Learning Objects for Mobile (MLOs)

I continue to read through “Mobile Learning Transforming the Delivery of Education and Training” edited by Mohamed Ally – Athabasca University in Canada. I’m trying to find the sections in the book that relate directly to design and implementation of mobile learning products and this book has a wealth of knowledge to help designers do just that.

Chapter 8, “Design and Development of Multimedia Learning Object for Mobile Phones” discusses a project where a reusable learning object for e-learning was redesigned for mobile consumption. The project went through several iterations to refine the design and they tackled many of the challenges of mobile design, while exploiting some of the opportunities inherent with mobility.  Here are some highlights of the chapter, along with my commentary, based on my experiences in designing and developing mobile learning products.

The authors take on reusable learning objects (RLOs): “Internally cohesive means the RLO meets a single learning objective and decoupled means that it has no link-outs to external resources.”  – The authors note that their approach is partially from “the notion of decoupling and cohesion”, Boyle (2003).

The RLO is made up of the following pieces, and shows a learner how to properly create a book reference for a paper or report:

  1. A step by step tutorial
  2. Reference checklist
  3. Final reference list, showing the final product (a refernce as it should appear in a paper or report)
  4. A set of activities to test the learner’s knowledge on how to create a reference, activity 1 is a set of multiple choice questions and activity 2 requires the learner to assemble a reference from a set of reference components

Design Decisions for the move to mobile:

  • Designers found that navigation within the content required a different decisions  given the device’s 5 way key navigation (left, right, up, down, selelct) and the two soft keys, many mobile phones have this kind of navigation.  Designers had to tackle the problem of navigation within the content, i.e. advancing from one slide to the next and within each slide if the content required interaction.
  • Designers found that using audio instead of text for some of the content was preferred by learners and reduced the congestion on the screen, this approach is consistent with recent research in cognitive load theory.
  • The designers also recognized that mobile reusable learning objects should be relatively short and byte-sized, this is consistent with most research on mobile learning, which shows that mobile learners are often mobile for relatively short periods of time and prefer to consume content that conforms to those short periods of time.
  • Strong contrasting colors needed to be used to improve readability especially when learners have their mobile device outdoors.
  • Designers had to spread the content of the learning object itself across several screens to avoid overcrowding, this  along with the move to audio for some of the text, improved spacing and presentation on each screen
  • Screen to screen navigation was moved to a one-handed model (students can hold the mobile device in one hand and do all navigation tasks), the left and right buttons in the five way navigation were used to advance and go back. The authors cite that “all mobile navigation is linear, (Ulm 2005)”, however I think that may just be the result of experiences with earlier less capable devices. I think touch screen, web friendly devices will eventually lead to deeper navigation in learning objects where appropriate.

The authors also noted that they made an effort to make access to resources easier for students experiencing “dead time” (characterized as travel time or time when access to the web is unavailable). I think the effort to maximize dead time is crucial, since we are quick to pull out our mobile devices during that time. Making dead time productive supports learners and makes them feel an added sense of worth during times that can normally feel wasted.

Some of the navigation design issues noted by the authors may not be applicable to touch screen devices where the navigation is a bit more free form, the user’s finger is similar to a mouse on a desktop computer. However, the thought that went into the overall design of the learning object itslef is  relevant to anyone who may be developing a mobile learning object.


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