The Mobile Monster

Smartphones and tablets have changed the game in the business world.  The consumer’s expectations of accessibility and connection to product and services online are through the roof.  Everything must work on every device and every browser or you are going to lose customers.  This challenge is no bigger than in the e-learning world where the industry standard for the past decade plus has gone by the wayside due to the mobile market.  Flash is not only an animation tool, but also a programming and development tool that has been improved and developed by thousands of users over a significant period of time.  In no time at all it has been removed from the mobile marketplace.

At least once a month I get a call from a client that asks me if the online training courses we built for them will work on an iPad.  The majority of the time I have to say no, mobile delivery was not in your statement of work as a final deliverable.  Without fail the next statement is, “Well our Senior VP, President, Executive X, called me and said he/she absolutely must be able to access the courses from their iPad and it is not working.”  My explanation of why it is not working makes perfect sense to the person I am speaking with, but the bottom line is Executive X does not really care, they just want it to, more importantly, expect it to work on their iPad.

What is the solution?  Simply making it work on an iPad, or any tablet for that matter, is going to cost money, take time and the course as the client knows it will be substantially different due to the  limitations of mobile delivery without Flash.  My solution is to speak their language.  That means working with them to make a business case for mobile delivery of their online training.  It may make perfect sense, but it may make no sense at all.

The first step is to ask them to look at their user base.  Where will the majority of users be accessing the training?  If it is a large corporate environment they may only be accessing on a company computer limited to a certain browser.  In that case, rebuilding or initially building a course for mobile delivery probably does not warrant the investment.  Many of our users are in retail type environment where the only computer is a point of sale system which should never be occupied for training.  The primary purpose of that computer is to complete a sale!  This is a perfect use case for mobile applications, many times a tablet or two are purchased for the store for that purpose.  It is a cheaper alternative to adding computers.  Designing online training with mobile use in mind makes perfect sense in this case.

The next step in the mobile learning qualification process is the WOW factor.  This is a bigger issue with existing clients who already are accustomed to a certain level of course development.  One differentiator as a company is our ability to visually bring complex, non-visual, messages to life through custom graphics and animation.  Our ability to accomplish this is severely limited in the mobile world without the ability to use Flash.  The combination of HTML5, JavaScript and CSS needed to create a mobile learning environment has not yet come up to the level Flash for those types of applications.  It will in time, or a Flash-like tool for mobile will be created, but until then that is what we have to work with.  The client needs to understand that the same level of interactivity and on-screen flexibility is not possible for course built for mobile.  This may or may not be an issue.  In some cases we build a computer based version and a mobile version with code written to sniff out what type of browser and device the user is accessing the training from, other times the decision is to stick with the desktop version based on the user demographic.

One thing I do like about the current limitations of mobile learning applications is that is truly forces the the client and the developer to focus on their business message and the desired business result.  Mobile training can not be complex.  It must be easy to navigate, tactile and laser focused.  Without the unlimited tool kit of Flash developers are forced to hone in on the business objective and the user.  Sometimes simplicity makes a better learning experience.

Mobile technology is rapidly changing, but I think it is here to stay.   It is our job as a technology company focused on our clients, their workforce and their customers to be able to provide them with the best tools to deliver their message.  You can’t be married to one technology or platform, it could crush your business.  Mobile learning is in a state of constant evolution, we must evolve in order to meet the expectations of our clients.

What is your experience with Mobile Learning?  Here is an example of a consumer facing web application we built for a client which required us to develop completely cross platform and cross browser.  This is a consumer facing training application.  It was a challenge, but in the end I think the user experience is one of a kind.