If the last few years have shown the world anything, it’s that mobile learning is a critical necessity. Diversifying education has always been a priority. But 21st-century learners bring a new demand to the table: a significant focus on diversification for mobile learners.
Students everywhere have come to rely on mobile devices for many of their learning needs. Tablets and phones provide access to programs like iReady, EPIC, and even those associated with standardized testing. These programs allow students to learn and flourish in a way that suits them best.
But to make these platforms accessible to all students, their websites must be designed for mobile learning. By leveraging design and enterprise UX, instructional designers can make that need a reality.
In December 2021, Jason White, an associate research scientist who specializes in web accessibility, editor of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, outlined the newest iteration of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The WCAG outlines standards for making content web-accessible. UX and instructional designers can use the WCAG to create a user-friendly mobile learning experience. Here are a few tips on creating an engaging mobile learning experience based on the WCAG guidelines.
Optimize Your Website
Perhaps the most important aspect of UX web design is website optimization. In some industries, optimization includes keywords and linking. But on an e-learning platform, you also need to optimize the site for ease of use.
Use Responsive Design
Many companies develop beautiful websites for their desktop platforms. These sites are streamlined, easy to use, and make e-learning effortless. But they tend to struggle with translating those qualities to their mobile design.
To create an engaging experience, you need to design your platform with all potential users in mind. You can do this by making sure your site is optimized for phone and tablet users. Mobile optimization requires ensuring appropriate site dimensions, rearranging content, and adjusting your layout.
Use Intuitive Mobile Navigation
An area where many mobile websites fall short in mobile navigation. This is particularly true of menus and site maps. What might look lovely and streamlined on your PC might appear disjointed on mobile.
An excellent example is menu design. A menu that takes up half a page on your desktop site might not be a problem. But it’ll probably be a bit cumbersome for mobile users. Instead, consider nested menus or icons for mobile platforms.
Complement Your Desktop Site
When designing your mobile site, don’t focus on just duplicating your desktop site’s design. Doing so could be a detriment to your users. Instead, develop both sites to complement each other. You can include the same menu items, controls, and features. Just apply them in a way that best suits the platform.
For example, consider online textbooks. On a desktop, viewing two pages at once is simple. But doing so on a mobile device may require zooming and scrolling. Instead, consider allowing single-page viewing and page swiping for mobile users.
Make Site Accessibility a Priority
The number one cause of frustration for many e-learners is website accessibility. Accessible design allows all users to quickly and safely use an e-learning platform with little to no difficulty. Fortunately, most changes you implement to make your site more accessible either won’t affect the mobile experience or they will enhance it.
Use Images and Videos Wherever Possible
Images and videos are especially beneficial for young learners, visual learners, and students with special needs. Not only are they engaging, but they can also help make information accessible for those with difficulties reading.
However, always take care to avoid flickering or flashing elements. These elements can be very distracting and may induce severe migraines or seizures (posing a significant health risk). Limit any flashing elements to three flashes or less.
Use Intuitive Navigation
Intuitive navigation includes easy-to-find menus, a comprehensive site map, and an efficient search function. If any of these are missing, students and teachers could struggle to get around your site. That struggle could lead to discouragement and frustration, undoubtedly decreasing engagement.
Navigation is vital to creating accessible mobile learning platforms. In particular, young learners need intuitive navigation to ensure they’re getting from Point A to Point B. So it’s important to incorporate intuitive navigation in every aspect of your site to hold students’ attention.
Use an Aesthetically Pleasing Design
Your website’s design includes colors, fonts, themes, and layouts. To make mobile users’ experience as engaging as possible, UX designers should take the time to develop each design aspect with them in mind.
Focus on Your Layout
Your mobile site’s layout should be streamlined and not crowded. When designing the layout for your mobile learning platform, be sure to choose one that’s fairly neutral and easy on the eyes.
For example, streamlined design entails that images should be sized appropriately. There shouldn’t be any long paragraphs of text. Icons and labels should match their corresponding content. You could also consider replacing menu titles with visual icons if it better suits your audience.
Use Simple Colors and Fonts
To make your platform’s content easy for all learners to access, focus on your colors and fonts. Avoid low-contrast combinations (such as gray on white) as well as jarring combinations like blue on red.
It’s important to always choose readable fonts. Times New Roman and Arial are the standards. When writing your content, use HTML headings to ensure proper font size and readability.
Use Engaging Features
One of the best ways to diversify mobile learning is to create personalized and engaging features on your mobile platform. These features could include varied learning methods, learning paths, and gamification.
Use Personal Learning Paths
Many e-learning platforms use personalized learning paths for students. These paths include lessons that are catered to each student’s abilities and needs. They’re one of the most effective ways to ensure a student’s needs are met and have a proven track record of success for students.
iReady is an excellent example of a personal learning path. Each question or lesson is based on students’ responses to previous content. This allows students to learn at their own pace.
The gamification of learning has become a hot topic in recent years. But it’s not a new learning tool by any measure. As it stands, gamification has been an incredibly effective method of learning since 2011.
Many e-learning platforms include some type of game to aid in learning efforts. For example, Osmo’s entire business model is built on learning games. ABCmouse is another popular e-learning platform many parents use for children aged two to eight, covering a myriad of subjects.
Allow for Varied Learning Methods
One universal truth about learning is that no two students are alike. While most might have similar learning goals, everyone learns differently. A suitably engaging e-learning platform understands this and will adapt to different learners.
For example, visual learners might work best with images, videos, and ebooks. Auditory learners might benefit from an audio option for their content. Likewise, kinesthetic learners may do well with VR while readers are perfectly content with on-screen text.
Develop Accessible Content
As a UX designer or educator, you know how important effective content is in education. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make your content accessible to all learners.
Use Text and Audio Alternatives
When you include an image or graphic on your website, you rely on the user to interpret it. But some media will be inaccessible for some users. To remedy this, you should use text and audio alternatives. These alternatives will ensure that all users understand your content.
Alternatives can include adding alt text to describe graphics, information about times and dates, and proper link labels. You should also include audio options for the vision impaired and closed captions for the deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Create Easy-to-Digest Content
Your platform’s content should be easy for learners to view, read, and understand information. But most importantly, they should be able to do those things with minimal effort whenever possible. That means short paragraphs, bullet lists, HTML headers, and age-appropriate content.
For example, say you’re developing a program for K-5 learners. In that scenario, questions should be short and to the point. Each question should have an audio option to help prevent early readers from becoming discouraged.
Test Your Platform Rigorously
The last and perhaps most important step is to test your platform with your design team, stakeholders, and target users. During your testing phases, gather as much feedback as you can.
Consider using wireframes, card sorting, and focus groups to inform menu, content, and site design. Take notes of any issues with navigation, aesthetics, and accessibility. These things can all affect student engagement.
Once you’ve developed a platform that delivers an engaging learning experience, give it to your intended users for a test drive. Teachers and students will provide you with invaluable feedback, which you’ll need if you want to ensure ROI.
The upcoming 2022 adjustments to version 2.2 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines will expand on the tips outlined here. Specifically, there will most likely be new updates on navigation, input, and predictability guidelines. These changes will help to engage users and allow them to easily navigate your product.
Education is an ever-evolving machine that both UX designers and educators need to keep up with. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available for those who want to ensure an engaging and effective learning experience.