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Mobile app onboarding

10 commandments for mobile app onboarding content

Gone are those days when we made our employees travel to a central place and attend the Onboarding training for one week. Gone even are those days when they were made to view a five to ten hour eLearning module at their desk. These days, the training, especially the Onboarding variety, are conducted on the go.

The advent of internet and smartphones has shrunk the size of what we consume, be it music or movies. If this is the fate of the entertainment content, could training be far?

Sure enough, people don’t talk of eLearning anymore. These days, they talk of nuggets and micro-learning. A nugget is a small snippet of training with a run-time of no more than five minutes. A micro-learning unit comprises multiple nuggets with the total seat time of no more than 20-25 minutes.

Well, did we say, ‘seat time’?

Stand Time

Apologies that we slipped into the conventional term called seat time, for these days we hardly sit. The learner is expected to consume training on the go, which means he or she could be sitting, standing, or you never know, even driving.

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So, in this dynamic world where you’ll never know when and where your learner might be attending the training, how would you build an Onboarding content?

Here are your Ten Commandments for an effective mobile Onboarding content.


Break your content into smaller pieces. Well, this could be obvious to you, but if I had a dollar every time someone thought, ‘This chunk of content is a little too deep. Only for this alone I would make the nugget go just over 11 minutes,’ I would be acquiring Apple!

When it tempts you to build lengthy nuggets, just recall the last time you consumed anything beyond 10 minutes on mobile. Well, ‘Big Bang Theory’ doesn’t count.

So, here is your first commandment:

Thou Shalt Not Build Nuggets Longer Than Five Minutes

If You Don’t, They Don’t Either

Another tempting factor is to say ‘You know what? I’ll add this PDF to the course. Will add this nice infographic, this beautiful animation, and wait. What is this Excel sheet? Oh yeah, it covers the model week for the sales people that our employees would find quite useful. Let’s throw it in as well.’

Excel? When was the last time you opened an Excel sheet on your mobile? And read a PDF document?

If you are not comfortable with using Excel on mobile, your learners won’t be either. Same goes for PDFs too.

Infographics are okay so long as they are not too large or clumsy to the extent that the learner has to pinch zoom three times to read the text on the graphic. Simple, elegant infographic that shows the content without zooming or with just one pinch is acceptable. No bigger than that.

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When you design a mobile content, make a list of what all you love doing on your smartphones, and include only those. And make a list of what you hate doing on your smartphones. And stubbornly exclude them.

Here’s the second commandment:

Thou Shalt Do Unto Others What You Expect Others to Do Unto You

Kill your darlings

This is an adage they say about writers working on novels. If you want your novel to be crisp and engaging, delete those unnecessary parts that you hold dear to your heart. In other words, you’d need to be quite merciless in your trimming process if you want an engaging and focused novel in its final form.

The same applies to working on micro-learning. You would need to be merciless in determining what content goes in and what stays out. If you passionately believe that a long passage should stay put, chances are high that it needs to go. After one or two mobile content building experience, you will get the hang of how this works.

Here’s the third commandment:

Thou Shalt Kill Their Darlings 

Media Agnostic

When you work on a content, try and make it as media-neutral as possible. For instance, can a video work as an audio? This could mean that you pack stuff in audio and keep visuals only as supplementary content. This way you can offer the content as a podcast to the learner. They can plug in their earphones and jog with the training. Or they can hook up with their car Bluetooth and listen to the training as they drive to or from work.

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Once you crack the agnostic code, your content is virtually free to roam around everywhere.

Here’s the fourth amendment:

Thou Shalt Make Their Content Device Agnostic

Attention Deficit Generation

When you develop content for mobile generation, you should remember one thing: You’re writing for a generation whose attention span is shorter than that of goldfish. What you write may be at Shakespeare level, but if it’s not targeted at the millennials, your training is probably not going to make the cut.

Write in short sentences. Write directly. Keep pointing to the goal of the training. Reinforce frequently and adequately. Use interesting tropes:

  • Simple, clean infographic,
  • Meaningful animations,
  • Clear, engaging voiceover, etc.

Here’s the fifth amendment:

Thou Shalt Write for the Goldfish

Vertically Speaking

The advent of smartphones has reshaped the media, literally. The way we consume content and entertainment has been transformed irretrievably. You should look out for the latest trends and embrace them. For instance, vertical videos are becoming a standard norm. It makes sense to consider mobile as a vertical device. Some experts think that the future belongs to vertical videos and even the TV at home may turn 90 degrees. (What about movie screens. Well, there won’t be movie halls in the future, so no worries there!)

Try designing the entire training for mobile by making the training vertical. Would it work? A survey on mobile usage claims that 94% of the users hold their phones vertically even while watching a horizontal video. Why? It’s just convenient. So, why not embrace the fashion?

Here’s the sixth commandment:

Thou Shalt Go With The Modern Trend

Go Social

Say you found something cute on mobile: a video, an article, or a music track. What do you do? Of course, you’d want to share it on Facebook, Twitter or on your WhatsApp Groups. Have you seen any app or site on your smartphone that does not have ‘Share’ option? (The answer is Yes: it’s your online banking app!)

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Our mobilosphere revolves around ‘Sharing’ and ‘Showing Off’. Make your content Shareable and enable your learners to show off. Let your learners interact with each other by sharing, discussing and even debating on the content.

Here’s the seventh commandment:

Thou Shalt Help Learners Share and Show Off their Learning Content

Most pressed button

Which button is the most frequently pressed one on your smartphone? It’s the Like button, obviously! No prizes for guessing.

Does your learning content have the ‘Like’ button? Why should it have? Just so the learner can express what they feel. Why do people press Like button on Facebook? It’s the way of expressing their feeling, their way of venting out. They can even press ‘haha’, ‘angry’ or ‘sad’ and feel satisfied that they’ve vented out their emotions. Make these features available for your nuggets and find a way of consolidating and presenting to the learner. They should be able to comment under each nugget and others should be able to ‘Like’ or even respond to it via another comment. Make each nugget a Facebook post. You’ll suddenly see your training come alive!

Here’s the eighth amendment:

Thou Shalt Include the Like Button 

I was saying, what?

When you watch something on your mobile, or respond to a message, you see another message from someone pop-in, or a notification drop in and you promptly tap on it to check. That message contains a link and you visit there and watch it, and you love it, and you tap the Share button and choose Facebook icon and…

Then, in a flash of a moment, you wonder, ‘Where was I before?’

confused 1

You forget what you were doing originally. This happens to us all the time. Same might happen to your learners too. No matter how interesting your learning is, they are bound to be distracted by some notification, some beep or an alert. It’s not the problem with your content. That distraction will happen even if one were watching Beyoncé video on a mobile. And you can’t produce content that’s more engaging than Beyoncé, and I’m saying this with all sincerity.

So, what should you do? Factor in such distractions. Build reinforcements within your nuggets. Think of nano-learning, not micro-learning, where each content snippet covers a tiny learning objective.

Here’s the ninth commandment:

Thou Shalt Build Nano-Learning

Learning Grades

The challenge we often face in building training content is misreading the complexity of the content. Often, we mix simple material with the complex one that confuses or disengages learners. So, be careful in treating and segregating the material based on its complexity. When you group all entry level material together— intermediate and complex ones — it makes it easy to consume and increases engagement.

Think of your training as curriculum for children, where you identify which material would suit Grade One and Grade Two, and so on. You would be far more careful when it comes to children. Follow the same approach for your onboarding content too.

Here’s the final commandment:

Thou Shalt Be Mindful of the Complexity of Content

So, you know what to do. These are the commandments that will help you build a better and more engaging mobile content for your audience. Go ahead, and have fun enabling learning.

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