The 4 S’s of mobile design
Given that smartphone sales are estimated to exceed PC sales by the end of this year, and mobile Internet users are expected to exceed desktop Internet users soon after, I have finally concluded that the time is ripe for mobile learning.
Heeding the advice of start small and fail quick, I have dipped my toe into the m-learning space by converting an existing online course into a smartphone-friendly format.
While I am no m-learning expert, I thought I’d share with you several tips that I have collected on my journey so far. I call them the 4 S’s of mobile design.
Smartphones have a finite screen width. The going rate seems to be 320 pixels, so making your course canvas that wide would be a good start.
I would also suggest maintaining a small margin on either side of the text to improve legibility.
While show/hide interactions and other bells and whistles arguably improve learner engagement in an online course, they are downright confusing on a mobile device.
I suggest ripping the text and images out of them and running with that instead. I know it sounds boring, but as Tom Kuhlmann said recently:
Learners won’t complain about the lack of interactivity
if the content is relevant.
I believe the primary benefit of m-learning is the very fact that it is mobile. To me, bells and whistles run a distant second to finding out what I need to know when I need to know it.
Besides, if you are relying on bells and whistles to engage your audience, there are deeper problems you need to address.
Yes I know Android sales exceeded iPhone sales last year, but the fact remains many of my colleagues own iPhones. That means I need to account for Flash compatibility.
Given the iPhone can’t play swf files, I have to make sure I either don’t use them or I use an alternative format – potentially HTML5.
Who knows… maybe Apple will do a backflip and start playing swf’s after all? And they might have to, given they are no longer top dog.
Other formats that should be considered in terms of cross-platform compatibility include audio (which I suggest is best delivered as mp3) and video (which I suggest is best delivered as mp4).
I’ve been reading quite a bit recently about the need to keep m-learning short. The general argument is that smartphone owners are a busy bunch who will accept only tiny snippets of information while they’re on the go.
I don’t buy it.
Sure, the mobile device is perfect for on-the-job, just-in-time knowledge and sporadic concept reinforcement – but that doesn’t mean it’s not convenient for longer content too.
For example, I wouldn’t mind working my way through a 30 minute course over two or three sessions on the ferry, especially when my boss lets me go home early to do so.
I rarely enjoy a clear half hour at my desk anyway, with the constant distractions of the office environment demanding my attention. So I might as well take advantage of downtime.
In any case, all e-learning content should be concise. Whether it’s mobile or not is a moot point.
So according to yours truly, m-learning should be slim, simple, swfless and short.
Do you have any tips of your own? Any that you care to share would be gratefully received – even if they don’t begin with an S!