Mobile learning is a method where education or learning materials are delivered using mobile device technologies such as smartphones, tablets, and notebooks. It focuses on the high mobility of the learners, making it possible for them to interact with this portable technology anywhere, anytime.

Mobile learning is indeed a part of e-learning, but they are essentially different from one another. We do not want students to scroll through dozens of presentation slides or watch 2-hours length videos. We are using mobile devices which means that the learning content materials should be concise and straight to the point. Mobile learning can be used to diversify the types of learning activities students partake in. It supports the learning process rather than being integral to it. 

How to design a mobile learning app which can accommodate both teacher’s and student’s needs

Designing courses for mobile and desktop use are not at all the same. We need to have a new way of thinking about our learning product. Mobile learning is not just another distribution channel, it is in fact a whole, individual entity. Students use mobile devices in different ways and different environments than how they use their desktops. This includes the differences in screen sizes, functionalities, and even their sole purpose of using it in the first place. 

There are some parameters that can be used to assess learning needs for a great mobile delivery:

  • Learning needs
    We must know certain types of skills students need to learn so that they can solve issues with the help of mobile technology.
  • Learning contents
    Learning contents are used as a performance support that can help solve students' problems in a particular context. It can also be provided in small chunks which may include any kinds of functionality available on mobile devices such as gestures, motion sensors, and augmented reality. Easy access to communicate and collaborate with fellow students is a plus.
  • User-friendly design
    Now that we have decided which learning needs and learning contents to input, the next thing we must carefully craft is the whole design that suits user’s high mobility. Here are some factors we need to pay attention to before designing a mobile learning app:
  • Provide a wholesome solution
    We must understand how, when, and where students are going to use each learning solution to solve their problems.
  • Keep it simple
    Limiting contents to what actually serves the learners performance needs may come in handy when designing a mobile learning app. Structure the content in short discrete chunks that can each stand on their own.
  • Consider the content types
    We have to carefully consider which media and interactivity to include in the solution by making sure that they are appropriate for the device, student’s environment, and needs. Microlearning modules and mini learning experience work well on mobile. Adding videos, mini polling, and short quizzes can also be a good choice.
  • Make sure that the design is user-centric
    Be deliberate in organizing the structure of the contents. Create an information architecture that serves the student’s needs that can help deliver a great user experience.
  • Create a collaborative space
    Discussion boards provide the opportunity for students to collaborate with each other and build knowledge together. It is greatly suited for mobile learning because students are now able to collaborate and discuss about the issues they need to solve with their peers anytime, anywhere.
  • Insert gamification and digital badges
    Gamification can be used as a strategy to provide an immersive learning experience, especially for younger students. It ca engage learners and help them achieve their goals and experience rewards. Rewards system are designed to accurately reflect the achievements of learners and influencing educational practices. 
  • Do not forget offline mode
    Create content materials that can be downloaded into mobile devices. This way, students can take a look at it later without having to always depend on internet connection. When they are back online, it is best to make the learning progress auto synced.
  • Control the learning pace
    Mobile learning can be used to help students set their own learning pace. However, as the designer of the app, we have total control over how the speed of information should be released and received by students. Make sure to set a comfortable pace for the students.
  • Make it available for all platforms
    Don't just stick to the common users and don't make it too exclusive. Design the mobile learning apps both for Android and iOS. Keep track of the latest operating system technology and make it so that this app is easily scalable and compatible with newer versions of the operating systems across different devices.
  • Utilize device’s specific functions
    Think about the functions that are built for every mobile device nowadays. We are able to capture audio-visual data, communicate via calls or text, location awareness, augmented reality, motion sensing, voice-assistance, and a whole bunch of other stuffs that are available in mobile devices which keeps increasing all the time.

The challenges and opportunities of developing mobile learning apps in the future

In 5 to 10 years from now, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) will be a part of education. The importance of using mobile technology to improve access to education will fully increase. The main factors behind the growth of online education is the increasing demand of learners who wants to level up their expertise. There are already many online courses offered and now we have new generations of students who are already comfortable with technology. According to Geopoll.com, at the end of 2018, 5.1 billion people across the world owned a mobile device subscription, and it is estimated that by 2025 this number will grow up to 5.8 billion. Pewresearch.org says that younger people in every country surveyed are much more likely to have smartphones and access the internet. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic situation, the internet appears to have become a saviour for the learning process on campus or school that are currently being closed. Learning facilitators use the apps to reach their students at home. The COVID-19 pandemic accidentally forced the world to change face-to-face learning methods into e-learning.

The trends in e-learning app development will most likely reshape the scopes for learners in the future. It is already common now to see the implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in every aspect of life which has changed the traditional cumbersome learning methods. With AI, we can deliver a much more personalized learning experience for students. It can help students to learn while gauging students' learning behaviour.

However, there are also some challenges that comes with the use of mobile technology. The constant need for internet connectivity to access the learning materials being one of the biggest obstacles. The infrastructure at some places are sometimes not built to support mobile learning methods. Thus, it is important to build the scope of a mobile learning system that can run in a stable environment.

Now, let’s talk about UI designs. As the designers, we have to look out for the screen layouts, graphic look, navigation, and action controls. Designing a learning experiences that are responsive and optimized for smartphones is a must. However, it is very difficult to develop contents that can be viewed on different screen sizes while maintaining its quality for a great user experience.

When it comes to quality assurance and making user experiences faultless across devices, we should also test our app before releasing it to the learners. There are tools to easily preview the app on many devices with one click but we have to remember that nothing beats real experience. Consider preparing actual devices that can represent the common devices on the market. Older devices tend to become a challenge because it is sometimes unable to support newer technologies. 

Another thing to pay attention to is the availability of offline materials. Manage the space storage so that the experience does not get obstructed is our challenge to overcome. It can also be difficult to keep sync with the students' progress when they are back online after finishing some learning skills that they did offline.

With all that in mind, we can conclude that mobile learning will be a big help in the education sector nowadays, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic situation. The high mobility and versatility of it has proven effective in reaching out to younger generations and help them in their learning process without too much of a hassle. 

Author: Muhammad Alam Akbar (Technical Lead)