Back in January (lowers head in shame) I started a series about mobile learning and instructional design. I wanted to know more about it. Well, here we are… finally. After quite a bit of research and my own learning over the last few months here are some things I think could be helpful.

What is mobile learning and instructional design?

Mobile learning or mLearning is a vast topic. There are a lot of different ways to interpret it but I’ve chosen to start with its simplest form. Mobile learning is any type of content a learner can or might access while on the go. It doesn’t have to be formal learning but it can be.
What does that look like?


Does anyone need to know how to take apart their dishwasher to find the filter? Last month I did. I pulled out my phone and brought up YouTube. A simple search for my dishwasher model and I found exactly what I needed. Mobile learning – on demand!


Have you ever accessed Wikipedia or a news site from your phone or tablet? Have you ever looked something up while on the go? I’m sure you have. Most of us do. I Google constantly. It’s a verb now! It’s not just the name of a major tech company. Not to mention how often I see the new slang LMGTFYLet Me Google That For You in Facebook groups and comment threads.

Photos and infographics

There are thousands of photos and job aids available for all kinds of information. Need to learn the periodic table? There’s an infographic for that from the Royal Society of Chemistry. What about how to set your table for Thanksgiving? There’s an infographic for that too.

Formal learning

In my spare time I sew and craft. Craftsy is a major online learning platform for crafters and artists of all kinds. Want to learn how to paint like Bob Ross? There’s a class for that. Want to learn how to work with metal? There’s a class for that. It’s really wonderful. There are also so many other online university-type classes you can take too. Most allow you to participate in some degree via mobile tools. Check out Harvard University’s Online Learning platform. They offer many free and paid classes and use a responsive design allowing you to do a lot of coursework on a mobile device.

As you can see, there are a lot of options for accessing learning on the go. These examples just scratch the surface of what’s out there. Every time you look something up on your phone or tablet or pull a printed job aid or cheat sheet out while you’re away from your desk is a learning event. We just don’t always think of them like that.

Why do learners want mobile?

I think this one is easy now that we’ve talked about all the ways learners are learning these days. People don’t automatically sign up for a class to learn a new skill anymore. My mom was telling me a story of the time she wanted to learn to knit. She already knew how to crochet but wanted to learn how to make a sweater. Her options were to either learn from a neighbour who already had the skill or to sign up for a local community centre class. She ended up doing both.

This was 30 years ago though. Now she uses YouTube to brush up on skills and browses Ravelry for new patterns and techniques. In short, learners want mobile because it’s accessible wherever they are. They can learn on demand and not wait for someone to decide they’re going to offer a class and hope people sign up.

What about skills that aren’t hobbies or special interests? What about the skills you need for your job? Why would you want those to be mobile?

My favourite example I overheard at a conference a few years ago. Someone was sharing how they were excited to be implementing mLearning for their sales force. They had hundreds of salespeople on the road 50 to 75% of the time. There wasn’t time to come into an office for every new technology release. That organization built a portal where all new job aids, technical diagrams and walkthroughs were published. Their sales team would send email blasts to everyone when new information was available on the portal. Each person would log in and pull the relevant information without ever having to go to an office.

Since that conference, I’ve heard many other examples like this – dispersed workforces who need information at their fingertips.

What do we do differently when designing for mobile? What about multiple devices?

Now what? With all that information out there and everyone Googling, what do we, as instructional designers, need to know about mobile learning? First for me was to acknowledge it. Mobile learning is happening whether instructional designers design for it or not. However, how we design can make a huge difference to how learners experience our training.

What are our options? I’m going to focus on corporate learning for the rest of this post because that’s what the majority of my clients need. Some things I think about now that I haven’t always considered are:

  • How are my learners most likely to want to access this training? Will they do it in a classroom, online at their desks, or should it be on demand and mobile accessible?
  • Can I design this learning as a simpler, on-demand tool like a PDF job aid or video?
  • Are there different components of the training that would be useful after a formal training event?
  • Is the length and size of my training appropriate for those who are mobile? Think small chunks and data caps.
  • If you’re using an LMS, does it support mobile learning and track correctly when mobile?

What’s next?

There are so many other questions and sub-questions that fit in with the above that we could be here all day. Instead, I’d like to talk about a new tool that I’ve started using. Of course, I still love Articulate Storyline and the majority of my clients are looking for formal learning that I build in Storyline. Recently though, Articulate released Articulate360.

The new version of Storyline is more responsive to different delivery options than ever. However, Articulate Rise could be a game changer new tool for mobile learning. It’s an online web-based authoring tool that lets you build learning lessons in “blocks”. One of the best features is that the lessons look amazing on any smartphone or tablet as well as traditional computer screens. It’s an excellent rapid-design tool for mobile applications. Check out this video from Articulate that shows the features. I’ll probably do a deeper dive into Articulate Rise and definitely into Articulate 360 in another post.

How have you designed for mobile learning? What have your learners asked for? Let’s talk about it in the comments. Need help with your mobile learning and instructional design project? Reach out today. We’d be happy to help!