated diagrams, detailed screengrabs, or any image that contains text that might not scale down well.

If your image can be simplified for mobile, or made to work as effectively in a portrait format, then you could swap out your image in smaller view modes alone. Elucidat’s responsive design features allow this detailed level of customization across different devices.

Mobile learning health and safety example

This Health and Safety example from our Showcase shows how images can be swapped out and simplified on smaller devices.

If complex images can’t be avoided, perhaps you could also upload them in a supporting PDF document, so users on smaller screens can save off a version to view later. If you’re using Elucidat, find out more about adding resources here.

5. Make the most of the mobile elearning design capabilities of your authoring tool

Most modern html5 authoring tools offer features that allow multi-device output of learning content, with different tools offering varying levels of customization. If you’re using an authoring tool, we’d recommend you get familiar with the responsive design features on offer so that you can ensure you’re making the most of what’s available and creating the most multi-device friendly learning content.

mobile blog 09 1

At Elucidat we’ve put a lot of thought into making the authoring experience as streamlined as possible for responsive design. Some of the features we offer include:

  • Layouts and interactions designed to automatically reconfigure across different screen sizes
  • A view mode slider that allows for styling edits across responsive views within one authoring interface
  • An instant preview mode so you can test how your finished course will look on different devices
  • Global configuration of font sizes across different devices using our Styles area
  • Our Layout Designer feature that allows you to build your own custom layouts, with variations to allow quick configuration of different elements across screen sizes

If you’re using Elucidat already, our Mobile learning design Masterclass will give you some practical insights into using these features.

6. Test across different devices

The final stage in any project, before releasing to your learners, should be testing your elearning course thoroughly. There are many aspects to consider when it comes to quality assurance, and making sure the user experience is faultless across all devices should be high up on the list.

You can use the preview feature of your authoring tool to check each screen on different devices, but nothing beats the real experience, so get your phones out and try out your content on a real device. You can rope other people in too of course – use a BYOD policy to make sure you get a full range of results.

Mobile learning across different devices

Using real devices allows people to interact naturally with the content, using their hands to swipe, rather than just simulating scrolling. Ask people to feedback on how intuitive they found the mobile learning experience – you’ll then be able to iterate and improve your content.

Mobile Learning Myths

Great mobile-first design directly contradicts a lot of “old school” instructional design principles we have absorbed, and requires us to imagine a new world for elearning.

Take a look at these three mobile learning myths, and the type of learning you can create if you bust them.

Mobile Learning Myth #1

Myth: We should build in lots of click-interactions, because people don’t like reading big chunks of text on mobile screens.

Busted: Actually, we happily read long articles and ebooks on our phones. Engagement comes down to well-written, interesting content – not clicks. If anything, clicks are frustrating on phones and scrolling is the intuitive navigation.

So, unleash your creative side and try turning your content into short stories and presenting them as chapters in an ebook or series.

mobile myth 154x300 1

Mobile Learning Myth #2

Myth: Complicated interactions, simulations or games are best saved for big screens.

Busted: Actually, in September of this year, four of the five most downloaded paid-for apps were games. This evidence shows that we love gaming on our phones – no surprise, as games fit perfectly into the short bursts of time we use our phone for.

Try turning your assessment into a game in the style of Quiz-Up, or building a short simulation rather than presenting content for people to read. You might be surprised at the uptake.

mobile game 186x300 1

Mobile Learning Myth #3

Myth: People won’t watch long videos on a small smartphone screen, so keep them to thirty seconds or less.

Busted: Look around you next time you’re on a commuter train – you’ll probably see many people with their headphones on, watching TV on demand. We do use our phones to watch longer videos, if the situation is right.

The journey to and from work is a great opportunity for people to spend time on work-based activities like learning videos, so consider putting your SMEs in front of the camera for a short TED-style talk. There’s no need to spend a fortune on a production crew; a smartphone on a miniature tripod (or propped up with something sturdy) against a plain background will be high enough quality for mobile learning-friendly videos.

smartphone screen 165x300 1

Summary and next steps

As you have seen, mobile learning design needs to be a consideration at every stage in your project lifecycle. Make sure your modern learners can get the most from your content where and when they need it by keeping in mind these top tips when you come to design your next learning project.

Mobile learning team

Want to see some more mobile learning examples?

Visit our elearning Showcase to explore some different design approaches, all of which are designed to work effectively on mobile devices. Many of these are Giftable, so we can share them into your Elucidat account to use as a starting point.

Get a demo of Elucidat’s features for producing high-quality, responsive elearning

Written by Debbie Hill

Debbie is an experienced design consultant with years of experience in the elearning industry. As part of the Elucidat Learning Consultancy team, Debbie supports clients with design concepts and coaching to take their learning content to the next level.

Read more articles by Debbie Hill