eLearning and Localization Blog

Mobile Friendly or Mobile First:
How to Choose the Right Design

Published on Sep 20, 2018

A decade ago you may have asked “Do I want a mobile eLearning solution?” Today, you need to ask a different question. “Do you want a ‘mobile friendly’ or a ‘mobile first’ eLearning solution?” Although these two terms sound very much the same, the two designs produce significantly different user experiences and address different business needs. To better understand why you need to ask this question, it will help to understand the evolution of mobile eLearning design.

Evolution of Mobile eLearning Design

When eLearning solutions first became available about a decade ago, it was mostly designed to access existing web-based resources. Learners used web browsers on their smartphones or tablets to access online courses, download PDFs (i.e., job aids, infographics), and watch videos. However, this was often not a great learning experience due to a number of factors:

  • Text was often very small and hard to read
  • Embedded Flash–based content could not be accessed
  • Course layout did not render well on the screen

Several years later, these issues were addressed with several major advancements in web standards, authoring tools, and technology.

  • HTML5: With the advent and mass adoption of the HTML5 web standard, content could be created specifically for mobile devices. Although Flash is not supported on mobile devices, HTML5 is capable of creating more enhanced experiences.
  • Responsive Design: eLearning authoring tools were developed that incorporated Responsive Design, which allowed for the creation of learning materials that can dynamically reconfigure the content to adjust to different screen sizes and orientation (landscape or portrait). This means that text, graphics, and other elements can always be rendered legibly on the screen.
  • Better Mobile Devices: Smartphones and tablets became increasingly more powerful and were connected to better and faster wireless networks, which created the capacity for a better rich media learning experience.

This has led to the current state of mobile eLearning design – one in which there is a distinction between adaptive and fully responsive solutions. So how can you determine which design best meets your needs?

Mobile Friendly

A Mobile Friendly eLearning design is an adaptive solution that seamlessly supports multiple devices including desktops, laptops, and mobile devices (smartphones and tablets). On mobile devices, they are best viewed in landscape mode, but will often shrink in portrait mode, as they do not incorporate Responsive Design. The solution is best utilized when learners primarily access the content on desktops, laptops, and tablets; and only periodically access it on smartphones.

Mobile First

A Mobile First eLearning design is a fully responsive solution in which the experience is optimized for all devices, including smartphones. Using Responsive Design, learners get the same experience in both portrait as well as landscape modes. This solution is best utilized when learners primarily access the content on smartphones, and only periodically access it on tablets, laptops, and desktops. It is important to note that developing content using Responsive Design often requires additional time and cost because the content needs to be formatted for multiple layouts and screen sizes.

Choosing the Right Design for Your Needs

One size does not fit all and neither does one mobile eLearning design. The essential question to ask yourself is “How will my learners primarily access the online learning?” If your answer includes a significant percentage of smartphone usage, then you may want to seriously consider a Mobile First Responsive Design solution.

Article by Johnny Hamilton
Johnny Hamilton recently won a Brandon Hall Silver award for Best Advance in Leadership Simulation Tools and is eLearning Magazine’s 2016 Learning Champion award winner as a High Performer for his “outstanding contributions to the learning industry."

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