Travel may be curtailed thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that doesn’t mean learning tech has to be confined to the desktop—many of today’s technology training and education sites offer increasingly sophisticated mobile options. But not all mobile education platforms are created equal.
What’s critical to a mobile learning platform is not just the availability of the app itself—what also matters is an approach to learning that takes into consideration the lifestyle of the mobile user.
“The first thing I would say you’ve got to start with the learners, and you have to understand the needs, and pain points you’re trying to solve,” explained Shravan Goli, chief product officer at Coursera, which provides online learning courses. “Providers of mobile learning platforms have to be able to adapt to the learner’s habit so they can learn on the go.”
That means developing a teaching model that allows learning in bite-size pieces, but that also fosters a sense of continuity throughout the day so that users feel they are on a continuous journey.
Udemy’s mobile app offers access to more than 100,000 courses, with the ability to download courses to watch offline, listen to courses with podcast-style audio, or watch them with Chromecast or Apple TV.
“Time management, thinking about the individual’s daily lifestyle, the ability to take notes, download offline content, integrate into your calendar, and goal setting—these are all critical features of a mobile learning app,” Goli said.
With Coursera’s mobile app, the users learn in shorter, more frequent bursts than those with desktops. As a result, content needs to match the pedagogical model. “Does the content encompass the key learning elements? You’re looking to develop key skills, and that means they have to encompass assessments, quizzes, and so on,” Goli added. “A feedback loop is very important, so you need to see what that platform is enabling.”
The edX mobile app allows users to stream or download course videos to watch later. That’s an important feature for those who may not have a fast internet connection at home (if at all).
Mobile Learning Features You Need
There are more than 5 billion mobile users in the world, and more than half of all internet users rely exclusively on their mobile devices; around 78 percent of teenagers use their smartphones instead of laptops to access the internet.
“Great mobile apps are designed with the native form factor in mind,” Madhu Venkatesh, director of platform engineering at Udemy, explained. “Too many apps simply shrink their web pages to make a mobile app. A mobile-first mindset is required. To be truly mobile-first means optimizing use of the space and using built-in features.”
He said it’s also important to think of offline capabilities so that users can learn on a train, on a transcontinental flight, or camping under the stars. Udemy courses can be downloaded and viewed offline for those unable to access the internet at home.
“Apps can also handle low bandwidths, low speed, and older devices, making a great addition to the democratization of education,” Venkatesh noted. “If you want to truly reach all people and provide opportunity to everyone, a mobile learning platform is a must. A learning platform must allow students to learn wherever they are, whenever they can, while they are commuting, ride-sharing or traveling.”
Venkatesh pointed out that technologists in general lead busy lives, so they ultimately want the ability to learn fresh lessons anywhere, anytime.
“Supplemental course materials that offer technical challenges and learning opportunities that can be accessed via users’ mobile devices are also critical for effective learning outcomes,” he said.
With the pandemic still causing massive disruption across all learning channels, mobile learning providers have been forced to think quickly about how to deliver great experiences.
“It’s not as simple as a professor standing in front of a camera, you have to design your learning experience through a different pedagogical model, you’ve got to be able to have high-engagement learning through Zoom and Slack so users can engage with each other,” Goli said. “This is what the world will need to continue to innovate and adapt, to make sure the future of online learning will continue.”