The Future Of Learning Content is Mobile Learning, and it’s Happening Now

Look around your organization while employees are working, meeting, or taking a break. What do you see? If you’re like most organizations, you likely see a combination of desktops, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. In some industries, like retail or manufacturing, the only thing an employee might have is a smartphone — and there’s a very good chance it’s not company issued.

 

Regardless of the employee technology in place, learning must happen. Organizations are asking their learning and development organizations to deliver information with increasing speed and effectiveness, all while doing it for a lower cost than ever before. In larger organizations, that could mean delivering learning content to hundreds of different types of devices, from the smallest smartphone screen to a projector in a classroom.

Organizations are also taking a more proactive approach to mobile enablement of their workforces. In a recent survey by IBM, “Speed and Analytics Key Drivers in Mobile Adoption for Organizations,” more than half of the respondents reported a more than 10 percent gain in employee productivity as a result of their mobile efforts. These organizations are feeling competitive pressure to invest more, but key challenges still remain.

This is the reality that learning and development professionals are facing today. Unfortunately, most are meeting this demand with limited success. Simply shrinking desktop e-learning onto a smartphone or tablet doesn’t provide the learner with the mobile experience they desire — and that’s if it even works at all.

There’s a better way to accomplish a truly mobile-ready learning experience. It’s called responsive design and it can help your organization future-proof content and deliver a faster and better mobile learning experience.

 

Why Responsive Web Design?

Responsive Web Design (RWD) is a powerful Web design approach made possible by the evolution of HTML and CSS technology standards. Responsive websites are characterized by fluid layouts, flexible media, and content that is device-appropriate. Unlike adaptive websites that use separate HTML and CSS to present content to different devices, responsive sites take advantage of modern browser capabilities to simplify development, testing, and maintenance.

When you go to a website — say bostonglobe.com, for example — you can access the same content regardless of the device, but the way that it’s displayed is appropriate for your device. That allows content producers to focus on creating one piece of content and letting responsive rules worry about how to display it on any device. For technologists and content producers, it can simplify and accelerate the content creation and distribution process.

According to Guy Podjarny — CTO of Web and Mobile at Akamai — as of late 2014, less than 20 percent of the top 10,000 websites utilize RWD. As websites go through periodic redesign and refresh cycles, more sites will become responsive, with online retailers leading the adoption of these technologies to meet consumers’ expectations for mobile shopping. Forty-six percent of the top 500 retail sites already use HTML5 capabilities to enhance the mobile shopping experience, according to Internet Retailer.

Learning and Development (L&D) organizations face unique challenges on the journey to mobile learning. In addition to the legacy of Flash-based content that does not play on all devices, earlier SCORM standards and a “desktop-first” design strategy have made L&D slow to move to mobile learning. The good news is that new techniques and standards, including RWD, can help L&D accelerate the development and delivery of mobile learning content.

 

Mobile Learning Use Cases

What sorts of mobile learning content will benefit organizations? In short: all of them.

Xyleme has surveyed L&D professionals and they generally want to include all kinds of content in their mobile delivery strategy, including:

  • Reference material 
  • Bite-size content
  • Short videos
  • Virtual classrooms
  • Social tools
  • Granular search
  • Offline functionality

Just-in-time learning content can be extremely useful, especially for sales and service workers in the field. A how-to video or product demo can make the difference between a successful or failed service call. Even in highly regulated industries, access to mobile training content can make the difference between staying in compliance or not, especially for on-the-go workers.

As L&D organizations transition to a mobile-first strategy, they will have to seriously consider how they manage digital content required to sustain their mobile workforces. Although course-based learning will still account for a large percentage, performance support will play an increasing role in learning content development. A strategy that addresses the many content choices available to the workforce on the go must include RWD.

 

What To Consider When Creating A Mobile Learning Content Strategy

Responsive Learning, a term that refers to applying the principles of Responsive Web Design to learning content, will help companies answer some of the open questions about how best to deliver mobile content in the future.

Bryan Chapman of Chapman Alliance and others suggest that 70 percent of learning content falls into the “informal” category. The fact is, most companies today have many systems of engagement in play, not just the LMS: document-sharing sites, online knowledge bases, portals, and more. To cater to learners’ moment-of-need scenarios, learning content may need to be accessed from the talent management system or other business applications.

As companies determine the best approach to creating, managing, and deploying content that works for desktop and mobile, they will have to consider some additional open questions.

Mobile Apps and Web

Now that the results are coming in from mobile experiments, companies are finding that mobile apps are not substitutions for mobile Web. Most companies agree that mobile Web is a “must have,” with the addition of mobile apps for specific use cases that require access to the functions of the device that cannot be accessed via HTML5. Hybrid apps make the most sense because they leverage existing Web content and device capabilities, while being very cost-effective to develop. They also provide companies a coveted presence in the Apple and Android app stores.

E-books and SCORM Courses

E-books are ideal for rendering text and simple image-based content on mobile devices; however, they have significant drawbacks, including limited support for interactivity and tracking learning activities. With the addition of the latest evolution of SCORM (the Tin Can/xAPI standard), tracking that has traditionally been applied only to formal learning can be applied to all content. This is not a question of either/or, but a question of why and when to apply both content approaches.

Offline and Online Learning

Although ubiquitous access to the Internet is prevalent in some parts of the world, that’s not the case everywhere, and some workers can’t be online for large parts of their workday. Offline content on mobile devices must be supported as well, with asynchronous tracking back to the system of record in some capacity.

Formal and Informal Learning

Whether learning is formal or informal becomes less consequential as we enter the age of bite-size content that can be accessed in multiple ways. Nuggets of information that are smart and traceable in the context in which they’re used are most valuable to learners. The answer to the question of tracking formal and informal content is inevitably “yes.” An assessment designed to test an individual on a body of knowledge can be formally tracked and scored, as well as on-the-job activities that can provide evidence of competency. If all interactions with learning content were tracked, much like website content interactions are tracked, it would provide valuable feedback to content developers on the use and effectiveness of the content.

 

A Sustainable Way To Produce Responsive Learning Content

How can L&D groups — who are most familiar with delivering traditional classroom or desktop training courses — add mobile delivery to their learning offering in a scalable, cost-efficient way?

Right now, most desktop and rapid-authoring e-learning tools require that the designer choose among desktop, tablet, or smartphone outputs. Companies that produce “responsive” learning output today are having limited success relying on the less “adaptive” techniques and reusing content that was not built for mobile delivery. Or they are heavily customizing content and rebuilding existing skins or players, often simply shrinking desktop content to fit on a smaller device. All require Web development and programming skills. That’s not a sustainable approach for L&D organizations.

“Before moving to this single-source approach, we basically had four out of 400 instructional designers who were really good at visual design and creating interactive learning. Once our templates were set up following a single-source content model, every designer could produce engaging and responsive content without specialized Web development knowledge. The cost to produce our content went down, our time to market increased dramatically, and the overall quality of the learning experiences was better and more consistent.” — Xyleme customer

A better answer is single-source content development. Single-source content development allows organizations to produce flexible content that is ready for RWD. Content is authored in granular learning objects that can be assembled and reused across different technologies or functionalities (desktop, tablet, smartphone, print, e-books). Think of each learning object as a Lego block that can be used and combined in different ways, whether as part of a formal course or any type of informal learning. To achieve this, content and presentation are separated, allowing the same learning content source to be published in different formats using different templates.

RWD plays a key role in this scenario. Instead of requiring different output templates for consuming Web content on a desktop computer or on a mobile phone, you can create a single output template for both, which keeps maintenance costs lower. Even more important is that it also makes delivery a lot simpler because L&D doesn’t need to deploy different learning packages to different devices. In most LMS deployments, this is quite difficult to do and costly to maintain. Using the single-source approach, the content presentation logic is inside the package itself, not in the delivery tool.

 

Xyleme Can Help You Create Responsive Learning For The Masses

Companies that would like to produce responsive learning content for everyone must: 

  1. Create responsive skins
  2. Keep content separated from presentation
  3. Publish responsive learning content
  4. Distribute through mobile delivery channels

Xyleme Content Management for Learning and Development provides responsive output templates that can be tailored to suit a company’s brand and image needs. User experience and visual layout happen in the output template, and the underlying HTML and CSS are directly accessible through the toolset if customization is needed. Combined with single-source content development, this allows instructional designers to focus on creating rich and engaging learning content rather than becoming technical experts in Web development tools.

Xyleme helps companies solve mobile delivery challenges with a cloud-based content-delivery platform for formal and informal content — at the granular learning object level. If one topic or figure inside a course needs to change, the authors can change the content just once and publish to the cloud. Wherever that nugget of content is deployed, it will automatically update without repackaging and redeployment to one or many systems. Xyleme also has a number of brandable native apps for tablets and smartphones to provide access to learning content with offline play support and tracking back to our Tin Can-compliant Learning Record Store.

When considering your mobile learning content strategies, consider what single-source authoring and publishing with responsive learning outputs can do. It puts your content on the path to personalization and is the most scalable and cost-effective approach available to L&D organizations of any size, anywhere. Instead of only a handful of experts, all of your instructional designers can create great content for print, desktop, and mobile delivery from a single source. And demonstrating that L&D can offer a fully responsive mobile experience faster and better than ever before will help communicate more clearly with the business about the value of learning inside your organization.