Mobile-First Design Makes eLearning Accessible and Usable – by Pamela S. Hogle

There are literally billions of reasons to consider a mobile-first design for eLearning: More than two billion people use smartphones and a billion use tablets. They use their smartphones and tablets to learn, find information, and connect with family, friends, and colleagues. Instructional designers and corporate trainers are also discovering how easy mobile delivery makes it to offer training and performance support to:

  • Deskless workers, such as those in retail outlets, factories, or warehouses
  • A dispersed workforce, such as employees who spend a lot of time on the road meeting clients, doing repairs, or selling products
  • Remote employees
  • Global workforces, particularly employees in countries that rely on mobile connections far more than desktop or laptop-based workstations and communications

Mobile is inclusive and accessible

Mobile-first content provides learners with greater control over when and where they learn, which makes it accessible to more learners. Providing easy access anywhere can improve engagement and completion rates, since learners can more easily access and finish their eLearning. Mobile users can take advantage of features that allow them to use voice commands or listen to content while driving or exercising, turning otherwise unproductive time into learning opportunities.

“I don’t care what you built or how, but I want to be able to use it on whatever device is at my fingertips—whether it’s a phone, tablet, computer, whatever—and if you’re not allowing me to do that, then I’m going to the next thing. We have to realize that instead of going to the LMS, people go to Google. We have to beat Google and build better things to get the right content to our audience,” Nick Floro, president of Sealworks Interactive Studios, told Jane Bozarth in an interview about why and how to make eLearning content more accessible to a broad range of learners.

Key design considerations for mobile, accessible eLearning

The design of your mobile-first content has an enormous impact on how accessible, useful, and engaging the eLearning will be. Some elements to consider include:

  • Keep content short and focused, allowing learners to complete a segment or module in a few minutes. Microlearning is a natural approach for mobile content. Stick to a single concept or learning goal in each “unit” of content, whether that content is a question-and-answer session, a short video, a podcast, or something else.
  • Emphasize interactivity where possible, but also consider the visual design and navigation. If learners need to use buttons or touch icons to navigate, make them large enough for adult fingers to use on a small screen. Keep navigation simple and intuitive.
  • Design your content layout, graphics, and text with small screens in mind. Choose colors that will show up well and offer sufficient contrast between text and background or images. Don’t use overly detailed images, since the detail will be lost on a small screen. Keep the overall design simple, and use icons to link to information, like menus or phone numbers, that would clutter the screen with tiny text.
  • Consider the environments where learners will use the content. With videos, for example, consider providing captioning or a transcript for learners who will watch them without sound or in a noisy environment. Build in the ability for learners to have the text read to them, or supply a podcast version of text so that learners with visual impairments—or learners who are driving—can listen to the content easily. This type of “plus-one” thinking dovetails nicely with a commitment to making content more accessible to more learners.
  • Use responsive design so that learners using tablets, phones, and laptops all have an enjoyable learner experience. This allows images and other visual elements to scale to an appropriate size for the screen in use, and moves blocks—chunks of text or images, for example—around so that content fits the screen and orientation (horizontal or vertical) that the learner is using.

Learn more about accessible content

Accessible content is not only for people who have disabilities; it improves the learner experience for all learners. Designing mobile content that is more accessible, for example, improves the usability for everyone who uses it.

Four leading eLearning practitioners, including Floro, share their perspectives on making eLearning content more accessible in Creating Accessible eLearning: Practitioner Perspectives, a research report from The eLearning Guild. Download your copy today!

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