Four Fundamental Best Practices to Make the Most of Mobile Learning

Smart phone in a person's hand.
April 9, 2020
6 minutes
Smart phone in a person's hand.

Recently, we talked about the advantages and disadvantages of mobile learning in a world where most internet usage happens on the small screen.

We touched on the idea that mobile learning can increase engagement, completion, and other metrics, but not by default. The way you execute your mobile learning strategy will make or break its efficacy.

So, let's look at a few fundamental best practices for making the most of your learning on mobile.

Best Practice #1: Just Say No to "Mobile Functional" Tech

There are some authoring tools or course suppliers that claim to be mobile or mobile-friendly when they're really "mobile functional."


The material can be accessed on a mobile device, technically. But the access comes courtesy of squinting, slow-loading, struggling to hit that tiny button, and other shenanigans.

These are the courses that shrink to fit until text is illegible, or pre-HTML5 courses that become a Picasso-esque nightmare on the "wrong" mobile platform.

At the end of the day, your learners won't want to spend time inside those courses. So they might as well not exist.

Good tech is the foundation on which you build your mobile learning strategy, and thus it has to be rock solid. HTML5 is your bedrock, but it needs to stand alone. A tool that relies on a mix of HTML5 and Flash complicates cross-device compatibility.

And since Flash is going the way of the dodo, an authoring solution that relies completely on HTML5 is future proof.

Best Practice #2: Design for Distraction in Mobile Learning

When you're designing a learning project that will primarily be used on mobile, you have to assume a high level of distraction for your learners.  

In order to make mobile learning effective, you need to use every trick in the book to engage learners quickly and communicate your objective. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind.

Make Mobile Learning Highly Relevant

Make the significance of your topic clear to the learner right away. When possible, teach through application. You can do this with scenario-based learning and simulations. The more realistic, the better.

Make Mobile Learning Concise

Tiny screen, tiny attention span, tiny word count. Avoid big blocks of text. Use headers, lists, bullets, and text styling to make your pages skimmable and help the most important points jump out.

Keep the pages themselves brief as well. Break at 2-3 page scrolls tall on the average screen.

Make Mobile Learning Visual (or Video)

One of the ways to keep it concise? Use an image to replace a thousand words. When you can convey something clearly with an image, do.

Better yet, use video. People are especially drawn to video on mobile devices because it keeps their attention in a distracting environment. A 2017 Hubspot survey found that video was the most popular content type on mobile. In fact, YouTube accounts for 37% of all mobile internet traffic.  Just make sure you also use a streaming service for the video, or minimally, optimize it for your mobile delivery.

But video alone isn't an effective learning experience. Pair video learning with assessments or exercises. And consider adding a text summary of important points below.  This can facilitate quick fact-checking and accommodate people who can't or won't watch the video. It also gives you a good reason to break up your video into smaller pieces which not only makes it a more effective learning experience, but also enhances playback on lower bandwidths.

Engage Mobile Learners with Interactive Elements

Mobile devices are inherently interactive. Keep learners intellectually engaged by relying on branching simulations. Keep them physically engaged with elements like flip cards or hotspots on images. Even page or section height limitations increase interaction by making learners choose the "next" button to auto advance down the page or the next one. The more interaction you demand, the less other distractions can intrude, and more focus will result.

Make Sure You Give Learners Control

In a highly-distracting environment , it’s easy for learners to miss something so it’s absolutely essential to give them all the controls they need to stop, to back up, to repeat, to review.

And let’s face it – these are important controls for any learning context, not just mobile.

Best Practice #3: Not All eLearning is Best Suited for Mobile

If mobile learning's distraction-fighting design rules sound limiting, that's because they are.

Just as microlearning isn't a good fit for all topics, neither is learning primarily intended for use on mobile devices. Some topics demand a course length or complexity better suited to desktop.

Depending on your circumstances, a mobile strategy might not even fit most learning. You need to consider whether the medium suits a topic and whether the topic requires the medium.

The calculations won't be the same for everyone. If your workforce is always on the road or on their feet, you'll rely on mobile learning quite heavily. If they're deskbound, mobile courses will be much less important, and maybe even silly. Don't jump on the trend for the sake of it. Be strategic.

There are a few areas where mobile learning can almost always shine: just-in-time topics, learning reinforcement, and performance support, to name a few.

Best Practice #4: However, ALL eLearning Should Be Mobile-First

I know we just said that mobile isn't best for everything (or even most things). Regardless, you should be practicing mobile-first design for every eLearning project. We know it’s counter-intuitive, so bear with us.

Modern users find a seamless experience across all devices important, and for good reason. Mobile device usage is so embedded in our culture, your learners will occasionally access larger courses on mobile, even though the course is better suited to desktop.  

For example: an employee wants to work through a course at home, but they don't have broadband (a growing trend). Another employee wants to reference something they saw in a long course, but they're stranded in a meeting without a laptop. Another might be bored in a waiting room and decide to continue a course they started at their desk.

Your L&D efforts will be poorer for denying them.

The good news is, with mobile-first design principles and the right authoring tool, it’s easy to ensure all your materials look native at every screen size. For example, this infographic was created with mobile-first design but it looks perfectly at home on desktop.

When you create eLearning with a true-responsive tool and consider mobile first, your courses work seamlessly across all devices. The same can’t be said when you’re focused on desktop first.

And as a bonus, responsive mobile-first design allows you to easily reuse and transform course content into alternative formats, like searchable knowledge base articles, Pinterest tile styles, and more.

For best results, look for authoring software with baked-in responsive functionality and flexibility in look and feel approaches. As discussed earlier, HTML5-only authoring is critical to cross-device compatibility, but you also want a tool that does the heavy lifting for you in producing truly responsive mobile-first materials by default.

Let dominKnow Help You Make the Most of Mobile Learning!

The Flow authoring mode in dominKnow | ONE does exactly what we're talking about. It automatically creates responsive content that looks great across all devices, with no programming knowledge necessary.

The same goes for making highly engaging mobile-first projects. Create visuals, interactive elements, and effective assessments by relying on our user-friendly tools.

Meanwhile, advanced users will find plenty of opportunities for sophisticated customization. It's an authoring tool that can suit all the skill levels on your team.

Plus, our learning content management capabilities let you reuse learning objects across different types of projects to make the most of your efforts.

Want to dominKnow more?

Contact us today for a free 14-day trial or to request a demo from our experts.  

View File shared in this episodeView File shared in this episode

New to IDIODC?

Instructional Designers in Offices Drinking Coffee (#IDIODC) is a free weekly eLearning video cast and podcast that is Sponsored by dominknow.

Join us live – or later in your favourite app!