When it comes to online training, mobile-capable does not always mean mobile-optimized. While course authoring tools are making it easier to publish elearning to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, the experience is often simply adequate and doesn’t speak to how people actually use their phones in their day to day lives.
The problem lies in two areas. Firstly, the rapidly changing and multitude of configurations of mobile devices on the market. Secondly, not accounting for user behavior with respect to these varying configurations when developing eLearning.
The eLearning Guild’s recently released study Making Mlearning Usable provides valuable insight into exactly how people use mobile learning devices and how the eLearning developer can best utilize these techniques to create a touch-friendly interface for their courses.
Consequently for the eLearning developer, there are several design considerations to make:
Employees will tend to hold smartphones closer to their face than a tablet in order to see the details on the screen. In order for an online training course to be able to be read effectively it must make use of existing screen real estate and not try and place too much information on a single screen.
With this in mind, type size should ideally be 6pt or higher on smartphones in order to be able to be read. Any training that is specially designed for tablets should use a type size of at least 8pt or higher.
Smartphones are more often than not held in portrait orientation whereas tablets are more often used in landscape orientation. As web-based content like an online training course will shift based on the orientation the device is held, a consideration should be made with this as well.
The trouble with this is that the majority of course authoring tools that can export to mobile (HTML5) format can only do so on a subset of the devices and operating systems available. Often these course can be viewed on tablets only. While their marketing materials may claim to support phone (technically this is true) it’s often the same mobile course that appears on the tablet shrunk down. This approach doesn’t take into consideration screen orientation and font size as described above. It often leaves the employee frustrated. Frustration is not a good foundation for imparting knowledge.
In order to address screen sizes and orientation, online course design needs to take a lesson from how web design has adapted to the wide variety of mobile devices through the use of responsive design.
For online training that is designed for mobile devices to work best, they need to work well with touch. While touchscreen technology is becoming more and more accurate, some people have more dexterity than others when hitting a target on screen.
Employees will prefer to both read and touch near the center of the touchscreen. Consequently, any interactions near there are more accurate than near the peripheral edges of the screen. From a design perspective this means that any custom course builder should be placing any critical training content near the center of the screen so that it can be easily viewed and interacted with.
Like the content, any navigation should be able to be easily accessed without accidentally hitting the wrong area. It should be clear to the employee that they are choosing the right area.
It’s critical that any mistake made by the employee should be because of gaps in comprehension and not bad design. Visual feedback upon any critical interaction will help to eliminate these mistakes.
Taking an existing online course and shrinking it down to fit a tablet or smartphone doesn’t take into account the way that people interact with mobile devices. Trying to take a solution that doesn’t adapt to the variety of different mobile device configurations will be at the expense of employee performance.