Get Started With Mobile-First Learning In 2020 (But First: Do You Need To?)

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The decade started with off-the-charts mobile penetration around the world. On industrialized countries, almost everyone owned a phone. So many owned two or more that the rates were over 100%. Within a few years, Asia and Latin America would follow suit.

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Mobile enjoyed one of the common drives of human innovation: Constraint. You could not rely on its battery life or connectivity, but mostly you could not count on having the proper functionality. One by one, the limitations were shaved off, to an almost extravagant extent.

But if once again it has been the industrialized world who’s led the push for better mobile experiences, they (once again) fell prey of industrialized assumptions about humans. The most practical one is the unforeseen rise of the “mobile native,” but especially the “mobile only” generation. While a growing number of people are born with a silver mirrors on their hand, many people who spent their early and even part of adulthood without the constant experience of a computer in front of them are still out there. And when they do, it decreasingly takes place on a desk.

Design like nobody’s watching or has ever watched a desktop computer

So if you are looking for a one-word answer: Yes. Design for mobile first. Not only it would ensure your learning will be accessible to a majority of learners, it is also an invitation to innovate from constraint. A growing sentiment among modern instructional design speaks to the need to innovate through pedagogy and educational thought.

Conflating tech features, from VR to IoT or the buzzword of the season, with EdTech progress, faces lots of risks for the industry. Not the least of which a tendency for the general public and media to cry wolf for the entire sector anytime a face recognition app pops up in a classroom, or a mostly transactional announcement arouses widespread fears over the use of personal data a company has had in store for years. If you’re afraid of data privacy, you should have been 5 years ago. Furthermore, you should be hundreds of times more scared of Big Tech than “Big-ish” EdTech.

If you want a longer answer, the reality is that how much mobile you incorporate is a function of several factors unique to your context:

  • What are the basic characteristics of your community of users? Be careful here. There is a tendency to believe that since mobile technology grows more sophisticated every quarter, less savvy people benefit from older tech. In reality, newer designs are intended to be easier to use by more people, including the missing adult learners who are not yet online.
  • What is the current mix of device access, and how is it expected to evolve in the future? The first part of the answer can be found through a basic Google Analytics or Tag Manager setup. For the second part, it might be worth running some internal surveys and supplementing them with geographical and industry forecasts.
  • Is your learning experience exclusively design for one type of medium? There’s a growing number of solutions and LMS integrations for almost any subject that can be taught. STEM education apps are on the rise and have even made it to the humanitarian development mainstream. But there is a critical few subjects where a keyboard is a must. Funnily enough, coding is a perfect example. Sure, you can complement your teaching with mobile quizzes and flashcards, but with today’s technology you will have a hard time making coders without keyboards and IDEs.

In summary, all things being equal, beginning your learning design process with an eye on mobile, or even through the mobile lens, is increasingly sensible practice. But as it becomes clear with every form of learning and UX experience, it will always stand to benefit from getting to know your real users a little deeper.

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