ATD Blog

Fundamental Considerations For Designing M-Learning Solutions (Part 1)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Last week, I described mobile devices as multitasking tools that enable users to seamlessly collaborate and communicate with others, to consume and create content, and to research and manage information. These learning activities help the new generation of connected learners make sense of the world around them as they navigate and apply knowledge on the go.   As mobile devices provide a personal interactive experience with content in a new and appropriate context of use, it is important to consider the following matters when designing anytime, anywhere learning experiences.

Needs Analysis

Every well-planned learning initiative needs to start with a thorough needs analysis to clearly identify the learning needs that the solution must address. Why is m-learning the best way to approach a knowledge gap, skill training, or change of attitude within an organization? What pedagogical, logistic, and economic reasons indicate that m-learning will bring greater benefits? Can m-learning be part of an overall training strategy, and be deployed to enhance existing learning solutions? These are but a few of the initial questions that help us assess the target audience and available technologies. Habits, preferences, and background knowledge of the learners, as well as access to mobile devices and Internet connections (if necessary), are crucial aspects to clearly identify the purpose, the means, and the audience of m-learning solutions.

Pedagogical Issues

“Mobile learning is the first technology integrated fully into everyday activities to support lifelong [ongoing] learning” (Lavoie, 2006). Based on what Lavoie has to say, from a pedagogical perspective, m-learning allows for

  • urgency of learning
  • instant knowledge acquisition
  • mobility of learning setting
  • interactivity of the learning processes
  • “situatedness” of instructional activities
  • more meaningful integration of instructional content.

All these characteristics help define how mobile technologies can accompany learners and enhance learning processes by fully supporting

  • memory strategies, such as  creating quick mental linkages
  • cognitive strategies, such as receiving and sending messages, analyzing, and reasoning
  • metacognitive strategies, such as planning and evaluating our own learning
  • social strategies, such as asking and answering questions, collaborating, and fostering ideas with others.

Design Issues

In my experience, I have found that design aspects for mobile learning have been routinely  neglected within our industry. Maybe some e-learning developers assume that they can apply the same principles and even “convert” old eLearning courses into m-learning through HTML5 publishing options.  This is a mistake.


Mobile devices offer a much greater complexity and pose new challenges for designers. Natural user interfaces (UIs) or touchscreen interfaces enable new, spontaneous, and unconstrained interactions among users, content, and environment—by placing the right information at the users´ fingertips (literally). Such interaction requires a more sophisticated perspective on how to plan, select, organize, and deliver information.

Moreover, we need designs that are able to adapt to a variety of screen sizes through responsive layouts. We also need to design for each device´s different orientations. These are all essential considerations to bear in mind if our goal is to create more engaging, powerful, and seamless learning experiences through mobile devices.

Figure 1. PC Rendering: Website wireframe, content distribution pattern (Wroblewski 2012), and final output.    

Figure 2. iPad Rendering: Website wireframe, content distribution pattern (Wroblewski 2012), and final output.    


Figure 3. iPhone Rendering: Website wireframe, content distribution pattern (Wroblewski 2012), and final output.    

In my next post, I will continue to explore the fundamental considerations for designing m-learning solutions by paying special attention to authoring tools and delivery methods, as well as tracking and security issues.

Read "Fundamental Considerations for Designing M-Learning Solutions (Part 2)".

About the Author

Mayra Aixa Villar is a passionate instructional designer and freelance consultant who helps companies design, implement, and evaluate m-learning and e-learning solutions. During her nine-year career, she has focused on educational content design and evaluation, as well as documentation management. She holds an MA in applied linguistics (subfield computer- assisted language learning) and loves exploring new technologies, prototyping user interfaces, and writing about her insights. She writes a blog about the effective design of learning experiences at and tweets under @MayraAixaVillar. She can be reached at [email protected].

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