Making Content Mobile: What You Really Need to Know

Making your material available to mobile learners poses some unique challenges for content developers. It’s one thing when you know your audience. But it’s particularly challenging when you’re working in the extended enterprise space where the end users’ environment is unknown.

Either way, several considerations can make the transition to mobile that much easier.

Key considerations

Before determining what you need to do to mobilize your content, you need to identify what “mobile” means to your organization. Are you simply referring to tablet computers like the iPad or are you including smartphones and other disconnected devices?

The audience and the device play a critical role in determining the options for mobilizing your content.

Know your audience

If your audience primarily consists of internal employees, there’s a good chance you know what types of devices they are using so you’re lucky enough to be able to target your development around a few specific platforms.

But, if the end platforms are unknown, you must build your content to the broadest audience — or sometimes to the lowest common denominator.

Know your content

The type of learning content you’re presenting has a big impact on the types of platforms you target too. For example, while desktops and tablets might be able to share content, you can’t say the same for transitioning content to smartphones. It’s important to keep in mind that not all mobile platforms are conducive to all content.

What not to do

As a rule, content targeted to smartphones should be shorter in duration and provide targeted snippets of information. Developers shouldn’t try to shoehorn standard eLearning content into the smaller mobile devices.

Aside from the expected pedagogical concerns, the smaller form factor and shorter battery life pose significant challenges over long periods of training. You’re much better off focusing on job aides, videos, and Podcasts in support of complete training modules.

Got Flash?

It’s hard to miss the debate about Flash on Apple’s iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, and iTouch). Although developers have provided work-arounds to make Flash perform on Apple’s devices, results have been inconsistent. While these fixes may indeed get Flash to function, it’s typically only basic or limited functionality. Or the work-around may just turn the Flash into a simple video.

It seems that even Adobe has given up trying to get Apple to include native support for Flash. Adobe now develops tools to convert Flash to HTML ( as well as adding HTTP live streaming to the Flash Media Server (

Of course, Flash does run on Google’s Android devices. But if you’re focusing on Android devices, know this: not all Android devices are equal. Results continue to be inconsistent.

Always test your Flash content on as many devices as possible. And be ready for a variety of end-user support issues. In the same manner that browser plugins and specific user configurations can impact the user experience for a traditional Web browser, you can say the same for mobile devices.

The safe bet for mobile content is to move away from Flash when it makes sense. HTML5, the fifth iteration of the HTML standard, offers a variety of new solutions to bring a rich multimedia experience to mobile devices. You no longer need to have Flash for that “engaging” and “interactive” content experience.

Considerations for multimedia content

When discussing multimedia on mobile devices, we have to start by addressing HTML5. Contrary to popular belief, the design of HTML5 was not for the primary purpose of deploying content to mobile devices – it was to bring uniformity to the Web content experience. HTML5 has merely become more visible because of the mobile debate.

HTML5 has brought a number of new elements to HTML, including the <video>, <audio>, <header>, and <canvas> tags. The intent is to provide a consistent handling of media assets without requiring special plugins like Adobe’s Flash player.

With its increased flexibility, HTML5 provides content developers with a number of new opportunities not previously available.

Multimedia solutions

Many people host their own media content; some even purchase dedicated media servers. Unless your corporate policies restrict it, it’s worth investigating one of the many services available to host multimedia content.

If you don’t want to host your own media server, you have two primary options:

• Video hosting services
• CDN network

There are a number of video hosting services ranging from free ( to modest solutions for $200 per month and up. These services offer a turnkey solution that usually provides native mobile delivery options.

Video hosting examples:

• Vimeo (
• YouTube (
• Viddler (
• Sorenson 360 (

The second solution is to leverage a CDN (Content Delivery Network). A CDN is a network of servers that distributes content across the network. This caching method improves performance and decreases latency in delivering your content. CDNs range from a few hundred dollars per month to several thousand dollars. Depending on the volume and distribution of the end users, CDNs can offer significant benefits to mobile audiences.

CDN examples:

• Edgecast (
• Limelight (
• Akamai (

The best solution?

There are a number of ways to make your eLearning content available to mobile devices. While there isn’t a clear best practice, there are steps you can take to make sure your users get the best experience.

First, make sure you understand your audience and the content. Account for the appropriateness of the content as well as the needs of the end user. Don’t try to fit content where it doesn’t make sense.
Second, consider moving your content out of Flash and leverage the new features available in HTML5. Most modern mobile browsers support HTML5 and you’re more likely to be able to deliver a consistent user experience.

Finally, leverage one of the many services for hosting and managing your content, particularly for video. Most of the time it’s far easier and more cost effective to leverage one of the many hosting and CDN services.

No matter your situation, there are a number of ways to convert your eLearning content to support mobile platforms. Often the most challenging part is determining which options to choose.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions magazine

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