Top 4.5 tips for designing mLearning


mLearning is a hot topic no matter where you look in the L&D space. It’s also a topic that I am rather passionate about. I am very excited about the potential opportunities it gives eLearning specialists for creating some amazing learning solutions.

The most exciting benefit it has to offer is that it allows us to learn when we want to and when we need to. This allows us to create an experience for our learner that puts them in more control and makes the learning more relevant to them at a given point in time.

So here are my 4.5 tips on what to think about and consider when creating your first piece of mLearning.

#1: Ask yourself ‘Why mLearning?’

I know this seems pretty obvious, but I feel it’s something that is often overlooked when planning the design of an mLearning solution. Very often people are deciding that something will need to be mLearning because it’s the latest buzzword they like, or because of assumptions about how and when the audience will want to complete the learning.

You really need to take a moment and ask yourself the following:

  • Why won’t the learner be able to complete this at their desk?
  • When will we expect them to complete this?
  • What device will they most likely be completing the learning on?
  • Where will they most likely be?
  • Why will they want to access this learning on the go?
  • Will all of the training be mLearning or just a part of it?

Being able to answer these questions will start to help you better validate if using mLearning is the best way forward. It can also help you in designing the end product itself.

#2: Keep it short

This is something that I always recommend for all learning solutions. Avoid the temptation of trying to shoehorn all of your content on a topic into one course.

It’s better to include part of your content in a short, engaging course and have the learner remember most of it, rather than packing all your content in a long and mentally taxing course that the learners remember nothing from.

When you are looking at mLearning in particular, you are probably looking to create something even shorter than what you would for a desktop. For example, if my ‘ideal’ length for a desktop course is 20-30min, I would be aiming for 10-15min for an equivalent mLearning course.


While a sweeping statement like that is a good high-level approach, you should be primarily driven by the requirements of the learner and the topic. The more we know about the environment and the learners' needs, the better we can understand how long our window for holding their attention is and we can then design accordingly.

#3: Look outside the ‘eLearning’ box

This is something that I am really passionate about. We need to learn to look outside of eLearning for inspiration and ideas for designing eLearning and mLearning. People learn and consume content all the time in their day-to-day lives through digital mediums without there being an ‘eLearning’ label stuck on it.

They are doing eLearning without effectively even knowing it. We need to create solutions that are designed in a way where our learners don’t feel like they have sat through what they know as eLearning or mLearning for that matter.

The best way to achieve this is to borrow ideas from the way content is designed and served up to people on YouTube, Twitter, news, online forums and in online marketing. If you arrive at a solution where you think to yourself ‘this doesn’t look like eLearning, but I know it’s going to meet all of the learning objectives’ you’re on the right track.

#4: Ergonomics

When we start thinking about creating something to be viewed on a mobile phone or tablet, we have to start considering the ergonomics of the design. How someone will hold their mobile phone is going to have an impact on how your mLearning UI is going to be laid out.

For example, we know that when people are using their smartphones for activities other than passive task like listening to music or making calls, they are most likely to hold it like this:

mobile ux design ergonomics

From a design perspective,  we want to create a solution that doesn’t require the user to interact with a button that is at the bottom right of the screen. If we had something there that they interactive with often, they would most end up with a very fatigued thumb.

"But that’s OK, we’ll design our course assuming they will be holding the device in landscape orientation with two hands" I hear you say.

Yes, you could do this, but what about if the environment and situation means our learner cannot change their current position?

Maybe they are standing on a packed Melbourne tram, with one hand holding their phone and the other holding on the limited available grips. In my experience, trying to do anything on a packed tram from scratching your face to trying to get your ringing phone from your pocket involves about 4 other people. If we assume that a similar operation was needed to be able to use your course, it would simply be easier for your learner to close the mLearning and play Candy Crush instead.

Speaking of Candy Crush and distractions, this brings me to my final point.

#4.5: Accept distractions

One of the key things to be aware of when creating mLearning is the environment the learner will be in when they are viewing the training. If they are completing their learning on the go using a mobile device, then they will most likely be in an environment they are not able to control.

If someone is learning in an office, they are able to control their environment to a point. They can block out their diary so people know they are busy, put headphones on to drown out noise and do it at a time when they know they can focus on the learning.

With mLearning, a lot of that control is lost. All of a sudden the learner is in an environment where there are potentially a lot of distractions: The person sitting next to them on the train being loud, the cab driver asking which way they prefer he drives, that stunning blo…..

Err, where was I going with this?

Sorry, got distracted halfway through writing this by a friend messaging me to ask if I’d like to go out for beer and German sausage. Well yeah, I’d like beer and German sausage! With a decent helping of Sauerkraut please.

Distractions lead to unfinished jobs, unfinished eLearning and occasionally unfinished key points.

We need to accept that our learners will have distractions. Our job is to design a solution which allows them to quickly refocus and pick up from where they got up to before being distracted. If we’ve designed something that needs the learner to retain a lot of facts in their head for an extended period, chances are that the distractions will cause our learner to lose those facts. They will have to trace their steps back too far through the course for them to want to continue.

And that’s it.

Those are my 4.5 tips for designing mLearning. These are really very basic considerations but they are often overlooked. It's important that when we are designing any learning solution we don’t get so caught up in making a clever and innovative course, that we forget the basics.

The most basic of questions we so often forget to as being "does this actually need to be mLearning?", and very often the even broader "will this work as eLearning?".

If you would like to know more about how to create mLearning that is purposeful and will considerate of your learners' needs, contact me at