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Navigating the challenges in developing mobile elearning content


Are you looking to develop mobile learning applications? Ted Osuch of Tidalfire gives the community some pointers.
There are three things that most adults carry with them on a daily basis: keys, wallet and mobile phone. Once considered a rarity, the mobile phone is now a daily essential for many workers.
For employers, then, mobile elearning makes a good deal of sense. It offers many of the same benefits as traditional elearning with the added benefit of providing information via a device that students use regularly and are comfortable with. Moreover, mobile elearning allows students to access training at a time and location that suits them, including while they are engaged in a specific task. 
However, when developing mobile elearning content, it's important to understand the specific requirements of delivering training through a mobile device. For example, there are many different devices on the market, and an application developed for an iPhone may not be easily converted to run on an Android handset.


"When developing mobile elearning content, it's important to understand the specific requirements of delivering training through a mobile device."
Mobile users also have specific needs – they may be accessing material in a noisy or busy environment that makes them prone to distraction, and they will not necessarily want to deal with lots of small images that take a long time to load on their screen.
In some cases, different devices may have entirely different interfaces for developing applications, and may offer widely varying levels of support for things such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Someone looking to develop an application for multiple smartphone platforms would, at the moment, need to use a number of separate software developer kits. However, elearning technology providers are working hard to provide tools that overcome the fragmentation in mobile platforms and standards.
Even where devices run the same basic OS, there will be differences in screen size and resolution. Some smartphone handsets might have a very small screen of 240 pixels width, while tablet devices might be four times larger. Similarly, while many screens display content in a portrait layout, other devices offer users the ability to rotate the device and re-orient content on the screen.
Most mobile devices incorporate a browser of some description, but these too can vary depending on the specific device. Different browsers may not offer the same level of support for JavaScript or CSS, and may or may not offer support for additional plug-ins for displaying video and multimedia content. Perhaps the simplest way to start developing mobile elearning content is to build a browser-based application for the mobile web.
To create a browser-based application, developers need to create a website that will display within a browser, where the content is scaled according to the view the user is working with. 
Most of the modern smartphone devices support the WebKit browser engine. This provides a common framework for the use of technologies such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript.


Testing of any application whether it be for a mobile device or a desktop computer is crucial. It is, of course, possible to upload content to your web space and test with a live mobile device, but a fully-featured web development suite should also provide the simulation tools necessary to quickly test applications against a wide range of mobile device profiles. Obviously, this doesn't replace the need for live testing but it does reduce it significantly.
"Perhaps the simplest way to start developing mobile elearning content is to build a browser-based application for the mobile web."
One organisation that is successfully navigating the challenges of developing mobile elearning is the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC). With the overwhelming majority of learners for the Scottish Vocational Qualifications it supports already in employment, mobile solutions are increasingly important for SSSC as it seeks to develop just-in-time learning.
It is working with a developer to extend an existing elearning website, including videos and walk-throughs generated in Adobe Captivate, into a web app for both iPhone and Android phones. As a not-for-profit organisation, cost is a key factor for SSSC and it is using Adobe’s Creative Suite tools to convert its existing website for mobile access, with impressive results. With a mobile web app under its belt, SSSC is also keen to look at how HTML 5 tools in Dreamweaver could be used to develop elearning content for tablets (including iPad) and at the potential use of Adobe's Digital Publishing tools to create interactive textbooks/short publications for learning.
With smartphone ownership increasing rapidly and a more mobile population looking to study on their terms, the mobile channel is clearly the next step in the development of elearning. With such a wide choice of discrete platforms, developing mobile learning tools may seem pretty daunting, but with the right tools organisations can reap the benefits while avoiding the pitfalls.
Ted Osuch is founder of Tidalfire, an Adobe Solutions Partner and Adobe Authorised Training Centre

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Jon Kennard

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