Moving your desktop course to mobile requires more than a simple copy/paste.
It’s one thing to be sold on the idea of mobile learning, but executing it effectively is another matter. For educators who are designing a course from scratch, creating a mobile-first program and then transitioning it to desktop is usually easier than the other way around. Mobile courses have more constraints than desktop, so while some adjustments may need to be made, they tend to be minor.
However, moving a course from desktop to mobile requires more forethought and consideration. Mobile devices not only have a limited screen size, they also have limited bandwidth, and learners will be using them in environments very different from their desktop counterparts.
So, before you simply copy/paste your course from desktop to mobile (or create a responsive design and call it a day), here are a few of the major considerations you should account for to ensure your mobile course survives the transition.
1. Is that function available?
Mobile users don’t have the benefit of a mouse and keyboard, and their screens are much smaller than desktop users. As such, there are some functions they won’t be able to operate very well if they require desktop-specific features.
For instance, imagine a desktop user being asked to drag and drop elements on a screen. This is relatively easy for anyone with a mouse or track pad. However, think about that same action on mobile: yes, a learner can use their finger, but doing so makes it harder for them to see the screen, and if the elements on the screen are especially small, they may have a hard time selecting the right item.
Instead, think about tapping or swiping gestures—ones that aren’t used on desktop, but are easy to perform on mobile.
2. Are your infographics too big?
If you’ve designed your infographics for a large screen, your mobile users may find themselves having difficulty reading them on their phones. It’s irritating enough to have to pinch-zoom in order to read small text, but doing so with an infographic also makes it harder to see the whole picture.
Instead, break your infographics into slides, or design it to be read top-to-bottom so that it’s easier to consume while scrolling. Rather than compiling a single, large infographic with many elements, focus on one visual element at a time.
3. Can your learners consume content on the go?
Desktop lessons tend to take longer to complete—perhaps twenty to thirty minutes. They’re designed under the assumption that a learner is seated in a quiet space with a good Internet connection, and that they can give the lesson their undivided attention for the duration.
However, mobile learners are, by definition, mobile. Rather than sitting quietly in their office or bedroom, they’re likely waiting in line at the grocery store, sitting on the subway, or taking advantage of some down time at work. They may only have five or ten minutes, and they need your lesson to fit that timeframe.
This may require some restructuring of content, but think of it as a learning opportunity. Offer a quick micro-quiz at the end of each video to help your learners retain information, or package a series of related videos as a micro-course.
4. Will your learners need headphones, or will they need to keep their eyes on the screen?
How often have you been in a public place and unable to consume video content because the creator didn’t think to add subtitles? Not only is this an accessibility flaw, it’s also a problem for any user who either doesn’t have headphones, or can’t wear them at the moment.
Many mobile learners can’t be wearing headphones all the time. Maybe they need to keep an ear out for their bus stop, or they don’t want to miss their name being called when their coffee order comes up, or they need to pay attention to their environment for some other reason.
Of course, there are many ways in which mobile learning can be audio-only (see: podcasts), and this has its own advantage for commuters who can listen to content but must keep their eyes on the road. The point is: most mobile learners can see content or hear content, but they can’t necessarily do both at once. Try to design your lessons to work with one or the other.
5. Can your course be accessed offline?
It may seem a bit counterintuitive to suggest that online learners should be able to access content offline, but this is an important feature for mobile learning. Many learners have limited data packages, and even if they have unlimited data on their phones, their reception may be spotty. As such, if your course relies on heavy data usage, your learners may struggle to access content unless they’re on a WiFi connection. And in that case, is your course truly mobile?
Instead, let your learners download course content ahead of time, like they might download a podcast. Then they have the freedom of working through lessons on the go without worrying that their data plans will run out mid-lecture.
Building a course that can be accessed on mobile is not the same as creating one that is purpose-built for mobile use.
It should be clear by now that mobile devices aren’t just smaller versions of desktop applications. These devices have different applications, features, and functionality. More than this, learners access content on these devices in different contexts, and that means their needs will change based on their environment.
Not so long ago, online educators could rely on a responsive website to handle most of these concerns. A responsive design meant that a learner could open their mobile Internet browser, navigate to a web page, and the contents of that web page would conform to the parameters of the mobile learner’s screen. This made websites accessible to mobile learners, but more in the way of an emergency backup rather than as a primary learning source.
If you truly want to create a course that learners can use on mobile, you need make mobile design a priority. That means creating a course that a learner could access entirely through mobile, without that learner ever feeling the need to sign in to a desktop version. It may take some planning and consideration, but it’s perfectly within your capabilities.