During a jam packed week, I was pleased to squeeze in the latest Learning and Skills Group webinar on Thursday afternoon. Steve Rayson from Kineo was presenting on ‘elearning in a multi-device world’. The session promised the following:
In this webinar we look at the implications of multiple devices for e-learning and demonstrate different delivery options with case studies. We will also show how new technical advances have enabled the development of responsive e-learning designs. These responsive designs allow content to be delivered in an appropriate format to multiple devices from a single version. This exciting development renders redundant the concept of developing different versions for different devices and the associated headaches of updating and tracking multiple versions.
It was clearly a topic that struck a chord as there were over 300 attendees on the session! And I have to say, it didn’t disappoint. Steve took us through some initial stats about the growing use of different devices such as smartphones and tablets and how we’re using them. There was a useful link to a Google survey referenced which you can find here.
The initial point that really resonated with me was that the challenge we face in today’s world of continuing technology evolution, is not mobile technologies versus desktop, but the need to take content to a place where it’s working seamlessly across multiple devices. And the way to do this is through responsive web design.
We were treated to some live examples of how the CSS framework creates a fluid design that resizes automatically according to the screen size of the device you’re using. It’s something I’ve seen before of course, but not really given too much thought about in the context of elearning. Steve discussed how we currently focus our design on single screens with click next buttons. But if we look at how web design has evolved, there is now less focus on ‘above the fold’ design with everything fitting neatly onto the screen, and much more scrolling with more content on single but long pages. The Amazon site is a good example of this. Each page has a huge amount of information on it and users are happy to scroll down quite far to read the product description, customer feedback etc.
Steve made the point that this type of navigation (especially with touch screen devices) feels more ‘elegant and exploratory’ – which I have to say is a description I love. Somehow, clicking on screen suddenly feels more jarring than a gentle swipe to scroll around either vertically or horizontally.
But this only works if the design is intelligent. It’s about more than just squishing content onto a smaller screen. It’s about taking out pictures that might feature on a tablet but take up too much real estate on a smartphone for example.
And ultimately all of this has implications for how we design elearning. The element of the session that I particularly liked was that Steve wasn’t professing to have all the answers, but he did have ideas for what the future might hold for elearning, many of which he attributed to some of the younger members of the Kineo design team. He suggested that we might:
* Aim to design content for use on multiple devices rather than worrying about outputting separate native apps for different mobile platforms (iOS, Android etc)
* Create shorter, but deeper journeys for our learners
* Make navigation i.e. swiping/scrolling a more meaningful part of the journey
* Create more searchable content
* Have more sequential screening i.e. being able to pause elearning on one device and pick it up at the exact same point on a different device
Consumer services like Netflix already feature sequential screening across multiple devices. And the more people use services like this in their personal lives, the more our learners are going to expect the same functionality in their elearning.
The answer could be the concept of ‘responsive elearning design’. Which takes on the concept of responsive web design; if you need to deliver to multiple devices then a single version which just resizes appropriately for the device is the most elegant and most cost-effective solution.
It’s well worth listening to the recording of the session which you can do here. There’s so much detail that I haven’t been able to capture and I would hate not to do it justice. It was refreshing to have the status quo of elearning challenged and the presentation sparked off so much chat among the attendees, I couldn’t keep up with it at one point!
That elearning needs to evolve to keep pace with changes in technology and design is, I suspect, pretty much undisputed. But what this looks like is of course up for debate. HTML5 versus Flash, scrolling versus click next, multiple apps versus single outputs designed for multiple devices, how we track the learning, and even if the learning needs tracking, are all points of uncertainty. There is a lot of discussion out there and I enjoyed John Curran’s blog on ‘mlearning or elearning‘ on the topic. Ultimately, I’m not an elearning developer myself, but I think it’s a fascinating – and exciting time – and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds. Thanks to Steve (and Don Taylor of course) for providing some real food for thought.