Designing courses for mobile access

As the adoption of mobile devices increase so does the demand for information to be readily accessible from them. As educators we face the challenge of getting our courses online and modifying our design to meet that delivery method. However the “online” delivery method is complex in that it can entail a range of devices ranging from desktop computer tablets smartphones to the next big thing.

Even though you might not be designing your course to be taken solely on a mobile device there is a high chance that your students will access it in this way. In today’s post I am going to discuss some best practices to consider when designing yours courses so that they accommodate for mobile access.

  1. Use a responsive theme. Open LMS recently released the Snap theme for Open LMS. This is a responsive theme that will provide users with the best experience when accessing Open LMS from a mobile device. If you are using Express for your site theme you can use Snap for individual courses or your Site Administrator can set it as the default theme for any users accessing from a mobile device or tablet.
  2. Rethink your content structure. First off you clearly have less real estate with mobile. Because of this there is more scrolling. Evaluate your course structure and make adjustments as necessary. As you design you might want to rethink the chunking of your content to work with the mobile experience. Also try keeping the important content at the top of the screen so that it is read first not last.
  3. Rethink your graphic selections and layouts. While responsive sites will adjust the size of your media elements automatically to best fit the screen real estate you might want to reconsider the overall design selections. You will want to avoid wide images that pan across the screen tables and the float attribute for image layout. Also consider removing the height and width attributes for optimal display. Lastly performance on mobile devices can be slower so make sure you are optimizing your media appropriately.
  4. Provide students with expectations for how materials can be accessed. You can include these expectations in your course syllabus. For example you may have materials such as interactives or documents that will require access from a desktop or laptop computer.
  5. Use a video player that will work across devices. You’ve probably heard the Flash versus HTML5 controversy and you might be confused on how to best deliver media to your students. You will want to choose a mobile friendly player. You will also want to be consistent with which player you use throughout the course. Provide students with this expectation in the course syllabus. It is ok to tell students how your videos will best be viewed.
  6. Use eLearning tools that support mobile content. There are many eLearning tools that output to HTML5 allowing you to integrate mobile friendly content.
  7. Design for mobile access from the start. If you are designing a new course you have the benefit of working in the best practices from the start. Consider an iterative design approach so that you can test the mobile experience after one module is developed.
  8. Consider new activities. Your students most likely have a smart phone and love to use it. Why not use this to your advantage and make use of that functionality as part of your course activities? Think about the advantages of instant polling capturing progress or findings through multimedia documenting field trip experiences and recording voice for submission.
  9. Try accessing your course from a mobile device. Start with the smallest sized device that you own and work your way up. By doing this alone you will reach your a-ha moment more quickly. Take some time to identify any challenges in your design and consider making improvements. Sometimes small changes can make a huge impact!
  10. Ask your students for feedback! Consider polling your students. Find out if they are using their mobile device and how they are using it. Are they simply using it for message to view grades or are they going through course materials? The more you learn about your students the better equipped you’ll be to improve your course.

Thanks for reading!
~Rebecca DeSantis, Senior Instructional Designer



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