Mobile Learning: More than just design standards

As an older millennial, I fit into the norm (millennials as the highest smartphone users) with my high-tech smartphone that is used mostly to connect with social media and post pictures of my cats. But, my experience with smartphones is largely different than my sister’s, a younger millennial. Where I was initially amazed at the capabilities of smartphones, my sister expected these capabilities and wanted more. Even my younger cousins (at the ages of 12 and 14) have already received the newest smartphone technology and will grow up without ever remembering a time without it.

With the workforce comprising of people like my sister, and soon my cousins, the expectation for workplace learning and development will include mobile technology with even more capability.

Dyeing a sheep

Presently, players in the eLearning community address the expectation to move to mobile learning, with this solution: make the eLearning responsive. I’d argue that mobile learning is more than just a responsive design. While responsive design is integral in promoting the ease-of-use of mobile learning, it does not necessarily make the learning intrinsically mobile. It doesn’t create an improved form of learning experience that speaks to the mobile users who are expecting more.

Dyeing a sheep’s wool doesn’t make the sheep become something else, it just changes the package. Albeit it does become a fancy-looking sheep.

So, how do we create a mobile learning experience that meets the high expectations of our mobile users?

Let’s grab some inspiration from the successful learning apps that already exist – they provide short, attention-grabbing and worthwhile information in formats that promote ease-of-use. Let’s look at these a bit further:


When I mean short, I don’t specifically mean micro-learning (although it’s an important learning technique). What I mean is that mobile learning needs to take into account where the users will be using it - learning can take place during the morning commute on public transportation at the height of rush-hour, or during the five-minute break, or waiting for coffee to brew, etc. Make sure your mobile learning is short, or can be gathered into shorter sections with the ability to save progress, so that they can complete smaller bursts of learning in their own time.


You should use the same methods as marketers, to gain buy-in to continue with the learning. You’ve heard of our tendency to respond to articles employing ‘Clickbait,’ or heard of marketers focusing on our ‘Lizard brains,’ to help captivate us quickly and sell their products. We can appeal to this ‘Lizard brain’ by making sure the mobile learning instantly speaks to the ‘problem’ the learning will solve or demonstrates the contrasts between using the learning or not. Make use of an emotionally charged hook, a visual metaphor or represent the learning as a story. Once you grab the attention of your mobile learners, make sure to make it relevant to them.


How many times have you stopped listening to a story because the story didn’t apply to you? You’ll have heard of our decreasing attention spans (8 seconds – no 7 seconds, right?). Well, there is definitely some truth to this, all people will stop paying attention if they don’t believe they will gain value by continuing. This is the same in mobile learning, make sure to clearly let them know why it matters to them.

Remember the sheep

Fostering a mobile learning experience will definitely provide impact as long as the mobile learners are able to access it. We have to promote the ease-of-use and this is where responsive design comes in. It is essential that the learners are able to easily access and move through your learning experience. Responsive design alone cannot make the mobile learning experience successful, it’s just a dyed sheep.

Adding responsive design to a mobile learning experience, shaped by these three approaches, it will continually meet the high expectations of mobile users into the future (like my cousins).

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