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How to bring the human element to your mobile learning initiative?

Edward Castronova, in his book The Business and Culture of Online Games, claims that the average age of gamers increases with each passing year, including an interesting observation that 60 percent of parents are playing games with their children at least once a month.

What does this tell us about the learners of today?

In essence, it indicates that people are becoming more tech-savvy. When people play videogames, they don’t just operate in isolation. They often form a shared online culture by playing with others online. They also become gaming experts by creating cheat sheets for the game, answering FAQs et al.

This behavior poses key challenges to today’s Instructional Designers: How to up the game while creating mobile learning courses? How to make the online courses engaging and interesting? How to add the human element to your mobile courses?

Mlearning in Elearning

A research on Statista shows that the number of mobile phone users in the world is rapidly increasing and is expected to pass the five billion mark by 2020.

In such a world where knowledge is just a click away, it is becoming tougher for trainers to leave their mark on their learners. Also, since online learning does not have a human trainer who is approachable, the learners are likely to feel disengaged. Hence, education in the world of technology is insufficient unless it is accompanied by entertainment or engagement. Edutainment, thus, becomes the need of the hour. Moreover, when the learners learn from their own mobiles or any other device, they are expected to be fully immersed with that device and above that, apply it to the concept they are learning. Hence, what becomes important is to come up with a learning intervention that utilizes the best features of these devices and keeps the learner engaged.

Adding the Human Element to your Mobile Learning Initiative

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The advent of mobile phones and Internet have deteriorated people’s attention span, and it has made it challenging for trainers to keep their learners motivated for long. As I mentioned, since they are taking trainings on-the-go, they have various reasons to not take the training. Your job is to make them forget the rest of the world and be engrossed in what they’re learning. When we say you need a human element in your training, this doesn’t mean you should include a human figure in every course and make your learners reach out to it for help. The human element that our trainings lack is the possibility of experiential learning; the possibility of making our learners utilize the devices they have in their hands and learning by making full use of them. Your learners do not expect theory. They expect application. They expect learning by doing as opposed to the traditional “show me / tell me” method. On the other hand, they also expect not to be trained in a mechanical way. Then, how to train them?

Your audience that holds mobiles is more agile as compared to your audience that’s sitting in front of their desktops. While eLearning can include just-in-case training, where the learner learns everything which he or she may or may not apply in real life, mLearning is more about being just-in-time where the content is accessible whenever the learner needs it. Hence, anytime, anywhere learning becomes the rule of thumb while developing mobile courses.

So, how do we strike a balance between creating an mLearning in an eLearning?

Design Matters!

A general rule in design is to acknowledge your constraints and work according to them. When we say ‘mobiles’, we think smartphones and tablets. So, what could be some of the constraints while designing for mobile? We can broadly classify these constraints into four categories:

Screen Audience Navigation Span


Mobile devices do not have a large screen. Hence, the interface for mobile needs to be minimalistic. If you think your learners are not going to use the select tab on the top right corner of your mobile screen, discard it. The idea is to remove the nice-to-haves and keep only the must-haves. Kill your darlings and follow KISS: Keep It Simple, Silly!


People using mobiles are always on-the-go. And if your learners prefer mobiles, they prefer quick, relevant, and available information at the click of the button. Your training, too, must cater to these agile learners. Provide them specific and relevant information that they would understand at a quick glance.


There is limited scope of navigation in desktops. Whereas the navigation on mobile devices is multifaceted—you swipe up, there is a new window. You long press a tab, an information appears. Analyze which feature will work on which screen and mention its usage in the help screen. The thumb rule is to be consistent and not confuse the learners.


Since mobile learners are agile learners, they are likely to take their training while travelling, while taking a walk, and not while staying still at one place. If they are commuting, they won’t prefer a YouTube video or an episode that’s an hour long. There will be many things to distract them from learning. Hence, it’s important to keep your trainings short and not more than the recommended span of 3-15 minutes per module.

Tread with Technology

You scroll through items on Amazon on your mobile. Add those items to your cart, and close the app. The next thing you know, Amazon will make sure you do not forget to buy those items—it will keep notifying you, sending you emails, when you open the app, the cart icon will keep staring at you until you are forced to buy them or remove them from your cart. But, if you dare remove them from your cart, Amazon will give you nightmares about not buying it like a stalker: We see you didn’t buy the washing machine, are we not good enough? Seems like you accidentally emptied your cart, should we recover the items for you? Once you buy the items, the app will keep sharing similar or updated versions of the same item with you.

These are nothing but techniques to make the customer feel their concerns haven’t gone unaddressed. Since they are not walking up to a store to buy a product, the app gives them a similar experience just how a salesperson would. This is where Artificial Intelligence plays a big role in helping you calculate all the algorithm—where do your learners click, how often do they visit the training, which specific explainer videos do they watch, etc.

Our learners too, are like our customers. Gone are the days when we could force-feed every bit of our knowledge down the learners’ throats. Today, the learners are smart, advanced, and (un)fortunately, have the option to switch to hundred other sites that would not force them to read what they don’t want to read. Creating adaptive content in such situations becomes the key. Ask your learners what they want, how would they want to learn it, and more importantly, how would they want to apply it? Make them learn what you want them to learn but let them learn how they want to learn it. If they have skipped a topic, let them do it. But, make sure your learning intervention is the persistent stalker who makes your learner come back to the skipped topic and say, “Mea culpa, my friend”.

Gamify your Content

As we know, every application now comes with rewards—you download this application, you get 20 points; you share that application with your friend, you get 50 points; your friends share it with their friends, you become a gold member, and so on. Similarly, give your learners a reason to come back to your training. Provide them daily challenges that they need to win in order to be on top. Keep notifying them about their progress so far. Add a sense of competition by making them play or take the course with their fellow course mates. If that’s not possible, just provide a virtual player who they can compete with. Make your training as much fun as games are. But, don’t forget they have to learn too.

Create a Social Atmosphere for your Learners

We discussed how these new-age gamers build up their shared community. As designers, what holds us back from creating a social atmosphere for our learners while training them? Why not provide them a shared community, their own Quora where they can post FAQs, answer questions, and read about others’ experiences? Some ways in which you can enhance the social aspect in your trainings could be:

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How to Begin?

Consider these two ways in which you can teach communication skills to your learners on mobile.

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Which approach would you choose to design your course?

While Approach A is doable and has some level of engagement and motivation, there are chances that the learner will become bored of communicating and receiving rewards. The Approach B, however, hits the pulse of the learners by setting a target for them. Say, the learners have to convince 10 people per day with their communication skills. If they fail to do so, they become even more charged up to improve their performance in the round. They keep trying to work on that level until they win.

Thus, the reward does not lie outside of the training, but the training itself is the reward!

Long Story Short

When learners are engrossed in the training that allows them to explore, fail, achieve, and repeat the experience, and are eventually able to share that experience with their peers, the human aspect of your training is heightened and it vastly improves the engagement factor.

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